The “New” Multiculturalism: National and Educational Perspectives, pp. 4 of 11

The situation has been assessed as social harmony that is “minimalist, maintained by passive tolerance of visible and recognizable differences without substantial cultural exchanges and even less cultural boundary crossings” (Chua, 2005, p. 18). Other critical academic discourses have also explored the intertwining political, social and economic strands (see Benjamin, 1976; PuruShotam, 1998; Clammer, 1998; Rahim, 1998; Barr, 2008; Goh, Daniel, et. Al, 2009; Ismail, 2014) emerging from this efficient management of the different races. “[I]maginary units” (Chua & Kwok 2001, p. 87) can be administratively efficient but they can slip easily into inauthentic aspirations or designations of what a group, especially an “other” should, could or must be in order to be part of a hegemonic definition of mainstream. “Play-nice” encounters of the “3Fs” or the “3Cs”do not necessarily speak to other associated claims emerging from numerical, and with that economic, dynamics: the assimilative impact that these numerical and economic advantages have toward cultures and practices that could not compete for both attention and significance on their own terms. Unsettlingly, a credibility gap between “public cheer” of all is well versus the “private frustrations” of different experiences borne by less privileged members of society (Ismail, 2007) can or has been generated. There are for some in this successful narrative on diversity, seeming costs to the values of communitarianism and multiracialism (Chua 2005a, pp. 190-191). Crucially, contested narratives or alternative views while not absent or ignored are at times stigmatised as not “rational.” Such an approach or continuation of past practices might not work efficaciously in managing increasingly myriad viewpoints in the new millennium.

The “New” Multiculturalism?

This paper contends that the multidimensional and interconnected impact of global economic, cultural, political and social agencies has now surpassed the hitherto single-minded government attempt to promote “settled rules of political life” and has instigated a new “politics of cultural difference” (Kymlicka, 1996, p. 193). As an undeniably successful global city, Singapore’s national educational approach must therefore face these challenges and embrace more nuanced approaches to diversity. While this paper acknowledges unreservedly the major achievements made by Singapore’s government and people since 1965, it asserts that future challenges to notions of diversity and multicultural harmony must be considered as part of a new multiculturalism that addresses the inadequacies of past approaches while at the same time attending to demands for greater visibility, increased acknowledgement, and sensitive dealings in respect to an increasingly polyglot population.

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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