Dressed in ethnic attire, students of many primary and secondary schools across the island feasted on traditional food, performed ethnic dances and made Chinese lanterns yesterday to celebrate Racial Harmony Day.
It is an annual celebration and by the time students reach pre-university level, said Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng, they would have marked the occasion in school for 10 years and "might be wondering what is left to do".
But strengthening the bonds of racial ties is an ongoing effort, he told Pioneer Junior College students and staff when he joined their celebration, which was redolent with food like pulut kuning, a Malay delicacy, and featured cultural activities such as henna painting.
"I believe... we have to keep at nurturing racial harmony. Even for your teachers and principal, all of us must remember to keep working on deepening our understanding of one another," he added.
It is particularly important as Singapore becomes more diverse and faces regional uncertainties.
Mr Ng noted that interracial marriages have doubled from a decade ago, making up 20 per cent of all marriages here.
Happy Racial Harmony Day!
Harmony between our different races and religions is a fundamental principle of our nation. We celebrate our diversity, and share each other's customs and cultures. Unfortunately, in many countries, we are seeing more cases where people reject diversity and inclusion. Just look at the extremist terrorist attacks in recent weeks - Orlando in the US, Dhaka in Bangladesh, Nice in France, Puchong in Malaysia - each incident chilling, driven by hatred, and heartbreaking.
In Singapore, we must always stay united as one people, and never allow any such event to break or divide us.
PM LEE HSIEN LOONG, in a Facebook post to mark Racial Harmony Day.
Also, more than one-third of marriages here are between a Singaporean and a foreigner. And almost one-quarter of babies born have one non-Singaporean parent.
With these trends, more people of mixed and diverse ethnicities "are living and studying (among) us... and they are likely to have relatives of different cultures too".
Urging the students to be advocates of racial harmony, he said: "I encourage you to reach out to schoolmates or neighbours or other races and do something which you all enjoy together."
He added: "Pursue your common interests, celebrate one another's cultural festivals, and strike up deep and long-lasting friendships."
Mr Ng also launched a bus and walking trail in the Choa Chu Kang estate where the JC is sited.
The trail was designed by a group of students of the JC.
They will also act as tour guides, introducing fellow students to common spaces, places of worship, food centres and parks.
Said second-year student Lim Yan Zhi, 18, a guide for the bus trail: "It made me realise the importance of public spaces in neighbourhoods, because they are where people of all races and religions gather for common activities."
The JC hopes to reach out to other schools to encourage them to design their own trails. It is also planning to translate the guided tours into Chinese dialects, such as Hokkien and Cantonese, so that the students can take residents in the area on the tour.
Students of Islamic religious schools, or madrasahs, marked the day by handing out orange wristbands with the words "Love all" to commuters at five MRT stations. The aim is to highlight the importance of racial harmony beyond the school level, said Mr Muhammad Khalid Ibrahim, managing director of community group Qiswah, which organised the distribution.
"A lot of the people we met today did not know it is Racial Harmony Day," he told The Straits Times outside Raffles Place MRT station, where 10 students of Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah were giving away the wristbands. Madam Harinah Abdul Latiff, its assistant vice-principal, said: "It's meaningful for our students to be able to play a role in fostering racial harmony."
Insurance executive Berry Yeong, 30, said she appreciated the students' efforts as racial harmony is a very important issue.
"Perhaps the students can do this in the heartland too and reach out to even more people," she said.