(Re)constructing the Nation? Representations of Public Housing in School Geography Textbooks, pp. 8 of 14

The optimistic picture of progressively housing the nation is depicted through images of public housing and citing the rapid rates of completing these flats. Cheng’s (1973, p. 29) Chinese geography textbook titled New Geography (‘新地理’) describes how low-cost flats built by the HDB is “a remarkable success” and has served to resettle people previously living in the densely populated parts of the city (see Figure 2). These low-cost flats “built by the Government” were sold to low-wage “Singapore citizens” (Nair et al., 1969, p. 20) through the long-term instalment plans in the “Home Ownership Scheme” (Cheng, 1973, p. 30). The public housing theme is represented as a landscape of nationhood where citizen’s home ownership is bounded up with wages from employment and the CPF to pay for home instalment loans. As the public housing became ubiquitous and synonymous with the HDB landscape, the imagined community of a “nation” is maintained and reproduced through the material landscape as well as the representations in school geography textbooks.

School geography textbooks are also replete with ways of representing national space to help the young readers to imagine a rational spatial order of places. Where people live is a focus in these early textbook accounts. Jurong, Toa Payoh and Queenstown were cited as “good examples . . . of satellite towns” (Nair et al., 1969, p. 20). These satellite towns are “away from the city” (Nair et al., 1969, p. 20) where people choose to live despite having to work in the city. The texts stress the modernity of these “satellites towns”, which are “modern housing estates with water, electricity and gas” (Cheng, 1973, p. 29) and well equipped with services. Following Ross (2000), geography lessons are constitutive of the real world. These framings of modernity through the representations of public housing have tangible and material consequences in terms of how the young reader understands particular aspects of their rapidly changing lives in the face of modernity and growing urbanism. For instance, the young reader is encouraged to rationalise how “land for building is expensive . . . [hence] building upwards, more people can live on a small piece of land” (Nair et al., 1969, p. 20). In these early accounts of public housing in school geography textbooks, the representation of public housing is interwoven with land scarcity rationality discourse as part of a socialisation process to generate consensus among the young readers into accepting high-rise living as a necessary way of living.

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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