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Lifelong learning, income inequality and social mobility in Singapore

Singapore has been assigned the role of a ‘model’ nation state primarily for two reasons: its rapid rate of economic growth and its outstanding performance on cross-national tests of educational achievement, such as PISA. This has resulted in advocates of reform citing it as illustrating ‘best practices’, especially in the field of education, and it has more generally been viewed as demonstrating the benefits of economic globalization. This paper analyses from a comparative perspective the more problematic and relatively unexplored third dimension of being a model ‘global’ nation, namely its impact on income inequality and the quality of citizens’ life. We focus on the role of the system of lifelong learning which was designed generally to upgrade the skills of the workforce and specifically to provide low-paid/skilled workers with opportunities to improve incomes and enhance their socio-economic mobility. We demonstrate that despite the remarkable economic growth at a national level and the significant expansion of lifelong learning provision, productivity rates have not improved, income inequality has increased, social mobility has declined and the ‘quality of life’ is, in comparative terms, poor.