The Significance of Mass Migration, and How to Better Talk about it, pp. 2 of 10

Singapore was by no means the only migrant-settler society, yet the air of exceptionalism was thick in the national narrative of the Singapore Story. During this age of migration, between 1850 and 1914, the movement of people around the world reshaped many countries into the current ones that we are familiar with. [iii] During this period, Australia and New Zealand were gradually populated by European settlers, mainly from Britain and Germany; and the United States of America was in a bid to close their western frontier under the aegis of manifest destiny.[iv] It was also due to this period of mass migration that the sizeable Japanese diaspora in Brazil took root, and the Indian communities in Kenya and South Africa were formed. They were all participants in a wider era of migration, filling jobs from that of plantation hands to accountants and civil servants.[v]

What is clear is that the movement of people to Singapore was by no means special or exceptional. It is merely proof that Singapore had always been part of a wider world system.[vi] Conversely, it serves as a valuable looking glass for our students to start to see how Singapore was part of a wider world, beyond just sitting on the crossroads of trade routes. Due to the design of the current lower secondary history syllabus, the second unit of Secondary One is also the last opportunity in the entire secondary school history syllabus to talk about this issue with any depth. Furthermore, given that students have become familiar with the centrality of Singapore’s history in the material form of trade by the end of the first unit of the Secondary One syllabus, the second unit offers an opportunity to push that understanding further and for teachers to urge our students to consider the world in terms of connections and inter-connections of various communities. This represents the untapped potential of the existing syllabus.

Beyond the syllabus, this topic is also significant as it has strong relevance to the global world that our students will grow up to operate in. They are born into a global age, and many of the problems they will be grappling with in their lives are often global in nature, often demanding global solutions.[vii] Challenges such as climate change, and intensifying global migration are just two of the most common issues of the current day. It is therefore advantageous to place in the hands of our students some of the frame and cognitive tools to approach the future world, by urging them to consider their own past in global terms. Drawing on developments in global history, mass migration in the 19th century is not merely about people moving, but about the scale of the movement. The sudden and large-scale movement of people to new places warrants a different way of making sense of it.

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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