Forum: Having kids of foreigners in local schools helps promote integration

National Development Minister Desmond Lee makes the point that without the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP), different ethnic groups might have a tendency to gravitate to separate enclaves, to the detriment of national integration and unity (Nearly 1 in 3 HDB blocks has hit ethnic quota limits, so EIP crucial, July 6).

The EIP alone is unlikely to achieve ethnic integration or promote better understanding and racial sensitivity.

My family, consisting of myself, my wife and two daughters, moved to Singapore in 1991 from India when the children were eight and two. We took Singapore citizenship and have lived happily in an HDB estate for more than 20 years.

My Singaporean friends are mainly those I met in the course of my work.

My children went to local schools and made friendships that are colour- and race-blind, and will last a lifetime.

Their schooling was the greatest gift that this country could give new immigrants.

They chose to go to the United States for their university education and have often told us they were far better prepared for the academic rigours of US universities than most of their classmates from the US or other countries.

Foreigners on employment passes have recently found it next to impossible to get admission for their children in local schools.

In the meantime, local schools are being closed or merged, and there are worries about the falling birth rates, and complaints that "foreigners" don't integrate into our communities.

Our ethnic enclaves now are not in HDB estates, but in condominiums, where expatriate families live among their own ethnic groups and send their children to international schools with friends who share their ethnicity.

Charge them higher fees if need be, but make it easier for the children of foreign employees to study in local schools. That is the easiest way to promote ethnic integration.

My daughter used to say that when she, a vegetarian, shared a lunch table at secondary school with some friends who ate halal food and others who ate pork, it was a lesson in unity in diversity.

If children are exposed to such experiences from a young age, we will see a more tolerant and more united Singapore in a generation or two.

Krishnaswamy Mahesh