Immigrant Teachers in Singapore Schools: Backgrounds, Integration, and Diversification , pp. 2 of 11

Context: Singapore As A Society Of immigration and Diversity

Singapore ranks among cities/countries in the world with the highest immigrant ratios and diversities. As of mid-2019, Singapore hosted a total population of 5.7 million, of which slightly more than 70% (4 million) were ‘resident’ population, which in turn comprised about 3.5 million citizens and half a million Permanent Residents (PRs) (Prime Minister's Office, 2019). Since citizens included naturalised ones, the total foreign-born population in Singapore is in fact higher, estimated to be more than 46% of the total population in 2017 (United Nations, 2017).

Historically, due to migrations in the 19th and early-20th Centuries under the British colonial rule (1819-1963), Singapore had evolved into an ethnically and culturally diverse society, made up of an ethnic Chinese majority and minority groups from Southeast Asia and South Asia. The post-colonial (1965 onwards) Singapore state made ‘multiracialism’ an official ideology, aspiring towards a society where the various ‘racial’ groups maintain their respective community cultures and traditions while coexisting in harmony. Concretely, ethnic and cultural diversities in Singapore came to be governed through the so-called ‘CMIO’ (Chinese-Malay-Indian-Other) framework. One important manifestation of the CMIO institution in education is the bilingualism policy, where Singaporeans of various ‘racial’ groups are expected to learn their respective ethnic ‘mother tongues’ (MT) as a mandatory subject in school in addition to the common working language of English. The three main MT languages taught in government-run schools in Singapore are Chinese (Mandarin), Malay, and Tamil; this also means that there is a significant need in the education system for MT language teachers.

The CMIO model also holds significance for immigration and integration in contemporary context. The latest statistics in 2019 shows that the racial make-up of the citizen population is: Chinese 76%; Malay 15%; Indian 7.5%; and ‘other’ 1.5% (Prime Minister's Office, 2019). Sources show that this composition has changed little in the past several decades, despite the various ‘racial’ groups’ significantly different birth rates since the 1980s, with those of the Chinese and Indians notably lower than that of the Malays (Nasir & Turner, 2014; Prime Minister's Office, 2018). In fact, immigration has been calibrated according to the CMIO model so as to maintain the existing racial make-up, which is believed to be key to social harmony and the preservation of the cultural tenor of Singapore society. With regard to immigrant diversity, Singapore is said to adopt mainly an integration framework (Rahman & Kiong, 2013), where the emphasis is more on structural inclusion than cultural assimilation. In other words, from the state’s point of view, key to the integration of immigrants is their inclusion in mainstream social structures and institutions such as employment, education, and housing, whereas there is less emphasis on achieving cultural assimilation or homogeneity given Singapore society’s multicultural and plural reality in the first place.

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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