Teaching Cultural Diversity and Sense of Identity in the Primary Two Social Studies Classroom in Singapore: Analysis and Critique, pp. 4 of 13

Diversity in Singapore: Multiracialism and ‘CMIEO’ framework

In Singapore, a multi-racial nation-state, cultural diversity has been emphasised and understood largely through the ideology of multiracialism and the CMIEO racial framework defined by the state, which is based on the four main racial/ethnic groups namely Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian and Others (CMIEO). The proliferation of such racialised understanding of diversity and cultural identity occurs in many aspects of Singaporean lives as “race” is institutionalised in many ways within society. According to PuruShotam (1998), “state racial projects of categorisation are translated to societal practices and understandings, through inscription on official forms and identity cards, representation in national and local events, and implementation of socio-economic policy” (cited in Rocha, 2011, p. 97). The prevalence of racial categorisation has resulted in a highly racialised society where race is taken as a primary identity-marker (Clammer, 1998) and has played an important role in everyday life and state organisation in Singapore (Rocha, 2011).

State-defined understanding of diversity has also shaped and influenced the way diversity is taught and understood in schools. According to Ismail (2014), the co-option of the education system for societal governance and management of diversity in Singapore has prevented a more nuanced understanding of diversity and difference. This is reflected in a study done by Lee and her colleagues (2004) that studied students’ experience of multiracial relationship in a primary school setting. Key findings from the study found that the racial classification framework restricted and distorted efforts in understanding and respecting identities of self and others (Lee et al., 2004). The study also highlighted “Birds-of-a-Feather” phenomenon (p. 120) where students were observed to have a tendency to group themselves according to same-race groups. The study pointed out that an explanation for this particular finding was justified by a teacher who shared that wanting to be with one’s own race was “natural” as one would “want to be with their own” as it provided a sense of familiarity (p. 121).

Taking a post-structuralist view, race is defined in this paper as a social construct that is “created, powered, transformed, controlled and governed” through discursive practices (Kobayashi, 2014, p. 1102). As there is no basis for the categorization of humans according to race and that it is not “natural”, there are ways in which a racist social order is then socially (as well as politically in Singapore’s context) maintained (Mitchell, 2001). In this vein, the key findings from the study conducted by Lee et al. (2004) are significant as they illustrate how the narrow and misconstrued understanding of diversity through CMIEO racial classification has implicated the way individuals understand themselves and others, and have shaped the spaces as well as social relations between different races. The assumptions made based on race as reflected in the study done by Lee et al. (2004) are important and productive to think about, especially since such assumptions have real and problematic consequences. This will be elaborated on in the following paragraphs.

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

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!