Teaching Cultural Diversity and Sense of Identity in the Primary Two Social Studies Classroom in Singapore: Analysis and Critique, pp. 2 of 13

Schools, as a key vehicle through which cultural and ideological hegemony are re(produced) and maintained, help to reproduce the knowledge that is necessary in order to maintain and to enhance existing dominant political, economical and cultural structures (Apple, 1979). According to Apple (1979), schools control people as well as help to control meaning through their curriculum, pedagogy and daily activities in classrooms. This paper will focus on the analysis of the formal curriculum and how dominant ideologies are (re)produced and reinforced.

Singapore has a highly centralised education system that designs policies and develops curriculum according to directives from the Ministry of Education (MOE) and its political leaders (Sim & Print, 2005). According to Sim and Print (2005), most resources such as school textbooks and teacher’s guides, especially those related to citizenship education, are developed and produced by MOE. The prioritisation of certain values and knowledge and/or the omission of other kinds of knowledge can be viewed as part of a “selective tradition” (Williams, 1998). Therefore, the curriculum reflects the skills, knowledge and values that are prioritised by the Ministry and hence analysing the formal curriculum would give an understanding of the dominant ideas being presented and (re)produced in classrooms.

The main objective of this paper is to examine how cultural diversity and identity are communicated in Singapore’s classrooms in order to understand the extent to which it fosters or hinders the understanding of the complexities of cultural diversity and identity. This is important as “the emergence of multiple and overlapping identities involving ethnicity, gender, religion and transnationalism further complicate the concept of diversity and how teachers address the needs of children from a widening cultural spectrum (Banks, 2004; Kymlicka, 1995), (Alviar-Martin & Ho, 2010, p. 127). An increasingly diverse world requires the need to learn to co-exist with people of different belief-systems and to negotiate other cultural realities. Additionally, the demand for recognition and the belief that our self-identity is shaped by it as theorized by Charles Taylor (1994), have introduced a new politics of multiculturalism that strongly asserts due recognition as a vital human need. Therefore, the need to deal intelligently and sensitively with diversity and the plurality of perspectives is crucial for the recognition of differences and instilling respect for and understanding of one another’s culture and sense of identity.  This calls for a more nuanced understanding of diversity.

In line with the goals of multicultural education and creating a learning environment that empowers students from different cultural backgrounds, as well as the goals of democratic citizenship education that aim to prepare students for the future, a complete understanding of diversity is important in order to be able to negotiate the realities different from one’s own.  Therefore, this paper contends the importance of a multicultural education in Singapore that takes a more expansive and inclusive understanding of cultural diversity by expanding on the existing notion of diversity set by the state to give a more nuanced understanding that facilitates acceptance across (sub)cultures.

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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