(Re)constructing the Nation? Representations of Public Housing in School Geography Textbooks, pp. 6 of 14

Singapore, during the 1950s faced housing issues which were typical of the developing world, which ranged from inadequate housing, poor sanitation and hygiene, to a lack of other basic amenities (see Kaye, 1960; Kong and Yeoh, 2003).  To address the housing situation, the Housing Development Board (HDB) was established during 1960 to prioritize provision of adequate shelter. Within five years, HDB successfully managed to ease the housing shortage. Since then, HDB under Ministry of National Development (MND), concentrated on providing quality housing and became the sole authority to plan estates and build (public) housing for all (Chua, 2000; also see Wang, 2011, p. 370). Since 1968, the government allowed residents to use their Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions to offset down payments and mortgages for their homes. Furthermore, incentives were added to encourage home ownership. Subsequently, the share of residents living in HDB increased from a mere 20% in 1965 to more than 80% today (see Wang, 2011).  While successful public housing during Singapore’s early years facilitated shelter provision and home ownership for Singaporeans, in the longer run it also helped in deepening a sense of belonging to the neighbourhood, and to the larger nation. Belonging to the neighbourhood was further enhanced by providing distinct architectural identities to different HDB estates. Through public housing, the state emphasised the development of a modern nation and with further economic growth, Singaporeans demanded better modern public housing conditions and amenities. HDB responded to the demand and attention was given to not only better housing units, but also to upgrading the surrounding living environments (see Kong and Yeoh, 2003).  To meet further aspirations, “Executive Condominiums” were introduced by HDB in order to cater to aspirational middle class families. Later, the Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) was launched in order to provide more flexibility and choice. HDB also introduced signature design competitions which resulted in development of the Pinnacle@ Duxton – a 50 storey modern public housing estate in the middle of the city centre. Housing estates such as the Pinnacle provided young Singaporeans with the opportunity to own a home in the city centre and helped HDB to scale up on its innovation to create high-rise and yet liveable housing facilities. HDB’s success has increasingly led many countries around the world emulate the HDB model.

The preceding discussion outlines the importance of Singapore’s public housing landscape to its goals of constructing a modern nation, and building a sense of identity and belonging to the nation. How has this narrative of successful housing provision been represented to Singapore students through geography as a subject? In the next section we examine how public housing is depicted in Singapore geography textbooks from 1969 to the present. Foskett (1996) points out that meaning is constructed from practice by policy texts, and then interpreted and recreated through other means. Through this analysis of geography textbooks, we aim to understand how geography education has played a role in constructing particular versions of nationhood and national identity for students.

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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