SINGAPORE - A friend of Secondary 4 student Angeline Yeow, 16, recently brought non-halal food items and put them in a fridge in the school's cooking laboratory.
Teachers had reminded the students' many times not to do this but Angeline's friend did so anyway. Her actions led to some unhappiness among the Muslim teachers using the lab, and they later made the student clean up the refrigerator.
The incident was among the examples raised by Anderson Secondary School students at a dialogue session with Senior Minister of State for Education Janil Puthucheary on Friday (July 21).
About 20 upper secondary students raised issues such as racial stereotypes, ignorance of other people's cultural practices, and the acceptable limits of race jokes. The questions, Dr Janil said, were "challenging and probing".
The dialogue was part of events to mark Racial Harmony Day. This year's theme, The Singapore Way, focused on embracing diversity and how it can be a way of life for Singaporeans.
Sec 4 student Manuella Marie Pereira said some schools offer only Chinese as a mother tongue language. Her concern, she said, was that this might reduce interaction between different races because non-Chinese students may 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".
Dr Janil added that the expectations of today's young people are different from those of their forefathers. He said: "The change in their aspirations, compared with our parents or grandparents, is a marker of how much progress we have made.
"The young people of today want increasing harmony, not just tolerance. They want a much deeper acceptance, and deeper personal friendships across different races."
Racial Harmony Day was also celebrated in other schools around the island.