Immigrant Teachers in Singapore Schools: Backgrounds, Integration, and Diversification , pp. 7 of 11

For example, John (male, 32, Caucasian background), who is a sexuality education trained teacher, said that he had ‘slightly different views’ from what the MOE considered promiscuous or risky behaviour, and he ‘definitely’ had different views on same-sex relationships and ‘what can and cannot be allowed’, implying that his position was more liberal.

Ann (female, 27, East Asian background but educated in an English-medium international school), too, held a liberal position: 

For example, with things like LGBT issues. Umm, for me it’s like, my personal opinion is that it’s a given that LGBT people should have the same rights, umm they should have the right to marry and things like that. But, umm, I was quite taken aback to hear that there are some Singaporean teachers and some students as well who… I think not just based on religious reasons, but for various reasons don’t feel that LGBT people belong in society.

Similarly, Ajay (male, 32) from India shared that MOE teachers ‘have to be very clear about the sense that the heterosexual […] relationship is the basic of the society’, something which conflicted with his personal views. When students who self-identified as LGBT opened to Ajay about their sexuality-related struggles and sought advice, he was caught in a dilemma where ‘I cannot tell the child “It is ok”. Because the child might go back and tell the parents “My teacher say it is ok”, then I’m in trouble. But the thing is, I do believe it is ok.’ As a result, Ajay felt that he could not give support and guidance to the student in a way that he believed was right.

Hannah (female, 30) was a Singaporean passport holder with mixed parentage, but had been raised and educated mainly in English-medium international schools in a Middle East country. Although Hannah identified as Muslim and wore a tudung, she had some disagreements with the way sexuality education is approached in Singapore schools. Sceptical of the effectiveness of simply preaching sexual abstinence to youth, Hannah believed that such an approach was tantamount to avoiding the issue of adolescents engaging in sex. Hannah also came across as somewhat frustrated and disappointed about the mainstream heteronormative conception of the nuclear family that continued to serve as the cornerstone of official policy.

These instances show that for immigrant teachers embodying non-mainstream, cosmopolitan diversities, encountering certain dominant values in Singapore schools stood out in their professional integration experiences. It is worth noting that in interviews/FGDs with Chinese and Malaysian-Chinese research participants, participants themselves seldom brought up disagreements with these values and norms in question. In fact, qualitative data shows that Chinese- and Malaysian-background teachers tended to regard themselves as highly compatible and well-aligned with the prevailing practices and values in the local system. Malaysian teachers routinely cited the geographical and cultural proximity and shared histories between Malaysia and Singapore to explain their high level of identification with the system, whereas mainland Chinese teachers tended to emphasize that the Chinese/Confucian values underpinning education in Singapore were essentially the same with their own backgrounds and beliefs.

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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