The “New” Multiculturalism: National and Educational Perspectives, pp. 5 of 11

Recent high-profile incidents and events have reminded or revealed uncomfortable narratives of latent (or not so latent) (Velayutham, 2007) racism within CMIEO and Singapore’s other transient communities, in which the apparent superficialities of tolerance, acceptance and inclusiveness have exposed the nation’s entire relational power paradigm. Undoubtedly, there has been a high degree of national soul-searching not only by compartmentalised CMIEO groups but on the differential treatment meted to other communities who have now formed a significant part of the national landscape. The communities include foreign “guest” workers from South Asia and the People’s Republic of China, domestic workers from Southeast Asia and “foreign talent” from parts of the developed world. Major narrative myths have been challenged in incidents such as hostility towards the establishment of a foreign worker dormitory in a residential neighbourhood, reports of mistreatment of domestic workers, the automatic privileging of certain groups with a preferred skin colour and more valued socio-economic occupations together with the normalisation of a racist Islamophobia as a framework of discussion.

In a country with a declining proportion of Singapore born citizens, Singaporeans confront in myriad ways the fact that difference and diversity are marked not just by race, language or religion and their ascribed cultural traits, but other forms of difference that render some permanent, some transitory and others uncertain within a dominantly multiracial and multicultural setting. Indeed, for many, the complexity of navigating Singapore’s society is about fractured identity and associated economic anxieties and social uncertainties that mark this age of hyper-globalisation with its transformational change. Events such as the labour strikes by bus drivers/captains from the PRC in November 2012 and the Little India “riot” by South Asian workers in December 2013, stand as seismic events for Singaporeans who have voiced in equal measure both a racialised analysis and an indignant empathy for those involved.

Crucially, Singapore’s responses to the new multiple, global challenges have remained anchored to the core developmental strategies of 4Ms and its associated values. The role of national education has logically been in step with significant responses to these challenges. We have seen the creation and institutionalisation of new national and educational narratives such as the integration of new Singaporeans, the support for a Singapore “strategic cosmopolitan” (Mitchell, 2003, p. 388), the romanticisation of the “HDB heartlanders” and the 2014 National Day theme of “Our People, Our Home.” Indeed in retrospect, the promulgation of NE Shared Values in 1991 and the Singapore 21 Report in 1999, appear as anticipatory and evolutionary attempts for educational relevancy in today’s age of hyper-globalisation. The apex of these efforts seemingly came in the 21 July 2014 Racial Harmony Day celebrations in schools in which the Minister for Education, Mr. Heng Swee Keat spoke of the need to “reach out beyond the main races here” (Lee, 2014):

Singaporeans have to go beyond understanding the main races here, to respect everyone who lives and works here, regardless of their race, language, or religion, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Racial Harmony Day yesterday. Addressing pupils at Elias Park Primary School in Pasir Ris, Mr Heng said Singapore had thrived due to its “openness to international trade flow.”

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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