Education and empowerment.

Author:Chan, Julienne

In the 1960s, the newly independent city-state of Singapore sought assistance from the World Bank to transit from being a developing country to a developed nation by way of stimulating human resource development. Julienne Chan charts the success of this bold policy.

Without significant natural resources, Singapore's rise to become a global economic hub was made possible by deliberately introducing educational policies that produced a skilled labour force. Human resources were the driving force that attracted foreign direct investment from large multi-national corporations, many of which now have their regional headquarters in Singapore.

Having benefitted from knowledge sharing, the Singapore Co-operation Programme reaches out to countries across the world to develop bilateral educational and training-related programmes.

Singapore's educational model is based on English as the main language of instruction, but a compulsory bilingual education policy ensures that each ethnic community retains its linguistic roots.

Maths and science knowledge

In Singapore, education is compulsory from 7 years to 17 years, and effective in the development of maths competency. Singapore consistently tops international maths and science knowledge and skills benchmarking.

Singapore has a linguistically and ethnically diverse population of about five million people: 76.8% are of Chinese heritage, 13.9% Malay, 7.9% Indian and 1.4% are made up of others.

Primary education, which usually begins at age seven, is free for all citizens. Singapore has a history of ethnic violence, with racial riots in 1964 and 1969, but racial harmony has been the basis for much of the social engineering visible in education and housing policies.

Community-based ethnic groups were set up to assist various communities in achieving a level playing field in schools.

Schools in Singapore celebrate Racial Harmony Day to reinforce the value of respecting diversity. But for all the measures taken, racial prejudice still exists at a subtle level.

Surveys conducted by the National Institute of Education (NIE) reveal that 80% of Singaporean children socialise exclusively with their own ethnic group.

Older textbook illustrations reinforce certain stereotypes, with Chinese children depicted as "diligent" while Malay and Indian children are invariably portrayed as being more "playful".

The Council for the Education of Muslim Children (CEMC) looks into the educational challenges faced by Malays to help...

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