Immigrant Teachers in Singapore Schools: Backgrounds, Integration, and Diversification , pp. 4 of 11

Key findings

1. Demographic Profile

The survey found that the two most significant sources of migrant-background teachers in Singapore schools were China (mainland) (n= 65; 45.5% of the sample) and Malaysia (n= 52; 36.4%), altogether accounting for every 4 in 5 teachers in the sample. Another distinctive pattern is that nearly 80% of the survey respondents were Mother Tongue (MT) language teachers: in the case of those from China, close to 97% (n=63) were MT (Chinese) teachers, whereas for those from Malaysia (all of whom happened to be ethnically Chinese), 73% taught MT (Chinese).

This contrasted sharply with the remaining teachers in the sample, which were characterised by rather diverse life/career backgrounds as well as teaching subjects. Among teachers from India (n=17; 11.9% of the sample), nearly half taught non-MT subjects such as English Literature, Sciences, Social Studies, and History. The rest, whose countries (or territories) of origin/education included New Zealand, Canada, Japan, UAE, Hong Kong, etc., also taught a wide range of non-MT subjects. Some of these teachers had been brought up and educated in Western countries, or were schooled in English-medium international schools, or had otherwise cosmopolitan life and career trajectories such as having lived and/or worked in a number of countries. To distinguish them from the mainstream immigrant teachers who were ethnically Chinese and taught MT (Chinese), this more diverse group is subsequently referred to as ‘non-MT (Chinese) immigrant teachers’ or, sometimes, ‘non-mainstream immigrant teachers’.

Finally, about 57% (n=82) of the sample were secondary school teachers, the rest taught in primary schools; however, among teachers from China those teaching in primary schools were the majority (n=39; 60%). In terms of gender, a significant majority (n=113; 78.5%) of the sample were female. With regard to age, 84% of them were between 30 and 50 years old, with a mean age of 38.7.

2. Settlement and Self-reported Social and Professional Integration

Apart from exploring immigrant teachers’ demographic profile, the survey also asked basic questions about their migration/settlement situations as well as their self-perceived social and professional integration. Because ‘integration’ is a widely used term in Singapore society thanks to ubiquitous government policy discourse, this study did not provide an explicit definition of the term, but instead relied on the common-sense consensus on its meaning.

Immigrant teachers in the sample have lived for an average of 14.39 years in Singapore; among them, 30% have lived for 10 years or less; about 60% for 10-20 years; and the remaining 10% for more than 20 years. At the time of survey, 40% (n=58) of the respondents held Singapore Citizenship, and slightly more than half (51.39%; n=74) were Permanent Residents (PR), whereas work pass holders only accounted for 8.33%. Virtually all China-background (63 out of 65) and Malaysia-background (50 out of 52) teachers were citizens or PRs (thus considered ‘resident population’ in the official definition), but for teachers from India—the largest minority group—7 out of 17 were still holding work passes.

 In general, all respondents regarded themselves as well integrated in Singapore society, giving themselves an average integration score of 4.14 (on a scale of 1 to 5, with ‘5’ indicating the fullest extent of integration). Among teachers from China, Malaysia and India, the self-assessed integration score reported by the Chinese (3.92) was slightly below average, compared to above-average scores reported by Malaysians (4.37) and Indians (4.64). It is interesting to note that Indian-background teachers’ mean score surpassed that of Malaysian-background teachers.

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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