The “New” Multiculturalism: National and Educational Perspectives, pp. 2 of 11

For a small nation state, Singapore in the journey from independence in 1965 to our recent 49th national day celebrations, has not been unaffected by these changes. We ourselves have celebrated, and have in turn been widely celebrated, for achieving a commendable degree of economic and social stability among the major ethnic groups. Not an absolutely untroubled journey, it was borne by recognition of a diversity brought together by history and political-economic choices made at the crossroads of history in 1965 and thereafter.[ii]

We the People of Singapore [iii]

As a self-ascribed multiracial nation, Singapore has risen to the challenge of managing diversity through its official “Multicultural, Multiracial, Multireligious and Multilingual” components of nation building and equal recognition of the major ethnic groups of Chinese, Malays, Indians, Eurasians and Other (CMIEO). The 4Ms “to ensure equal representation and equal allocation of resources” (Ooi & Shaw, 2004) together with the refrain “unity within diversity” was girded by economic and political pragmatism. With determined government management and as an efficient administrative tool of ensuring equality of races, this “disciplining” (PuruShotam, 1998) of ethnic differences was further enhanced though institutionalisation of the meritocracy policy[iv], bilingual education policies and the socialisation of behaviour against speaking out of turn” on certain sensitive issues of race and religion, i.e. outside the OB (out-of-bounds) markers. In order to pre-empt the practice of using Singapore’s diversity as fault lines for disreputable gains, ethnic diversity was managed against “minority nationalism” (Kymlicka, 2005, p. 23) and hegemonic chauvinism.

Undoubtedly, Singaporeans have advanced in the knowledge and internalisation of racial harmony as a national and social good: a proud Singapore identity marker with the education system as an indispensable partner. Directly linked to bilingualism and meritocracy policies, the Singapore education system is a “part of the Singapore success story” (Ministry of Education (MOE), 2008) with the former an attempt at equipping Singaporean pupils with “the language of competencies to access both eastern and western cultures, and to develop a global outlook” ((MOE, 2008, p. 1) The introduction of National Education (NE) in 1997 continued this vigilance of sustaining and adapting the country’s ethnic management policies to national and global shifts. Framing the positive benefits of diversity and racial harmony is also the warning of possible discords that could unleash racial riots as experienced in the past.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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