(Re)constructing the Nation? Representations of Public Housing in School Geography Textbooks, pp. 2 of 14


When Singapore became fully independent in 1965, it faced the twin challenges of achieving economic development and creating a cohesive and strong sense of nationhood among its heterogeneous, largely migrant population. Education was seen as vital to these projects, although as noted by Gopinathan (1997), research to quantify the contribution of formal schooling to these purposes remains underdeveloped and inconclusive. Formal schooling, as noted by educational theorists like Green (1990), and Apple (2004), is a key institution through which the state communicates ideals of identity and conduct to future citizens that will both contribute to its economy and in its formation of a nation. Singapore’s development planning experience was one in which education served these ends (Green, 1997; Koh, 2002), under the guidance of a “strong state” which controlled education through its hold over basic educational infrastructure and curriculum (Gopinathan, 1994). At the same time, Singapore’s public housing landscape was co-opted by the state to achieve both its modernist development projects and to reinforce its versions of nationhood. Kong and Yeoh (2003) suggest that public housing served the following functions in Singapore: it sought to develop a sense of place and belonging among Singaporeans through home ownership programmes and the creation of distinctive town identities. The housing landscape was a major part of the urbanscape, and a tangible symbol of Singapore’s developmentalist ideology and modernity, as infrastructure and standards of living were constantly upgraded. Finally, it supported nation building as the state could exercise multi-racial ideologies through its housing policies.

In the next section we discuss the role of education, and particularly geography education, in reproducing social identity as discussed in the literature on both Singapore and beyond. We then provide a broad overview of the literature on housing provision, focusing on the Singapore state’s nation building endeavours in and through public housing. Finally we analyse the representations of public housing in the Singapore geography textbooks as an example of how geography education has been co-opted in nation building since independence.

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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