The finalised version of the national pledge was largely drafted by then Minister for Foreign Affairs S. Rajaratnam in February 1966 as a way to promote national loyalty and consciousness among citizens following Singapore's separation from Malaysia on 9 August 1965.1 The wording of the pledge was based on the belief that Singaporeans could overcome the divisions caused by differences of race, language and religion.2 The first daily recitation of the pledge before the national flag was carried out on 24 August 1966 by students from all government and aided schools.3 Since then, the national pledge has been recited at school assemblies and national day ceremonies.4
The idea of a daily pledge as part of a programme to inculcate national consciousness and patriotism was first proposed in October 1965 by William Cheng, Principal Assistant Secretary of Administration at the Ministry of Education (MOE). This proposal was raised just two months after Singapore’s separation from Malaysia on 9 August 1965 and gained the support of then Minister for Education Ong Pang Boon. Two versions of the pledge were drafted by Philip Liau, Advisor on Textbooks and Syllabuses, and George Thomson, Director of the Political Study Centre, respectively.5
On 2 February 1966, the drafts were submitted to Rajaratnam for comments. Rajaratnam was a staunch champion of multiracialism and a prolific wordsmith. In his reply dated 18 February 1966, Rajaratnam wrote a third draft of the pledge.6 Following another round of revisions by MOE officials, the national pledge was finally approved by the Cabinet in August 1966 and translated from English to the three other national languages: Chinese, Malay and Tamil.7
First recitation of the national pledge
On 24 August 1966, about 500,000 students at all 529 government and government-aided schools held the first daily recitation of the pledge of allegiance before the national flag.8 The national flag raising and lowering ceremonies were introduced in schools soon after on 29 August 1966.9 Since then, the pledge-taking ceremony has been observed daily at school assemblies as well as at national day ceremonies.10
Initially, the pledge was taken by students facing the national flag with their right hands raised.11 This mode of pledge-taking was commonly used until 1988, when the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) requested the creation of a standard method of taking the pledge. Between January and February 1988, various ways of taking the pledge were tested in schools. Based on the test findings, then First Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong selected the pose of standing at attention with the right fist over the heart on 11 March 1988.12 This new method of reciting the pledge was officially implemented in schools on 27 June that same year. According to MOE, this new mode of pledge-taking was chosen as it "better reflect[ed] the emotional aspect of saying the Pledge".13 The gesture of the right fist clenched over the heart, symbolising loyalty to the nation, has been used ever since.14
Making the national pledge more meaningful
Between 3 and 9 June 1987, a series of forum debates questioned the need for and impact of singing the national anthem and reciting the pledge every day at school assemblies. A member of the public expressed concern that conducting the pledge-taking ceremony so frequently would make it counterproductive in inculcating a sense of patriotism among students. In response to public feedback, the Ministry of Communications and Information announced that the pledge would be adapted and sung as part of a new national song for National Day. The song We are Singapore was launched on 23 June 1987, and an eight-minute extended version of the song with the pledge was sung as a grand finale to the National Day celebrations held that year at the Padang.15
Passing of author of the pledge
Rajaratnam passed away on 22 February 2006 as a result of heart failure. The nation mourned the passing of the man who was largely responsible for penning the national pledge.16 The pledge was recited by 1,500 mourners at his state funeral.17
First two versions of the pledge (submitted by Ong Pang Boon)18
I pledge/reaffirm my allegiance/loyalty to the Flag of Singapore, and to the country for which it stands: one sovereign nation of many freedom-loving peoples of one heart, one mind and one spirit, dedicated to a just and equal society.
I proudly and wholeheartedly pledge my loyalty to our flag of Singapore and to the honour and independence of our Republic whose banner it is. We come from different races, religions and cultures, but we are now united in mind and heart as one nation, and one people, dedicated to build by democratic means a more just and equal society.
Third version of the pledge (drafted by S. Rajaratnam)19
We, as citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves to forget differences of race, language and religion and become one united people; to build a democratic society where justice and equality will prevail and where we will seek happiness and progress by helping one another.
Final version of the pledge20
We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society, based on justice and equality, so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.
Versions of the pledge in the other official languages21
Kami, warganegara Singapura,
sebagai rakyat yang bersatu padu,
tidak kira apa bangsa, bahasa, atau ugama,
berikrar untok membina suatu masyarakat yang demokratik,
berdasarkan kepada keadilan dan persamaan untok mencapai kebahagian,
kemakmuran dan kemajuan bagi negara Kami.
சிங்கப்பூர் குடிமக்களாகிய நாம், இனம், மொழி, மதம்
ஆகிய வேற்றுமைகளை மறந்து, ஒன்றுபட்டு, நம் நாடு
மகிழ்ச்சி, வளம், முன்னேற்றம் ஆகியவற்றை அடையும்
வண்ணம் சமத்துவத்தையும், நீதியையும்
அடிப்படையாகக் கொண்ட ஜனநாயக
Zhi Wei & Kartini Saparudin
1. National Archives (Singapore), 10 Years That Shaped a Nation: An Exhibition Catalogue = Jian guo shi nian: zhan lan tu ji (Singapore: National Archives of Singapore, 2008), 138–39 (Call no. RSING 959.5705 TEN-[HIS]); Constance Mary Turnbull, A History of Modern Singapore, 1819–2005 (Singapore: NUS Press, 2009), 304. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
2. Singapore. National Library and National Archives (Singapore), Singapore: The First 10 Years of Independence, 1965 to 1975(Singapore: National Library Board and National Archives of Singapore, 2007), 180 (Call no. RSING 959.5705 SIN-[HIS]); Koh Boon Pin, “The Dream was About Building 'A Singapore We Are Proud Of',” Straits Times, 12 June 1996, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Daily Allegiance Pledge in Schools,” Straits Times, 25 August 1966, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 304.
5. Kwa Chong Guan, Derek Heng and Tan Tai Yong, Singapore, a 700-Year History: From Early Emporium to World City (Singapore: National Archives of Singapore, 2009), 194. (Call no. RSING 959.5703 KWA-[HIS])
6. National Archives (Singapore), 10 Years That Shaped a Nation, 139.
7. Kwa, Heng and Tan, Singapore, a 700-Year History, 194; Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 304.
8. “Daily Allegiance Pledge in Schools.”
9. “Schools to Start with Flag Ceremony Today,” Straits Times, 29 August 1966, 11 (From NewspaperSG); Singapore. Ministry of Education, Annual Report(Singapore: [s.n], 1966), 1. (Call no. RCLOS 370.95951 SIN)
10. Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 304.
11. “Daily Allegiance Pledge in Schools.”
12. Kwa, Heng and Tan, Singapore, a 700-Year History, 194–95.
13. Sharon Simon, “Students' New Heartfelt Way of Saying the Pledge,” Straits Times, 28 June 1988, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
14. National Archives (Singapore), 10 Years That Shaped a Nation, 141.
15. “Pledge to Be Sung as Part of New National Song,” Straits Times, 20 June 1987, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Peh Shing Huei and Lynn Lee, “1,500 Turn Up to Pay Last Respects,” Straits Times, 26 February 2006, 2; Laurel Teo, “Old Guard Comrades Bid Farewell to Raja,” Straits Times, 24 February 2006, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Chua Mui Hoong, “Farewell, Raja,” Straits Times, 26 February 2006, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
18. National Archives (Singapore), 10 Years That Shaped a Nation, 138–39.
19. National Archives (Singapore), 10 Years That Shaped a Nation, 138–39.
20. National Archives (Singapore), 10 Years That Shaped a Nation, 138–39.
21. “National Pledge,” National Heritage Board, last updated 5 August 2021.
The information in this article is valid as at 1 August 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.