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Kiasu-ism - a Singaporean culture?

Edward B. Tyler defines culture as “the complex whole which includes … and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man (and woman) as a member of society”. In this sense, I think Kiasu-ism can be defined as a Singaporean culture.

“Kiasu” is a word, though commonly used in many Asian countries, applies most to the Singaporean context and, often, one of the first few words that foreigners pick up in Singapore. It is not surprising that it has now been added to the oxford dictionary as an English word.

In a recent survey conducted by advantage and British-based Barrett Values Centre, 2000 local residents were polled to see how they perceive the Singapore society today. ‘Kiasu’ was the top choice for the vast majority of the respondents in the survey.

Originating from the Hokkien dialect, Kiasu can be literally translated as ‘afraid of losing out’. Singapore’s insistence on meritocracy resulted in its expulsion from Malaya in 1965. Speaking at the National Achievers’ Congress 2012, Robert Kiyosaki cited Kiasu-ism as a possible reason for Singapore’s meritocratic rise as a nation.

However, one cannot dispute that there are negative connotations of this quality. Since the government rewards an individual based on his merit, Singaporeans have become obsessed with doing all that is possible to keep themselves ahead of their peers. This obsession has intensified with the influx of foreign talent due to globalization.

In today’s highly competitive society, parents are going to great lengths to ensure that their children have all opportunities for success. Besides forking out on pre-school education, they are ever willing to move houses to increase their chance of enrolling their children in top primary schools which known for producing top Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) performers. They also tend to send…...

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