The “New” Multiculturalism: National and Educational Perspectives, pp. 6 of 11

“As Singapore moves towards a more diverse landscape, it is important that we continue to embrace diversity. Let us all do our part to understand other cultures, and going beyond that, let us also be advocates of racial harmony”[v]

While Singapore’s concept of mainstream multiracialism and diversity has necessarily widened to contain other communities and their corresponding social and cultural norms, this is being done on the government’s own terms in order to control differences and to sustain national narratives of cohesion and unification. As part of this effort, the education system has been recruited to play a major partnership role. Part of this process includes directing latent civic consciousness and a new civil society sensibility into “safe volunteerism” (Ismail, 2010) or “responsible advocacy” (Tan, 2009) within and beyond borders. As part of the nurturing process to produce a “rooted Singaporean with a global sensitivity” this direction has drawn criticisms on the dangers of perpetuating further unquestioned power structures (Ismail, 2010).

Characteristic of carefully calibrated social and political adaptations to a globalising and borderless environment, the acknowledgement of widening diversity is a confident and constructive step, but the process is not without its pitfalls, as the recent discordant debates on inclusion and recognition of the gay community in mainstream society have demonstrated (see Mathews, 2014). But as noted by observers, these policy frameworks are sometimes too often “typically left unspecified” (Chua & Kwok, 2001, p. 67) or still part of “managing [acceptable] visibility” (Shaw & Ismail, 2010) of the “other.” To a proposed ban on public drinking within a designated area in Little India after the December 2013 “riot,” a suggestion was offered by an advocacy group (Gee, 2013):

This experience suggests that there’s a better response to the issue of anti-social behaviour resulting from alcohol consumption in Little India than the ban that was put into force. Surely no one can believe that the men who drank there before December have given up alcohol: they’ve just gone somewhere else and some may now be consuming it in other areas where previously there were significantly lower levels of social drinking. Perhaps a more logical response in the future would be to see the areas of Little India where working men gather to meet friends and drink as ‘areas of tolerance’, to be managed and regulated with care, so that any potential problems are anticipated and contained in a timely way.

Outbreaks of disorder notwithstanding, the responses to these milestone events reflect a dynamism within the Singapore leadership and its vigilance on the outcomes and complexities of simplifying the increasingly complex social order as well as a “soft resilience” (Ismail & Shaw, 2011) from its people. The Committee of Inquiry Report of June 2014 had new restrictive orders but highlighted (Anon, 2014) too,

…the importance of communication and cultural awareness in fostering a better relationship between workers and figures of authority. It had recommended basic training in cultural sensitivity for those who frequently interact with foreign workers, such as bus drivers, timekeepers, auxiliary police and police officers.

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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