“So, Where Do They Fit In?” Teachers’ Perspectives of Multi-Cultural Education and Diversity in Singapore

Jan. 15, 2011

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 27, Issue 1, (January 2011), Pages 127-135.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The authors seek to examine secondary school teachers’ perceptions of diversity and multicultural education in Singapore.
The authors framed the study around these two research questions:
(1) What is the nature of Singapore in-service teachers’ perspectives of diversity and multicultural education?
(2) What factors mediate teachers’ understanding of their roles within Singapore’s multicultural education initiatives?

The participants in this study consisted of six in-service secondary school teachers who were enrolled in two graduate level courses at teacher education institute in Singapore.
Three of the teachers taught social studies while the other three taught physics, physical education, and design and technology.
Three of the teachers (Julie, Rabiah, and Yvonne) were female. In terms of teaching experience, two of the teachers (Julie and Salim) taught for less than 10 years while Nafees was the most experienced (18 years). Kenneth, Rabiah and Yvonne had between 12 and 14 years of experience.
The participants consisted of one person with a Malay and Chinese background (Salim), one Indian Muslim (Nafees), and three Chinese: Julie, Yvonne, and Kenneth. The last participant, Rabiah, had a South Asian and Chinese background, but identified as Malay because she studied the Malay language as a child and was a Muslim.

Discussion and conclusion

First, findings indicate that although a majority of the participants based their conceptions of diversity primarily through racial categories codified by the state, a few teachers recognized nuanced, overlapping, and overlooked markers of identity that are challenging notions of diversity in Singapore and elsewhere.
Second, the study illustrated teachers’ awareness of how Singapore’s pluralist policies mediated their practice of multicultural education and differentiated the educational opportunities afforded to students.

The authors revisit findings in light of the literature, focusing on political and social barriers to transformative multicultural education:
(1) Meritocracy and Testing
Most of the participants noted that, ironically, meritocracy contributed to the marginalization of low-income groups that are dominated by minorities.

(2) Singapore’s CMIO model
In Singapore, the pluralist CMIO model hinders multicultural education by subsuming citizens into four racial groups, disregarding nuances of identity based on linguistic, religious, or cultural affiliations, and overlooking the unique identities and experiences students bring to schools.
Two participants of mixed heritage, Rabiah and Salim, emphasized that Singaporean policies deprived citizens who did not “fit” into the four racial categories freedom to define themselves.

(3) The Absence of Oppositional Viewpoints
In Singapore, teachers are constrained by the state’s desire for order and stability.
The majority of our participants acknowledged the delimiting influence that policies such as the Sedition Act had on their teaching. However, only Julie and Salim, who shared concerns about the discrimination faced by their homosexual and transgender friends, recognized the importance of classroom teaching that included marginalized perspectives and contentious public issues.

In all, the study illuminated the complex interplay of identity, diversity, and policy in teachers’ understanding and enactment of multicultural education.

Updated: Nov. 03, 2011