Teaching Cultural Diversity and Sense of Identity in the Primary Two Social Studies Classroom in Singapore: Analysis and Critique, pp. 5 of 13

Issues with Diversity and Identity in Singapore

The findings from the study illustrate the extent to which people have been socialised to think that the people who are most alike to them are those of their own “race” and that this was “natural”. Such understandings of diversity and identity are misconstrued. Firstly, to understand oneself and others simply through the lens of race shows the distilling of identity to a single affiliation rather than recognizing the composite nature of identity. Maalouf (1996) posits that identity is composite and fluid and that an individual has many affiliations that are significant to the make up of a person’s identity. Therefore, diversity needs to be understood by fully accepting different cultural components that produce a composite individual identity (Clammer, 1998). Gurung (2009) asserts that concentrating on only an element of an individual ignores the complexity of identity. Secondly, the view that assumes race as primordial and natural instead of as a social construction wrongly views race as inherent, thus leading people into believing that there are inherent differences between races and therefore used as justification for homophily. A study conducted by Alviar-Martin and Ho (2010) of teacher’s perceptions on diversity in Singapore found that most of the teachers involved in their study lacked the awareness of the state’s involvement in the construction and validation of identity groups, leading to the tendency to regard such constructions as part of the natural order of things. Such ways of thinking influenced by the division of people according to race have resulted in the opposite effect of forging inter-ethnic relations at the micro level (Clammer, 1998). 

Additionally, the multiracial ideology of Singapore based on separate racialised groups leaves “little room for racial projects involving more complex individuals and institutional racial projects” (Rocha, 2011, p. 95). This is especially evident in state rhetoric and views regarding hybridity or mixed identities. In a recent interview, when asked about the situation in which a “half-Malay” were to run for a presidency position reserved for Malays, Law Minister and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam replied that:

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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