Immigrant Teachers in Singapore Schools: Backgrounds, Integration, and Diversification , pp. 9 of 11

Some other teachers accepted the necessity of making compromise in order to be in line with the official stance, but doing so led to a sense of disengagement. Such appeared to be the case for Hannah, as she confessed that ‘sexuality education is one of those things I don’t want to be trained in’. Hannah’s frustration towards sexuality education reflected her problem with what she saw as a broader culture in Singapore of prioritising consensus over conflict. Hannah noted that early in her teaching career, the preferred approach in her school towards controversial issues was one of avoidance rather than critical dialogue:

‘[…] I know that, umm, some of my colleagues and my Singaporean friends, they are very happy to, you know, sweep [things] under and wait for the mountain to grow’. […] I’d rather just talk about it […] yah, conversations I think for people [in Singapore] are very scary. Yah, so now I have to be very cautious about when I have conversations with people, because you don’t want to offend them and don’t want to feel like you are attacking them.’ 

To make things more challenging, as a science teacher, Hannah lacked the avenues that literature or SS teachers had to critically engage students in controversial issues. As a result, making the necessary compromise to fit into a local school felt to Hannah like wearing a ‘mask’ that concealed her beliefs. Compared to Ann, Hannah appeared more sceptical about a teacher’s agency in negotiating with the system. She felt that despite a discourse about teachers as change agents (Chen, 2007; National Institute of Education, n.d.), teachers were not truly empowered to initiate changes on issues such as sexuality education.  

Discussions with local school leaders confirmed a similar expectation of immigrant teachers to ‘live up to expectations’. As one local Vice Principal stated in an FGD: 

‘[…] one thing that has to be very clear, is when you go into the classroom, […] the message should be all in unison, regardless of whether you are a Singapore teacher or you are a foreign teacher. Especially so for the foreign teacher, I think they really have to live up to the expectations […] that the Singapore education system has of all the teachers lah.’

In other words, immigrant teachers operate under an overall assimilationist expectation from the system. Where tensions or clashes in values are felt, these teachers have limited room for negotiation. Whether the immigrant teachers dealt with such tensions and clashes by adjusting, subtly negotiating, or compromising with a sense of futility, they were always careful not to let their personal values and beliefs hinder their professional integration. Ultimately, they remained very conscious of their role as civil servants representing the Ministry of Education.

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

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!