Students raise race issues in dialogue with minister

Guangyang Primary pupils reciting the pledge yesterday, with some dressed in traditional costumes as part of Racial Harmony Day celebrations.
Guangyang Primary pupils reciting the pledge yesterday, with some dressed in traditional costumes as part of Racial Harmony Day celebrations. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Janil Puthucheary fields 'challenging and probing' questions on Racial Harmony Day

Compromising with one another within a shared space is key to maintaining racial harmony.

That was the message Senior Minister of State for Education Janil Puthucheary had for Anderson Secondary School students when he visited the school yesterday.

Dr Janil, who was at the school to mark Racial Harmony Day, watched a skit depicting the rituals involved in a Malay wedding ceremony, which highlighted themes such as social cohesion.

He also took part in a dialogue with about 20 upper secondary students, who raised issues such as racial stereotypes and the acceptable limits of race jokes.

Their questions, Dr Janil said, were "challenging and probing".

For instance, Secondary 4 student Manuella Marie Pereira said some schools offer only Chinese as a mother tongue.

She asked whether this might reduce inter-racial interaction as non-Chinese students might be reluctant to enrol in such schools.

Dr Janil, who replied to her question after clarifying if she was referring to Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools, said: "It is important for us, as a Chinese-majority country, that the Chinese majority have the comfort and confidence that Mandarin is being supported and enhanced."

He asked the students if any underlying race issues would be resolved if there were no more SAP schools.

Speaking on the sidelines of the event, Dr Janil said concerns over racial harmony have evolved and are no longer linked to the "security and safety issues of the 1960s".

He said: "The young people of today want increasing harmony, not just tolerance. They want a deeper acceptance, and deeper personal friendships across different races."

The theme for this year's Racial Harmony Day is the Singapore Way, and the focus is on embracing diversity and how it can be a way of life for Singaporeans.

Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education, visited Queenstown Secondary School yesterday to mark the annual event. The students demonstrated how they learnt to write the word "harmony" in English, Malay, Tamil and Chinese.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Low Yen Ling was in Tampines Primary School, where the pupils staged a forum theatre show. Five Primary 5 pupils acted out scenes depicting potential causes of disharmony. The pupils in the audience then offered solutions to the problems.

And Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann launched an art exhibition at the Visual Arts Centre in Dhoby Ghaut, titled Faith, Hope, Love - A Canossian Art Unites Exhibition.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2017, with the headline 'Students raise race issues in dialogue with minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe