Students discuss racism and racial stereotypes to mark Racial Harmony Day

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing (seated) interacting with Kranji Secondary School students on July 21, 2022. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Students are more open to questioning racial stereotypes and racism, and teachers can help create a safe space in school for such discussions to take place.

Mr Benjamin Fwah, 34, a Kranji Secondary School teacher who teaches character and citizenship education (CCE), also said educators must be aware that students are increasingly exposed to social media and the viewpoints of their friends. 

He said: “There are many preconceived ideas among such sources. We want students to understand where these ideas come from and if they are baseless, and what are the next steps they have to take?”

Mr Fwah was speaking on the sidelines of a dialogue session held at the school on Thursday (July 21).

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing, who visited the school on Thursday, also took part in the dialogue, which was held to mark Racial Harmony Day and involved about 1,000 students and 30 teachers. 

It touched on issues such as people judging others based on their skin colour, racial stereotypes and how to deal with such situations.

Alya Marsya Mohamad Effendy, 13, a Secondary 1 student, said: “It is important to talk about stereotypes, as I have faced people assuming that I am Chinese because of how I look. 

“I feel racial stereotyping still exists, but everyone must play a part to ensure we live harmoniously together.” 

Another student, Chua Zheng An, 16, said he found the scenarios posed in the discussions relevant as he was made fun of for his skin colour.

“It helped us see how we can approach such problems from a different angle and find a way to change perceptions.”

Every year, schools in Singapore mark Racial Harmony Day by holding activities aimed at educating students on race and values like respecting differences. 

Students now have more opportunities to hold in-depth discussions on racism and stereotypes during CCE lessons since the syllabus was refreshed in 2021, according to the syllabus found on the MOE website.

The updated syllabus, which includes topics such as bullying, online media, and race and religion, was rolled out to lower secondary students last year and extended to upper secondary students this year.

CCE teacher Ang Peiyi, 36, said she is open to having such conversations because students might want to discuss such issues regularly in school.

However, she added that even with racism and stereotyping being included in the CCE syllabus, the discussions are still dependent on teachers. 

“I think different teachers have various levels of comfort with such topics. This depends on them,” she said.

Meanwhile, students at Tampines Meridian Junior College talked about race relations during a CCE class to mark Racial Harmony Day. 

Second Minister for Education, Dr Maliki Osman, visited the school and attended the session. 

President Halimah Yacob, in a Facebook post on Thursday, said Racial Harmony Day is about celebrating differences and reaffirming the commitment to go beyond them. She added that Singapore must constantly strive to maintain important skills such as being able to reach across cultural boundaries.

She also said racial harmony will always be a work in progress. 

She said: “We are in a better place than before because of our commitment to building an inclusive society regardless of race, language, or religion. Singapore benefits when we make room for differences.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the effort to maintain racial and religious harmony is constant and never-ending.

“Each generation has a different perspective on racial harmony. Mine was shaped by the 1964 racial riots,” he wrote on Facebook.

“Today’s youth are more concerned about issues like casual racism and microaggressions. There is a gap that we as a society have to bridge and resolve, not through argument but empathy and understanding.” 

He added: “Our racial harmony is not perfect, and we are still learning and growing as a nation. As long as we do not take this peace for granted and work together to protect our common space, we will get there.”

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