A worksheet at a local kindergarten got us wondering if our children are learning about racial harmony and awareness or racial stereotyping at school. Preschool to be exact.
I got this picture from a friend that was posted on Facebook by an irate mum. Nothing new you think? Mums seem to always be irate about something these days. Schools seem determined to upset parents on a daily basis.
Is your child learning about racial harmony?
Well, this one was a little unusual and it got our office talking. The picture in question was of a worksheet.
The exercise was for 3-4 year olds at N2 level. It required them to match the child with the food.
Innocent enough you say? Well, yes and no.
In the picture you can see that the children are in their traditional clothes and shaded in various shades of grey to indicate ethnicity. They were indicative of being Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian.
The children were even sized in proportion to their race’s proportion of the overall population in Singapore i.e. Chinese biggest, Eurasian smallest.
The foods listed were a burger, noodles (incorrectly in the singular noodle), chapati (mis-spelt as capati) and satay. The child in question could clearly understand this exercise. In fact, he even got a star for his correct answer.
Does this type of stereotyping help or hinder racial harmony?
But was there really a correct answer to this very imperfect question? Indians eat noodles, Malays eat chapati, Chinese people eat satay and doesn’t everyone eat burgers?
What do children know about racial harmony?
My own three year old son is bi-racial and has no concept of race whatsoever. His own N2 class has children of all shades. I don’t think it ever occurred to him that his friends might be different because of the colour of their skin.
My obsessively neat son usually categorises kids by whether they leave their toys and art tools lying around or not.
To illustrate his ‘color blindness’, our son described three blond girls scooting down our street with their Indonesian helper as being with their mother.
When I tried to explain that she would have been their auntie (what we call helpers in our house) not their mother, he insisted that they must have been with their mama. I left it at that. I rather like that my son is innocent of the concept of race.
Are kindergartens teaching children to label their friends by race?
My son would not have gotten a star for the worksheet. In fact, I think this exercise may have left him confused. Now had it been about animals and the food they eat, he would have aced it thanks to our well-used annual pass to Singapore Zoo.
There are many things that are important about a child’s education. Is the concept of race in multi-racial and racially tolerant Singapore so important that even our 3 year olds must have it reinforced and tested at nursery school? Are we basing our tolerance on labelling and stereotyping?
I’m a product of the Singapore school system and I don’t remember ever having anything like this exercise when I was at school. Perhaps I’ve long forgotten. After all, we didn’t have mobile phone cameras to capture these things then.
Even if our children have to learn about race, do we have to start so young? Do we need to teach them to label their friends in this way? Does this help or hinder the cause of racial harmony?
Also read: Poll: Are babies racist or not?