Minority report: Students of other races in schools with a strong Chinese tradition

Students of other races find themselves a rare lot in schools with a strong Chinese tradition

The issue of Chinese students in the handful of Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools, first set up about 35 years ago, having few or no friends of other races has often been highlighted. But this has also been discussed at other non-SAP schools with a strong Chinese tradition, like Hwa Chong Institution's junior college section, which are open to students of all races and usually do not require them to take Chinese as a mother tongue.

As far back as the 1990s, the college's head of English said some non-Chinese students did not choose Hwa Chong because they had the impression that it was Chinese in its orientation. "This is a (vicious circle). If the minority students do not come, they will never be able to explain what we offer and the image will remain, rightly or wrongly," he added.

The Straits Times understands there are fewer than 10 Indian and Malay students in Hwa Chong Institution's JC2 cohort of about 1,000 students, despite past attempts by the school to attract more.

At Nanyang Junior College, there are an estimated 50 to 100 non-Chinese in the JC2 cohort of about 700 students.

ST speaks to three non-Chinese students who had attended such schools about their experiences.

He learnt to mingle and picked up Mandarin

When Mr Shaik attended Nan Chiau High School, there were fewer than 10 non-Chinese students in his cohort.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

When Mr Shaik Nifael Shaik Nazeemuddin found out in 2003 that his secondary school posting was to Nan Chiau High School, one of Singapore's oldest Chinese schools, he cried.

It was not so much that it was his fourth choice, but more because its name rhymes with a certain Hokkien word.

"My older cousins were bothering me about it, and I couldn't take it as a 12-year-old," said Mr Shaik, who is now 27 and co-owns a waste management business.


She was some schoolmates' first Malay friend

When Ms Fazlina attended Nanyang Junior College in 2011, there were fewer than 30 non-Chinese students in her cohort.ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

The school's name, Nanyang, refers to the lands south of China, which were in the Chinese sphere of influence for centuries.

And the members of Nanyang Junior College's (NYJC) school management committee were all Chinese.

But the Serangoon school's Chinese roots did not deter Ms Nur Fazlina Arzami, now a 22-year-old sociology undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, from choosing to go there after she left Tanjong Katong Girls' School (TKGS) in 2011.


An 'oddity', but he didn't feel alienated

Mr Tinesh Indrarajah.

Back when Mr Tinesh Indrarajah was a first-year junior college (JC) student at Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) in 2011, a school visitor was puzzled when they met.

"He asked me: Are you Indian? What are you doing in this school?" recalled Mr Tinesh, 23, now a master's student at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and concurrently a fourth-year undergraduate at Yale-NUS College.

Mr Tinesh's response was: "Why wouldn't I be in this school? Because the school is good and I can get into it."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2017, with the headline Minority report: Students of other races in schools with a strong Chinese tradition. Subscribe