MOE to Support School Conversations on Race and Religion, Guided by Specialist Teachers: Ong Ye Kung
"This generation is different. They actually want to talk about it. But they need facilitation, and they're honest about it."
Conversations about race and religion can be a touchy issue in Singapore.
However, younger Singaporeans now are more vocal about their thoughts and would engage in debates over such issues, as compared to the older generations.
“This generation is different. They actually want to talk about it. But they need facilitation, and they’re honest about it,” said Education Minister Mr Ong Ye Kung in a media visit to Tampines Secondary School on Thursday.
Visit to Tampines Secondary School
With Racial Harmony Day (RHD) just around the corner (21 Jul), Mr Ong joined the Tampinesian students in commemorating Singapore’s racial diversity where he participated in activities with two classes of students.
Teachers made use of conversation cards (contributed by students and staff with their personal stories) and board games to engage students in discussion on issues such as race, religion, culture and tradition.
In a Secondary 3 class that Mr Ong attended, the students discussed various scenarios and how they would respond to them.
One such scenario involved a Malay student who performed well in mathematics but was met with surprise by another student. The student was complimented: “you’re actually really smart for a Malay”.
While it appeared to be a compliment, students responded that it sounded sarcastic with its improper tone and hurtful phrasing.
Generational Differences When Looking at Race and Religion
Further discussion ensued on how they could respond to the student with tact: to let the student know the comment was offensive without using aggression.
“While you think something is wrong, don’t push or judge, as the other person may not mean it. They just didn’t think about it,” noted Mr Ong at a doorstep interview. “You want to help them realise [by] themselves.”
Reflecting upon having such conversations in the past, Mr Ong said: “When I was young, my friends and I would probably feel awkward talking about such sensitive topics.”
According to Mr Ong, his own generation became more accepting and appreciative of other cultures whereas the generation above him were tolerant towards diversity and co-existing.
Mr Ong also participated in a board game with a Secondary One class, where students had their assumptions and understandings about cultural diversity questioned.
Students had to discuss this given scenario: What would they do if they were in a lift and witnessed a grandmother telling her grandson that a construction worker was “smelly” and had lice.
Through such conversations, Mr Ong highlighted that students can have greater awareness of “casual racism” that occurs.
“We often need to restrain ourselves as different communities in order to create bigger common space for us to live harmoniously together,” he said.
Students To Discuss Issues in Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) Classes
According to Mr Ong, such conversations about race and religion should extend beyond Racial Harmony Day.
During the doorstep interview, he highlighted that many schools are having “respectful, well-facilitated, well-framed and honest” discussions with their students, which he considers a “very good development”.
MOE will also support schools in educating students on issues of race and religion.
He said that the Ministry of Education (MOE) is encouraging principals to hold more in-depth conversations in schools, which includes those during character and citizenship education (CCE) classes.
It was previously announced during the debate on the ministries’ budgets earlier in March this year that schools would engage secondary school students fortnightly on such issues.
This will also apply to other contemporary issues such as bullying and using social media.
“MOE will train a team of specialist teachers to facilitate and guide such discussions,” said Mr Ong.
Lead image via Facebook/Ong Ye Kung.
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