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Education: an experience that all Singaporeans have, and one that leaves such an imprint on our early years that it has moulded us into who we are today. Parents compare schools, students complain about stress, and Gold with Honours becomes Distinction. Each of us has become invested in the Singaporean education experience in one way or another, and we as tertiary students look upon our earlier years of education with fond memories. Change, however, has the tendency to outpace nostalgia nowadays. Our Singapore Conversation, conducted over the past year, highlighted several issues that Singaporeans are concerned about in our education system, especially with regard to examinations and social mobility. To partake of this effort, the team at Mnemozine attempted to interrogate this theme historically by asking ourselves how common the experience of Singaporean education is. This led to a host of relevant questions: does gender play a role in shaping education (p. 16)? How has education changed to support Singapore’s nation-building efforts (p. 14, 22, 24)? How have private tertiary institutions developed over the years (p. 21)? This issue is the result of our effort in finding the answers. It is by no means comprehensive, yet we hope that it will serve to pique others into finding more answers on their own. We want to use history to understand our present, and even our future. This issue shall be my swan song as the editor of Mnemozine, and I personally hope that this publication will also become one of many mediums that can unite all who enjoy history. We introduce our new History Society Exco in this issue and have also included updates from our very own History department, as part of a concerted effort to foster cohesion among NUS History lovers. We also continue to enjoy our collaboration with the National Heritage Board, NUS Museum, and NUS Press. After all, our NUS education is not bound to our modules. We hope you enjoy the read. Chief Editor Ngiam Xing Yi (P.S. Do drop us an email with comments, suggestions, or better still, to express your ardent desire to join our team!)


A/P Peter Borschberg/ 2

Old School Campus Heritage / 18

Cherian George / 26

Teaching Genocide / 30

We talk to A/P Peter Borschberg about Singapore’s Education

Old school architecture and Campus Heritage

MNEMOZINE ISSUE 5 / OCT 2013 EDITORIAL TEAM Chief Editor    Ngiam Xing Yi Deputy Editors   Andy Chong    Lean Guan Hua    Gowri d/o Rajaratnam CONTRIBUTORS Derek Wong Zi DIng Poh Yu Hui Mahirah Mustaffa Mizrahi Maszenan Jason Seng Michelle Djong Chan Huan Jun Teo Wei How, Rayner Dhwani Shashank Dholakia Adeline Ang Li Ling Tan Sock Keng Wong Li Qin Joshua Chen PHOTOGRAPHY Lai Jun Wei Christabelle Ong PUBLIC RELATIONS Tan Sock Keng COVER DESIGN Loo Wen Xin Lai Jun Wei DESIGN Lai Jun Wei Past issues at Mnemozine is published by the NUS History Society and is distributed to all current students, staff, friends and benefactors of the society. A non-profit entity, we welcome donations and other in-kind support. The views expressed by the writers remain solely their own and do not necessarily reflect the official view of the National University of Singapore and its affiliates. For more information, please email us at

A/P Cherian George shares his views on Higher Education

Documentation Centre of Cambodia

CONTENTS HOME Associate Professor Borschberg: Education, Teaching & Textbooks / 2 Education with a Bite / 4 HISSOC Exco / 6 History Camp / 8

FEATURE The Charade of Meritocracy / 10 Student Activism in Singapore / 12 History & National Education/ 14 Gender in Education / 16 New Life, Old Spirit / 18 Where are they now / 20 The Economics of Private Tertiary Institutions / 21 Publica Schola and the State / 22 The Singaporean Student: An Agent of Change / 23 Education Policies: State-Society Relations / 24 Cherian George on Education and Students / 26 YALE-NUS: A New Chapter Begins / 28 The Importance of Socio-Emotional Learning / 29

BEYOND Teaching Genocide: Documentation Centre of Cambodia / 30 NHB Project: Punggol Zoo / 31

REVIEW Brief History of Malayan Art / 32 Squatters into Citizens/ 33





PROFESSOR EDUCATION, TEACHING & TEXTBOOKSMURFETT DEREK WONG ZI DING Photography by LAI JUN WEI Clad in a batik shirt as if he is an embodiment of the region he specialises in studying, Associate Professor Borschberg has his brow furrowed while poring over some documents on his table when we enter his office. He then proceeds to regale us for the next hour with his passion for education and educating. As a consultant for the upcoming history textbooks, he tells us too about his perspective on the Singapore education landscape. We leave breathless, yet heartened.

Thanks for taking the time to chat to Mnemozine. What have you been up to recently? Recently I’ve been working on the Singapore History Anthology Project (SHAP) “deliverables”. There are several scheduled publications – the first one is “The Memoirs and Memorials of Jacques de Coutre”. It is as a text a very valuable document for the history of the region and the commercial relations between the Peninsula and the greater Indian Ocean region between the late 16th century and early 17th centuries. The edited and translated book is scheduled to be released in late September/early October. Have you always been interested in teaching? Yes. I was fairly young at that time. I must have been around 13 or 14 when I developed an interest in teaching. At 13 or 14? That is a very young age indeed. There must have been an influential figure. My late history teacher, Angelo Zanini, was simply brilliant. He taught me throughout secondary school and even beyond. He had this most amazing private library and a photographic memory. Even as a post-graduate student I remember going to him and asking him about a late 16th century Italian Reformer who fled to Poland. And he immediately said, “Oh! Fausto Sozzini! You would have to look in Delio Cantimori’s book”, and he pulled it off his shelf and said “Here is the chapter.” Which do you prefer – doing research or lecturing/teaching? There’re different forms of teaching. Let’s talk about the HY1101E class. I can admit to you, I am not very comfortable in front of 400 people. Until today, it still gives me butterflies in the stomach. Small group teaching is much more comfortable and rewarding to me. Research can be really fun! But what outsiders like yourself usually get are the highlights. No one usually tells you about the boring hours spent struggling with some, in my case, 16th or 17th century manuscripts that are written in such terrible handwriting that it looks like they were written on the back of a moving cart. It’s just horrible! And you sit there asking yourself: “How and why did I ever get into this? Now I have to struggle deciphering this scrawl and then try to

make sense of it.” But there are clearly also some highlights, these few wonderful moments where you go: “Wow, look what I just found!” In your 22 years here, there must have been a few changes in the Singapore education system. How do you find the education system in Singapore? It has most certainly improved from when I first came. Fortunately there has also been more emphasis on history in schools, definitely a step forward in my humble opinion. But I’m biased in favour of history. And given the new textbooks I’ve been involved with as a consultant for Pearson Education, I’m actually very curious to see how things are going to be in 4-5 years’ time when the first batch of students using these new textbooks enter university. The new books have generated mostly positive feedback at my end, but we need to see how students take to these and work with them. What are some of the challenges a history student in Singapore might face? I think what a good number of Singaporeans don’t quite fully appreciate is this: as an historian you really need to be a “jack of all trades”. You have to know something about history - of course –but also about ideas and religion and philosophy. And you have to be, at least in my field, a pretty good linguist too. It’s not all nicely written in English. Translated sources are really few and far between. Then of course,for studying the history of an age before the typewriter and the PC, you need to be able to read old handwriting – that in itself is a science. So when you want to become a successful historian, you really need to become that “jack of all trades”. I’m very curious how the new textbooks will fare, because what I’ve noticed is that the average Singaporean student coming into university has difficulties developing and sustaining an argument. This is not a skill you only need in history. This is a life skill, whether you are a lawyer or government official. You need to collate the material, ask relevant and useful questions, formulate a point and get your message across. The new textbooks are meaningfully addressing this skill. What is one dream/wish you have for the Singapore education system? I think the “system” is going in the right direction, but as an early modernist, I would like to see a bit more history of Singapore before 1800. But then I’m admittedly biased in that direction. I used to joke – the popular image is that Raffles founded Singapore, and before that, it seems, dinosaurs roamed the earth! But this view is also gradually changing, and it will just take time. In my remaining years here at NUS, public awareness of Singapore’s pre-1800 past may not reach the level that I would like to see, but it is certainly changing. In the words of Galileo to the Roman Inquisition: “Eppursimuove - And yet it moves”. We may not always sense that things are moving along, that they are changing, but they are. ■




Mnemozine chats with History alumnus Kathy Xu about her passion for shark conservation and educating the masses on the plight of these misunderstood marine predators. shark fin industry, talking to schools and potential customers, and the Dorsal Effect is how I could do something on the supply side as well.

DEREK WONG ZI DING Photography by CHRISTABELLE ONG Hi Kathy. Thanks for taking the time to chat with Mnemozine. What have you been up to recently? I left my job as a secondary school teacher at the end of last year. Since then, I have been trying to start an ecotourism business at Lombok, Indonesia, as a form of alternative livelihood for the fishermen who are catching sharks there. I am also still volunteering with Shark Savers, and go around to schools and organisations to talk about shark conservation. Tell us about your ecotourism business, The Dorsal Effect. I had been volunteering with Shark Savers, and their Director for Asia Pacific, Jonn Lu, made me aware of the finning that was happening in Tanjung Lua, Lombok. There are a variety of sharks in Lombok – such as thresher sharks and surprisingly, hammerhead sharks as well. It’s ironic, because I’ve always wanted to see hammerhead sharks in the waters, yet each time I see them in Tanjung Lua, I see them dead. The fins of the hammerhead sharks are actually more in demand than other species of sharks. It is considered a higher grade of shark’s fin because of its texture. On the other hand, there are other sharks such as reef sharks whose fins are not as valued, and even when the shark is dead they throw back the shark, fin and all. I made my way to Lombok in September last year to see for myself what was happening there through talking to the locals. I had been reaching out to the demand side of the

Is it a thriving business in Lombok? Do the fishermen depend entirely on shark’s fin for their livelihood? It seems like they are thriving, but it is actually the fin traders who benefit from it. The fishermen are actually exploited, and it is the fin traders who earn most of the money. For a kilogram of shark’s fin, the fin traders receive about $650. The boat owners $30, and the boat crew $3. So it really is exploitation. It must be tough telling the fishermen in Lombok to radically change their livelihoods. They haven’t been hostile yet. There have been a lot of Caucasian conservationists who have gone before me, taken a lot of photos and even scolded the locals there. It helps that I am Asian and I try not to use the approach of a conservationist yet. Instead, I try to engage them personally and ask how they might want to consider alternative forms of livelihoods. They are more receptive to this approach. For now, I will only adopt the conservation stance with the tourists who come to the island, and tell them that their role here makes a difference. For the fisherman, it’s less about the conservation angle for now. How do you approach the fishermen then, if it is not from a conservation angle? I will go down to the fish market and get involved in their lives. Hear about their stories and find out about their problems. And see if ecotourism will be a means to solve those problems. For instance, a fisherman invited us to his house and told us how his wife left him because he had been away at sea for too many days catching sharks. Ecotourism could possibly be a means of addressing this, where these fishermen could instead bring tourists for day tours, go back to their families everyday and still make a living. Ecotourism might have the converse effect of damaging the area, won’t it? Well it’s something I have thought about before. I’ve been on other tours, seeing

how others have carried out these tours. One way is to restrict the number of tourists and to brief them thoroughly and tell them what their being here means. Ecotourism means responsible tourism, managing the numbers and giving proper briefings. We see you have been going around schools to give talks on shark conservation. I talk to tertiary institutions, pre-schools and companies. My favourite crowd is still the younger students because that is the age when they are most receptive. I have, for instance, had a child telling me he had gone home to tell his grandparents not to consume shark’s fin. That was encouraging. Having been a teacher for seven years, you must be very familiar with the Singapore education system. Do you think the system inculcates in our children sensitivity towards nature and conservation? There are a lot of areas the curriculum could work on in terms of conservation and teaching about the marine ecosystem. All these things I have been teaching about sharks are not in the syllabus at all. I hope too that with the Dorsal Effect I can in time bring students on eco-tours as educational packages. You definitely have deviated from your study of history in NUS by pursuing this track. I do love history a lot still, and believe in its benefits for children. Implicitly, when you learn history it teaches you appreciation for people and empathy. When at the fish markets of Lombok, I see a lot of conservationists scolding the locals. But how about finding out about their lives and why they are doing what they are doing instead? And what can we do for them? I would like to believe that studying history teaches you empathy. Last question: which are more dangerous – sharks or the children you have taught? Both are not dangerous. Both are lovable to me! ■

Mnemozine finds out more about our fellow History Majors in this brand new ‘Know your History Majors’ section Name: Sandy Yeo, Year 2



Why do you want to study history? I liked history when I was in secondary school, so I wanted to follow up and study more about history in NUS. What are your interests in history? I want know more about love lives of dictators. For example, Hitler’s relationship with his half-niece GeliRaubal. I also read somewhere about Mussolini’s love letters. What is one memorable moment that you have had in NUS History? Stepping into Dr Chua Ai Lin’s class was quite memorable, because I know that she was the vice president* of Singapore Heritage Society (SHS). She is very passionate about heritage and she sends us lots of email updates all the time. She’s contagious. *Dr Chua has since been appointed President of SHS

Name: Lim Gim Siong, Year 4

Why do you want to study history? I wanted to find out what happened in the past. When I was young, it was the World Wars that sparked my interest – why people wanted to kill each other and other stuff. When I was in JC, it was the most interesting subject that I wanted to pursue. I would attribute it to my history teacher in Pioneer JC, Mr. Augustine Ng. The study of history broadened my mental capabilities and allowed me to think deeper, broader and consider both sides of the story. It helped me in my objectiveness in dealing with day-to-day matters. I don’t have any regrets studying history; these are valuable life skills. Can you tell us more about your honours thesis? My topic is on the origins of PSLE from 1947-1963. Why PSLE? I think everybody took the PSLE, and I’m intrigued by how parents are adamant and want their children want to do well in PSLE. PSLE is also perceived to determine a child’s future. It has also become part of our national culture, and is akin to a rite of passage to all Singaporeans. The nuances of the arguments would vary to the availability of sources. What do you want to do after graduation? If any companies out there need a historian to do research for their historical computer games, I would gladly take up the job! It’s the most practical way for me to apply what I have learnt and my interests. In the long run, one day I hope to go back into the teaching career to be an inspiration to those who are studying history in JC.

WELCOME TO THE FAMILY Dr Wang Jinping, Assistant Professor Dr Wang studies the social, cultural, and political history of pre-modern China, and holds a Ph.D. from the Department of History from Yale University (2011). Her Ph.D. thesis, entitled “Between Family and State: Networks of Literati, Clergy, and Villagers in Shanxi, North China, 1200-1400” won the Department’s Arthur and Mary Wright Prize for the best dissertation on non-Western History. Teaching Areas: Pre-modern China, Chinese religions, The Mongol Empire, Asia and the Modern World Dr Ruth de Llobet, Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Llobet’s main area of research is Philippine history. Her work seeks to challenge the dichotomies that have characterised much of the historiography of early Spanish colonialism in the Philippines. She also examines life stories, judicial cases and explores the formation of a modern and multi-ethnic Filipino political elite in Manila. Teaching Areas: Southeast Asian History, Philippine History, Colonial and Imperial History Dr Sharow Low, Adjunct Lecturer Dr Low’s research background is in the area of travel writing and British colonial and imperial history. Within that framework, she is interested in how social and cultural discourses of gender and race influence are depicted in travelogues that straddle different cultures and serve as the mediating text between the foreign and the familiar. Teaching Areas: Singapore Studies, European History

Dr Murari Kumar Jha, Research Fellow Dr Jha specialises in early modern South Asian history. He is currently preparing a book manuscript based on the revised version of his 2013 Ph.D dissertation entitled, “The Political Economy of the Ganga River: Highway of State Formation in Mughal India, c.1600– 1800”. Dr Jha obtained his MPhil and PhD degrees at Leiden University (2006–2013). He speaks Maithili, Bhojpuri and Hindi fluently, knows German and reads VOC sources in Dutch. Teaching Areas: Riverine economies and societies, Environmental history, Asian-European interactions, South Asian trading communities Daniel Lee Mun Wei, Research Assistant Daniel began life at NUS as an Economics major before making the switch to History in his third year. A recent graduate of the Department, Daniel’s research interest lies primarily in the fields of imperial and military history - in particular, the interaction of the Great Powers in Asia in the first half of the 20th Century. His current research is in Empire and Imperialism in Early Modern Asia.


Associate Professor Huang Jianli and Dr John P. Dimoia have been awarded the Faculty Teaching Excellence Award 2013 for their work in AY2012/13. A/P Huang Jianli Dr John P. DiMoia



l, Hui Shan, Chan Yun Ho Teo, Foo Mingyee, Tan ah Sar , Lim n lso Wi (L-R) O: LAI JUN WEI Yi, Justin Waung) PHOT pictured: Ngiam Xing

Terry Lin, Sandy Wang


HISSOC EXCO 2013/14 Name: SA RAH TEO Faculty: Y ear 1, FAS S Position: Secretary Interests: I love class ical musi interested c and am in Europe an and m history as usical well as G reek myth ology.

Name: TAN HUI SH AN Faculty: Year 1, FASS Position: Presiden t Random Soundbite : History will be kin d to me for I intend to write it

N LIM Name: WILSO History 4, ar Ye Faculty: resident -P ce Vi n: tio si Po Manga, Games, Anime, o de Vi Interests: ian History Movies, East As



Name: W Faculty ANG SHUQIN : Year 2 , Histor SANDY Positio y n: Cam p Direc Random to r S and I lo oundbite: I a m a his ve histo to ry, espe militar yh cially S ry major ingapo more th istory! I love re’s to a adverti n answering th ask question se, plea s e m . Als se do jo in us fo o, to r the ca mp! :)

LIN Name: TERRY FASS 1, ar Faculty: Ye re Director fa el W : on ts and enPositi to play spor s ve en. Interests: Lo now and th book every joys a good

Name: FO O MIN GYEE Faculty: Year 3, Hi story Position: IT/Pub licity Director Random Soundb ite: Hello, I am M ingyee, a year three who specialises in As ian History and I’m minoring in Chin a studies. I like lis tening to oldies and I love watching m ovies from the 19 50s and 1980s. In my spare tim e I enjoy sketchin g and I really hope to go to Old Trafford on e day.

Name: CHA N YUN HO L Faculty: Ye ar 1, Mechan ical Enginee Position: H ring istory Festiv al Director Interests: H istory, Cult ure and Cu Affairs. rrent

NG YI Name: NGIAM XI story Hi 3, ar Faculty: Ye tions Editor ica bl Pu n: io sit Po ep, Play, and edit Interests: Eat, Sle Mnemozine

Name: JUSTIN WAUNG Faculty: Year 1, FASS Position: Secr etary



IT’S THAT TIME OF THE YEAR AGAIN MIZRAHI MASZENAN Photography by CHRISTABELLE ONG The NUS History Society (HISSOC) camp 2013 was conducted from 13-16 July 2013. The incoming freshmen were divided into four groups. Each group bore an alphabet that formed the word “H-I-S-T”. Over a span of three days, the participants and camp facilitators went through a series of activities. This saw them crisscrossing the Kent Ridge Campus by bus and foot. There is no doubt that our freshmen have orientated themselves well to the commute around campus! This year’s camp was different from the previous year. First, accommodation was top of the class as far as camps could possibly go… welcome to la villa de Prince George Park. Each freshman had a room to himself whereas the seniors had to find a buddy to bunk with. Second, a history is not complete without a visit to the museum. This year’s scavenger hunt was conducted at our very own NUS Museum. The title of the event “Night at the Museum” gave it away. The freshmen had some inkling or another that something was in store. They were not easily deceived into thinking that it was just a movie screening. There was a murder suspect on the loose, a haunted toilet and a merry singing Asian Santa Claus. Not forgetting a riddle master who threw out bemusing maths sums (guess who had the final laugh after all). The message was clear: have fun and don’t take us seriously! On the final day, the participants were treated to a sumptuous buffet spread joined by other history majors. Questions started

flowing with concerns about how to go about bidding modules. The seniors had many tips at hand and handled it like veterans. After many hugs and goodbyes, the camp drew to a close. We look back at the activities we did, the cheers we sang, the forfeits we performed and the countless rounds of card games. We recall the nights at Prince George Park where we sat in circles before calling it a day. The light from the lamp illuminated our faces. Knees drawn close to our chest as the night went by. A stillness punctuated by the occasional sigh and laughter. We shared stories, our fears and plans for the future. Not knowing that we were forming memories that will extend beyond NUS itself. University life can be a trying chapter in our lives. But remember to revel in the company of friends. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Lend a shoulder when in need. Take some time to not take yourself seriously just as we did. Find solace in this close-knit family of ours. To all freshmen, we welcome you aboard. ■


mnemozine classroom Mnemozine's outreach programme for 16-18-year-old students Enquire at



MAHIRAH MUSTAFFA Photographs from WIKICOMMONS, courtesy of NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE, NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD and MRS LILY LEE Since its conception, Singapore’s education system has prided itself as one that operates on the basis of meritocracy, providing opportunities regardless of race, language or religion. Concealed within what in the first instance appears to be an even-handed approach towards multiculturalism, is a cleverly disguised but longstanding Sino-centric sentiment, which has disadvantaged ethnic minorities. In 1979, Special Assistance Plan Schools (SAP) were formed to promote Chinese values, Chinese culture and high standards of the Chinese language1. While propagators of SAP schools might be quick to point out the economic usefulness of bilingualism, bilingualism specific to the Chinese language creates a culture of exclusivity amongst Chinese students. The presence of SAP schools provides Chinese students with a wider range of schools to choose from, particularly elite schools, compared to minority students. As of 2005, four out of nine primary schools offering the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) are SAP, three out of eight independent schools are SAP, and 30% of autonomous schools are SAP2. Unless minority students offer Mandarin as their mother tongue, they are denied the same level of accessibility Chinese students have to SAP schools – all of which are accorded either “GEP”, “independent” or “autonomous” status, and therefore, offer relatively higher educational standards.

The elevated importance of Chinese-ness is a form of racial marginalisation. Due to the lack of choice through no fault of their own, minority students have to compete for what limited places there are in nonSAP elite schools, or to otherwise go to government-aided schools, where the quality of education is arguably lower. SAP schools have a 22.8% advantage over non-SAP schools in teacher-student ratio and receive 56.45% more government funding3, which may trans-

late to better trained teachers and more enrichment programs. Not only can SAP schools be seen as marginalising minority students academically, but they also undermine the sociocultural need for ethnic minorities to learn their own mother tongues in favour of Mandarin in order to even the playing field against their Chinese counterparts. As opposed to being embraced for their ethnic diversity, minority students are compelled to stifle it, for the sake of social survival in an education system steeped with pro-Chinese biases. Statistics revealing the number of minority students who have pragmatically opted to study Mandarin as their mother tongue are unavailable from the Ministry of Education (MOE). Sociological research has also shown that the study of Mandarin contributes to racial marginalisation when Chinese students speak in Mandarin around non-Chinese friends as a conscious expression of their social power4. This behaviour transgresses into the workplace, where meetings are at times held in Mandarin despite the presence of Malay or Indian colleagues5. Anecdotal evidence suggests that such behaviour spark feelings of being ostracised in Singapore, perpetuating ethnic minorities to migrate to English-speaking countries like America and Australia, where workplace environments are more inclusive. The seemingly obvious solution, then, would be for ethnic minorities to learn Mandarin. However, efforts by MOE to encourage this are not without problems. As of 2007, MOE offered the Chinese (Special Programme) [CSP], to Secondary One minority students as a Third Language, on top of learning their mother tongue6. However, only five schools operate the programme and two-hour lessons are conducted twice a week outside curriculum time7, which means some students will have to spend extra time travelling to these schools. In comparison, 120 schools in Singapore offer Higher Chinese to students, where students attend lessons in the convenience of their own school, within curriculum time8. Furthermore, minority students in CSP start learning Mandarin at the age of thirteen, with a lower level of proficiency in the language, as compared to Chinese students who have learnt it since the age of seven. The effectiveness of CSP becomes questionable when we consider it, not so much as a social equaliser for minority students, but a second-rate game of playing catch-up. The elevated importance of “Chinese-ness” is a form of racial marginalisation: minority students are compelled to deracinate themselves from their own cultures and languages, to better function in a system where “being Chinese”, if not in appearance then at least in behaviour, is rewarded. Those who choose to resist this are not only restricted to opportunities of learning Mandarin on top of their own mother tongue (because Mandarin was never made a compulsory language in school), but also face the socio-economic challenge of Mandarin being increasingly promoted as the lingua franca of the country9. It seems that the national pledge that students recite every morning regarding our unity regardless of race, language or religion belies certain truths in our education system. ■




Barr, Michael D. and ZlatkoSkrbid. Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-Building Project. NIAS Press, 2008. ibid. The Real Singapore Web site, 6 Ministry of Education, Singapore Web site, 7,8 Ministry of Education, Singapore Web site, 9 The New Straits Times reported, on August 19th 2013, that the prevalence of jobs requiring proficiency in Mandarin has undermined the social mobility of the Malay community in Singapore, particularly in thelabour market for blue-collar workers. More here: 1

2,3,4 5



Riot police at work during the student demonstration against the National Service Ordinance, 13 May 1954 (Photo courtesy of National Museum of Singapore, National Heritage Board)

LEAN GUAN HUA Photographs courtesy of NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE, NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD The National University of Singapore Students’ Union (NUSSU) has a grand vision of being a ‘representative and inclusive institution advocating student interests’, yet it is a depoliticised organisation and some historians argue that the University of Singapore (Amendment Act) in 1975 largely reduced the intensity of student activism in Singapore1. This is a stark contrast to active student activism from 1950s to early 1970s, when Singapore experienced large scale students’ riots over government’s attempts to introduce National Military and Civilian Defence Service in May 1954. There were riots over socio-economic grievances as evident in students leading transport workers to stage a bloody riot in May 1955, which resulted in a death of an American foreign correspondent2. There are also non-violent methods of student activism which include the formation of students’ political clubs, university publications and even public demonstrations which successfully exert pressure on the state, allowing students to extract concessions. However, I argue that power is ultimately in the hands of the state, and concessions that are being extracted are merely cosmetic and serve to appease the student populace. Student political activities had been curtailed since the 1950s when the colonial authorities arrested students who were involved in the Anti-British League3. Radical movements were often suppressed and students’ activism was limited to merely a social role of improving the welfare of the students’ populace. Furthermore the student body was largely disunited and had varying goals for different issues, such as Singapore’s independence. The more radical Socialist Club supported the People’s Action Party and fought for complete decolonisation as opposed to the Democratic Club that was contented with a gradual constitutional approach towards Malayan Independence4. Liao argues that internal strife and disagreement over ideologies and agendas within the student populace limited the influence of student activism in Singapore. What, then, is the role of students’ unions in Singapore today?

In the recent decade, there has been an opening up of spaces for civic participation due to the need for the government to engage a more educated younger generation. Given the fact that most university students have the ability to vote during the General Elections, the government cannot simply neglect the voices of this vocal group of voters participating more actively in political dialogues such as the Top Gun Forum, and even online discussions on political issues evident in The Online Citizen and The Kent Ridge Common. Ironically, the government’s success in educating the masses led to higher aspirations, as evident in the attempts to extract more concessions from the government and the vote swing toward the opposition parties in the General Elections in 2011. The vote swing was merely the result of attempts by voters to demand more concessions from the government, but not voting for a change in government. Therefore, the government needs to find other grounds of legitimacy and needs to be more consultative.

Ironically, the government’s success in educating the masses led to higher aspirations, as evident in the attempts to extract more concessions from the governmentand the vote swing toward the opposition parties in the General Elections in 2011 Liberalising civic society might increase the efficacy of students’ activism in future. Currently, NUSSU has been striving to achieve more welfare for students, through proposals to review student concessions on public transportation and also administering the Bursary Awards and Book Grants (BABG) which distributed Union’s money to needy undergraduates. Even though these initiatives are clearly non-political in nature, I argue that there is a shift towards greater students’ activism as evident in university publications, such as writers from THE RIDGE voicing out on current issues such as the 377A debate, the Population White Paper and even political issues. Even though current leg-

13 islations hamper students’ activism by depoliticising student unions and criminalise protests without permit, students are getting more involved in political debates due to the managed liberalisation of civic society in Singapore. Currently, student activism is seen as unnecessary and even opposing the government’s developmental goals for Singapore’s nationbuilding, as riots and strikes are disruptive to the economy. However, we must acknowledge the important role played by student leaders in the past that rallied behind the People’s Action Party, which paved the way for the attainment of Singapore’s independence. Recently, the government recognised the need to engage the younger generation by re-politicising them and holding more dialogues on current issues, but there are definitely “out of bounds markers” to prevent students from being radicalised. Liao argues that it is “self-defeating” to repoliticise students and yet prevent them from holding ‘autonomous or critical position’6. Perhaps we can see more student activism in future from a gradual liberalisation of civic society in Singapore. Universities are ideal breeding grounds for political ideals and they are platforms where generations of political leaders are nurtured. We all have a crucial part to contribute to our nation and participate actively in the nation-building process. Current students activism should be one that aims to make Singapore a better place, whether it be based on partisan or non-partisan lines. ■

Riot police leading a student protester away during the demonstration against the National Service Ordinance 13 May 1954 (Photo courtesy of National Museum of Singapore, National Heritage Board)


National University of Singapore Students’ Union (NUSSU). sg/about. Last Accessed on 15 Aug 2013. 2 Liao Bolun Edgar (2010). Reclaiming The Ivory Tower: Student Activism In The University of Malaya and Singapore, 1949-197. Pg7. 3 Stanley Spector (1956).Students and Politics in Singapore. Pg66. 4 Liao Bolun Edgar (2010). Reclaiming The Ivory Tower: Student Activism In The University of Malaya andSingapore, 1949-197. Pg42. 5 ibid, pg36. 6 ibid, pg91. 7 ibid, pg94. 1





JASON SENG LEAN GUANHUA Photography by LAI JUN WEI Learning Journeys, including national heritage tours to Chinatown, Little India, and other heritage sites, are important components of the Social Studies curriculum for primary school students. In schools from the Primary to Tertiary levels, students and teachers commemorate significant days within Singapore’s history such as Total Defence Day, International Friendship Day, Racial Harmony Day and National Day. These programmes are often eagerly anticipated by students, because it means a day off from their mundane schoolwork.However, few actually ponder upon the origins of National Education (NE) and the historical context that prompted an urgency to use history for the purpose of nation-building.

National Day celebrations at Woodlands Secondary School.

NE aims to “develop national cohesion, the instinct for survival and confidence in the future”1. This is done by allowing students to understand our history, hoping to create a sense of a shared past, hence enhancing national identity. The National Education Programme was launched in May 1997 by the then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Against the backdrop of globalisation which led to increasing migration rate among young Singaporeans, NE was meant to propagate the “ideology of survival” to highlight Singapore’s vulnerabilities and challenges to students and also to give credit to our government for managing these challenges effectively, thereby making them more inclined to stay. Key events are commemorated in schools to remind students not to take racial harmony and peacetime Singapore for granted2. However, is a top-down approach really effective in the teaching of Singapore’s history? Critics often argue that The Singapore Story is perceived as a propagandistic and one-sided presentation of history. History is often

Secondary school students visiting the 2013 Navy Open House at Changi Naval Base to learn more about Singapore’s defenses.

written by the victors and it is not surprising to hear criticism from Malaysian leaders and former Barisan Sosialis members that their side of the story is not represented. An example is the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) leaders putting the blame on the People’s Action Party (PAP) for the 1964 racial riots3 as opposed to what is depicted in NE. The state’s presentation of historical memory is not easily accepted by the younger educated masses that have access to alternative sources of information through the proliferation of mass media. It is being questioned due to the increasing liberalisation of history with the publication of books that challenge the government’s narrative. Hence, there is a change in approach by the government, allowing the presentation of history to be more interactive, evident in schools organising school tours to war memorials and teaching history through interactive media. A “bottom-up” approach is necessary to appeal to the younger generation and this is evident in the Singapore Memory Project which represents the lives of ordinary Singaporeans in history4. Despite all the criticisms about NE and the use of history in nation-building, the PAP leaders definitely have the legitimacy to present the Singapore Story. This is due to their success that saw Singapore’s growth from a newly independent state in 1965, with no natural resources and high


unemployment rate to a first world cosmopolitan city with a high standard of living. History as presented by the state is factually accurate, as supported by historians teaching the Singapore Studies modules in the National University of Singapore. However, there exist alternative perspectives to Singapore’s history that students can explore based on their observations of the sites they visit for field trips and the significant events which are commemorated in schools. The ease of access to information from the internet and secondary sources from bookstores and libraries allow for interested students to have the opportunity to seek out additional information to add on to what is being shared by their teachers. This allows students to take greater ownership of the construction of their national history within their minds, and hence serves to enhance their sense of national identity. The key issue in effectively teaching NE in classrooms today is sustaining the students’ interest. The Ministry of Edu-

Racial Harmony Day is one of four commemorative days in the school’s NE program.

cation has been attempting to address this by utilising engaging technological gadgets and designing worksheets with open-ended questions to encourage selfexploration by students in the execution of field-based learning packages for students.5 The ministry has taken great effort to engage students in the teaching of National Education. What is essential now is a shift in the mind-sets among young Singaporeans from scepticism and indifference towards national history to a

Students from Innova Junior College embarking on a Learning Journey to the Little India Heritage District.

bottom-up creation of their own national histories within the state’s NE framework. In doing so, they will be able to situate their personal histories within national history, and engage in national dialogue regarding the construction of history if they find areas of disagreement. The steps taken by the government to encourage Singaporeans to share their personal experiences and interpretations of national history would likely go a long way in fostering national identity among Singaporeans. This is crucial for Singapore which constantly experiences the conflicting images of itself as a nation-state and yet, at the same time, a global city-state. ■


Singapore’s Ministry of Education website. http:// Last accessed 10 July 2013. 2 Albert Lau (2005).Nation-Building and the Singapore Story: Some Issues in the Study of Contemporary Singapore History.Pg 231. 3 Ibid. Pg 234. 4 libraries/community_and_outreach/the_singapore_ memoryproject.html. Last accessed 19 March 2013. 5 Sharing by educators and vendors in Humanities Educators’ Conference conducted in Raffles Institution in 2012. 1

Primary Five students doing the wave at one of the National Day Parade’s NE shows.



EDUCATION Is the future of Singapore’s education tied with the move towards coeducational institutes? GOWRI D/O RAJARATNAM Photography by LAI JUN WEI, and courtesy of NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE, NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD Singaporeans have spent the better half of the last decade dissecting the education system – all in the hope of unearthing a magical algorithm that would maximise the potential of every child. As idealistic as it seems, this search for perfection has highlighted significant flaws in our education system that hampers its effectiveness as a conduit for knowledge. An education is the practice of giving or receiving instruction on any topic. Unlike learning, an education brings with it various unintentional influences: school systems have in one way or another fostered elitism, religiosity, racial discrimination and lastly, gender discrimination. The issue of gender has recently been propelled back into the spotlight in Singapore with the news of traditionally single-sex St. Joseph’s Institution’s plans to unveil a new co-educational (co-ed) school (Ng, 2012).

biases (Gupta, 2000). Notwithstanding that, even in today’s world, some single-sex schools enforce rules that emphasise the need for women or men to fit into rigid gender roles. An example would be St. Margaret’s Secondary School, the very first all-girls school to be established in Singapore. Initially meant to be an alternative to the mistreatment and sale of young girls as property (Davies and Snow, 2010), the school evolved to be a respectable educational institute. However, in recent news, the school has gained a public image as an institution that enforces rigid social gender constructs on its students. In the recent Hair for Hope charity drive, three students who had shaved their heads for a good cause were denounced by their principal as being essentially un-feminine because of their lack of hair (Chua, 2013). In cases like this, it is clear to see how remnants of this gender bias still remain in an education system peppered with single-sex institutions.

Most developed countries experienced a concerted move towards co-ed institutes as a result of changing public opinion (Sara Delamont, 2010). However, Singapore’s education system was one of the few that never quite got on the co-ed bandwagon. Most of our top schools (secondary and primary education institutes) are currently reputable single-sex schools with rich histories (Ministry of Education, 2012). As a Singaporean, I believe it is not naïve to say that our school system is not discriminatory when it comes to gender. Although benefits abound for both single sex and co-ed schools, it is impossible to ignore the gender discrimination present in the formulation of single-sex schools. Originally a system invented to deal with educating a superior gender and an inferior gender in vastly different ways, the single-sex schooling system has evolved with time to lose much of its former gender

Secondary school students at a Home Economics class, c.1960 (Photo courtesy of National Museum of Singapore, National Heritage Board)

17 This argument continues with opponents of these institutions emphasising the inherent gender discrimination and the displacement from reality that single-sex schools provide (Gill, 2004). Proponents are eager to counter this by pointing out that in a single-sex school, students are not characterised by their genders; there are no “female” or “male” activities with subjects and co-curricular activities (like dance or drama) being gender-neutral. (Porter, 1986). Additionally, a single-sex environment removes the element of sexual harassment that many girls are subjected to in co-educational institutes (Miller-Bernal and Poulson, 2004). They also argue that co-ed schools act as “mini-societies” which classify students into their societal niches (Chrisler and McCreary, 2010). Adding to this debate is a plethora of “scientific” studies that offer evidence for and against single-sex schools: researchers assert that Korean students from co-ed schools fared worse in college entrance exams than their peers in single-sex schools (Park, 2012) while some psychologists claim that single-sex schooling permanently scarred students (Halpern, et al. 2011).

A class of Tao Nan students with their teacher, c. early mid 20th century. (Photo courtesy of National Museum of Singapore, National Heritage Board)


Altmann, Andreas, and Bernd Ebersberger. Universities in Change:

Managing Higher Education Institutions in the Age of Globalization (Google eBook). Springer , 2012. Chrisler, Joan C., and Donald R. McCreary. Handbook of Gender Research in Psychology, Volume 1. Springer, 2010. Chua, Grace. "3 girls who shaved head bald for charity told to wear wigs in school by principal." The Straits Times, August 2013. Davies, Evan, and John Snow. Memoir of the Rev Samuel Dyer, Sixteen Years Missionary to the Chinese. 2010. Ehrenreich, Barbara, and Deirdre English. For her own good: 150 years of the experts' advice to women. Anchor Press, 1978. Gill, Judith. Beyond the Great Divide: Single Sex Or Coeducation? University of New South Wales Press Ltd, 2004.

CHIJ St. Nicholas schoolgirls and nuns on excursion, c. mid 20th century (Photo courtesy of National Museum of Singapore, National Heritage Board)

Despite the squabble, the basic motivation behind both sides of the debate is the need to produce an education that maximises a student’s knowledge. So in the end, it all boils down to how much of a hindrance gender stereotypes are in our learning process. In a way, since Singapore’s society itself does not present gender stereotypes as strongly and since most students go on to experience co-ed environments in their tertiary education, the gender bias assumed to be influencing children and teenagers is alleviated, but not entirely eradicated. Gender biases are always present in society and, as a result, will manifest themselves in the school system (e.g. female students are expected to do badly in mathematics). This may have more to do with a teacher’s attitude in class and with a school’s individual rules than with the gender composition of the student body. Unfortunately, the solution to this gender bias is not as simple as finding a perfect education system. Discrimination has its roots in our culture and society will require a few more generations to effectively remove such biases. Eradicating a literal gender divide, which affects only a small portion of students and has little permanent effect on their learning potential,might be counter-productive in the long run. Thus, a conservation of our single-sex schools would not be a means of waving the white flag for gender equality but a means to maintain a system that seems to be working fine. ■

Gupta, Mukta. Women and Educational Development. Sarup & Sons, 2000. Halpern, Diane F., et al. "The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling." Science, 2011: 1706-1708. Herweck, Don. Albert Einstein and His Theory of Relativity. Compass Point Books, 2009. Llc, Books. Christian Missionaries in Singapore: Samuel Dyer, Margaret Dryburgh, Titus Lowe, James Curtis Hepburn, Evan Davies, Maria Dyer, David Abeel. General Books LLC, 2010. Miller-Bernal, Leslie, and Susan L. Poulson. Going Coed: Women's Experiences in Formerly Men's Colleges and Universities, 1950-2000. Vanderbilt University Press, 2004. Ministry of Education, Singapore. Results of the 2011 Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level) Examination. January 09, 2012. (accessed July 04, 2013). Ng, Jane. "800 more places for IP track next year." The Straits Times; The Sunday Times, October 2012. Park, Hyunjoon, Jere R.Behrman, and Jaesung Choi. "Causal Effects of Single-Sex Schools on College Entrance Exams and College Attendance: Random assignment in Seoul High Schools." University of Pennsylvania Scholarly Commons, 2012. Porter, Paige H. Gender and Education. Deakin University Press, 1986. Ropers-Huilman, Becky. Gendered Futures in Higher Education: Critical Perspectives for Change. SUNY press, 2003. Sara Delamont, Catherine Marshall. Gender and Education: An Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2010.




“The form of a town changes more swiftly, alas! than the heart of a mortal.” ~ Charles Baudelaire DHWANI DHOLAKIA GOWRI D/O RAJARATNAM Photography by LAI JUN WEI, and courtesy of NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE, NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD In a city where impermanence is perpetual, our architectural landscape changes at alarming speed. In a city where practical land use is necessary, dealing with change is also necessary. In a city where education occupies most of our formative years, letting go of our old school campuses in our cityscape is a difficult change to deal with. Each time, there is a general sentiment of the profound loss of memories. Taking a walk through a few former school campuses, we discover how their architectural elements reflect their history and how their history is reflected in their future –which ultimately leads us to question the purpose of site-conservations in Singapore. Among the earliest Chinese schools, Tao Nan School and Chung Cheng School began operations at the turn of the 20th Century with funding by philanthropists and societies such as the Haw Par brothers and the Hokkien Huay Kuan. The language and syllabus of instruction was centred on Asian models but the

The former Methodist Girls’ School (1925-1992) at Mt Sophia Road used to house arts haven Old School, but was slated for demolition and redevelopment in 2012. It currently sits abandoned.

physical architecture of their campuses reflected the desire to align themselves with modern Western, forward-thinking ideals. Tao Nan, whose former campus is now the familiar Peranakan Museum, is built in the French neo-classical style complete with a wrought-iron gate helmed by two bronze eagles. Chung Cheng now houses the Aliwal Arts Centre and the modernist, Art Deco style is a testament to the contrast between its educational culture and Western direction. Lee Kong Chian, Ong Teng Cheong and Tan Tock Seng have all passed through the gates of these schools. This illustrious history reflected in the elaborate architecture is also reflected in the bright future that both buildings have enjoyed. Perhaps it is inevitable that buildings with rich history are more likely to escape urban redevelopment, and perhaps this was the intention when so much was invested into façades so elaborate.

Students [...] need to acknowledge that it is not the building but the people who remember the stories that give the old spirit its strength. When urban redevelopment is a priority – as it has to be in a land-scarce nation – perhaps even a rich history may be disregarded. The Methodist Girls’ School’s former site on Mount Sophia has been in the limelight as of late with redevelopment plans being announced. The red-tiled roof and simple oldschool windows are a testament to the school’s humble begin-


The former St. Joseph’s Institution at Bras Basah c.1940. (Photo courtesy of National Museum of Singapore, National Heritage Board)

nings but in the following decades, Methodist Girls’ School developed a stronger societal standing. It was repurposed as Old School, an arts enclave, but rich history or not, it was difficult to resist redeveloping the land due to economic benefits that new structures on the school’s prime location would generate. A campaign run by former students, Save Old School, managed to clinch the survival of one block, but not the whole campus. Visiting the school today, it is as if the building is one with the ground on which it stands and is resisting redevelopment as nature itself tries to take back its territory. Vines and creepers from within the structure ferociously cling to the outer walls in tandem with the memories that refuse to let their home go. The use or disuse of a building is also inevitably related to its life expectancy. The latter is not profitable and takes up precious space that can be repurposed. Once the Vinayagananda Tamil School suspended operations, its presence in Tanjong Pagar has been erased from existence as developers merge it with the rest of the shophouses. Alsagoff Arab School, however, has intentionally maintained its original purpose since its founding in 1912. The schools mentioned earlier voluntarily abandoned their for-

The former Tao Nan School (1912-1982) at Armenian Street now houses the Peranakan Museum.

mer school buildings in favour of expansion and modernity, and so by vacating the premises, they indirectly opened an avenue for redevelopment. When a school sticks to their guns and insist on the continued use of their building for education, they deter redevelopment. When most former school buildings no longer retain their original purpose, it begs the question of whether eviscerating the internal structures but maintaining the external façade retains the stories of these buildings. Most do not think so. Subsequent generations may grow accustomed to impermanence and are likely to be less motivated to maintain connections with their schools’ pasts. Perhaps a reassessment of conservation strategies is required to strike a balance between retention and redevelopment. It is undeniable that economic gains are crucial to a country the size of a dot. And yet, it is equally undeniable that repurposing is possibly a better alternative to total abandonment or demolishment. New life may be nurtured but the old spirit still lingers. However, it is fading fast and students of these schools need to acknowledge that it is not the building but the people who remember the stories that give the old spirit its strength. ■

The former Chung Cheng and Chong Pun Schools at Aliwal Street now house Aliwal Arts Centre.

The Chinese High School, c.1950. (Photo courtesy of National Museum of Singapore, National Heritage Board)



The Alsagoff Arab School, located at Jalan Sultan, was built in 1912 upon the legacy of founder and benefactor Syed Mohamed b Ahmed Alsagoff. Originally an all boys’ school, it was then Singapore’s first Muslim school. It became an all-girls institution in 1966 and continues to admit students today.

WHERE are they now?

The gateway of the former Chui Eng Free School at Amoy Street. Built in 1854, it was one of the earliest Chinese Free Schools. It is now part of China Square.

LAI JUN WEI CHRISTABELLE ONG SOME SCHOOLS HAVE BEEN AROUND FOR DECADES. Some have moved, some stayed, others redesignated. Have you wondered what happened after the big move? Mnemozine checks out some old school architecture still standing today.

The Old Fairfield Methodist Girls’ School building at Neil Road had been left deserted since 1983 when the school moved to their current Dover Road campus. In 2011, it was given a new lease of life as the Home Team‘s new Career Centre.

The Singapore Philatelic Museum was formerly part of Anglo-Chinese School and was completed in 1904. In the 1970s, it became the Methodist Book Room until it was restored to become the present museum.

A dome of the former St Joseph’s Institution (1867-1988) with a sculpture of La Salle. It was gazetted as a national monument and converted into the Singapore Art Museum.

The Anglo-Chinese School was located here from 1892 and was known as Oldham Hall. It was redeveloped into an elegant modern style in 1959 and housed the primary school until 1993. It now contains the National Archives of Singapore.

This non-descript building along Middle Road formerly housed the St Anna’s School in 1879 until it became the St Anthony’s Convent & St Anthony’s Boys’ School in 1906. The building has since been commercially redeveloped.



Can the recent uptick in enrolment numbers of private universities be attributed to excellent models of learning, or is this trend merely a result of demand and supply forces in the education industry?

Arguments against the quality of degrees awarded by private tertiary institutions (PTIs) in Singapore are pervasive. Yet, the market demand for such degrees has continued to increase. In 2012, there are over 100, 000 students pursuing diplomas and undergraduate degrees at 1, 200 private tertiary institutions. While there has been constant re-modelling of PTIs as competitive market-oriented industries, drawing demand from students and generating revenue for Singapore, PTIs are rather hollow in reforming non-market aspects. In particular, efforts to develop a sense of educational ethos and provide a rigorous course curriculum remain lacklustre.

lation in PTIs in Singapore have had a predominantly business focus. In 2005, the government implemented the Educational Excellence Model, which aims to improve the conditions of PTIs through three interventionist measures. The Singapore Quality Class for Private Education Organization (SQC) controls standards of business management practices in PTIs through seven auditing benchmarks: leadership, planning, information, people, processes, customers and results. The Case Trust for Education ensures that the refund policies of PTIs are transparent, thereby preventing cases of fraud. The final and only policy focusing on providing quality education is also arguably the least successful. The Singapore Higher Education Accreditation Council (SHEAC) aims to monitor course curriculum and teaching qualifications, but has yet to make clear the benchmarks that will be used to measure them.

From the outset, the objectives of PTIs are shaped by the economic problem of scarcity. They act, first and foremost, as a substitute for students that are unable to obtain places in public universities – students both in Singapore and beyond its shores. PTIs also serve to contribute to the export dollar of Singapore by way of initiating stakeholder-partnerships with overseas educational institutions. Long-distance education programs by foreign universities that have partnered with Singapore’s government include, amongst others, the French business school, INSEAD, and America’s University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. The commercial basis of private schools places great emphasis on the need to focus on profit-making ventures as opposed to investing in quality education and teaching.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the existing challenges facing PTIs are scholastic ones. One of the main areas of concern is the low quality of academic teaching. While teachers in local public schools, from secondary school level onwards, are expected to possess at least a degree, teachers in private schools are only expected to have a minimum of five GCE ‘O’ Level passes, and unlike public school teachers, are not required to undergo teacher training programmes at the National Institute of Education. Although there are regulations to prevent misleading marketing practices, students also face the problem of information asymmetry with relation to job opportunities, upon graduation, due to the lack of alumni networks, especially in newly established PTIs.

Singapore’s partnership with the University of New South Wales (UNSW) crystallises the fact that PTIs are perceived as a business transaction. The swift failure of UNSW, which closed down within two months of its formation as a result of low enrolment numbers, resulted in the Economic Development Board (EDB) of Singapore retracting its initial grant of S$32.3 million due to scepticism over potential profitability of UNSW. Still another issue pressing PTIs to remain relentlessly focused on a market-oriented approach is the geographical proximity of private schools in Malaysia. They pose as a direct competitor, not just because of their location, but also the ability to offer relatively lower tuition fees to prospective students due to Malaysia’s weaker currency.

One can surmise that the government’s policies in private schools have been focused on revenue generation and less on pedagogical developments. Much needs to be done to improve PTIs not so much as business enterprises, but educational institutions. However, this remains problematic because the basis for PTIs has always been a market-oriented one. ■


In tandem with a profit-making objective, government regu-


Sullivan, L. “Public Education.” The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (2009): 421. Accessed August 13, 2013. 2 Gopinathan, S. and Ho WahKam, “Recent Developments in Education in Singapore.”School Effectiveness and School Improvement Vol. 10 No. 1(1999): 99–117. Accessed August 13, 2013 3 Eyre, J. J., “Roman Education in the Late Republic and Early Empire.” Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1963): 47-59. Accessed August 13, 2013. 4 OECD, “Singapore: Rapid Improvement Followed by Strong Performance.” Strong Performers and Successful Reformers for Education: Lessons from PISA for the United States. Accessed August 13, 2013: singapore/46581101.pdf 1


PUBLICA SCHOLA AND THE STATE MICHELLE DJONG Photography by KEVIN CONNORS, MICHAEL CONNORS/MORGUEFILE and courtesy of NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE, NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD Before the written word was created, complex customs and knowledge of ancient civilisation were passed down by people who specialised in the skills required for a specific job. In ancient China during the Zhou Dynasty (1054 B.C.E. – 256 B.C.E.), national schools in the capital city focused on the Six Arts: rites, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy and mathematics. During Confucius’ period, his teachings of law, governance and citizenry became the cornerstone of Imperial Examinations held in the capital city. He devotes his attention on the cultivation of morally-upright and knowledgeable civil servants who assumed governmental positions. This parallels the Seven Liberal Arts, which had been formulated to sustain the existence of the state by nurturing active civic-minded citizens. In this article we examine the role of the state influencing present-day public education. Liberal arts education aimed to promote civic responsibilities, while public education was key to educating Christians during the Reformation era. Yet, the availability of education to the public meant that education was no longer exclusive to the rich, nor to the religious, but it became one of the most prominent expression of societal progress. The term “public education” has its origins in the late 16th century, from the Latin publica schola, which the Oxford Dictionary has defined as a school maintained at the public expense, for the benefit of the public, by the state. With a modern paradigm of nations and the pervading belief in a shared sense of belonging corresponding to a territorial demarcation, there was higher emphasis placed on national progress.. Public education emerged as a system of governance that ensured public accountability; society’s way of shaping its future. Future generations learnt societal norms and were ideally moulded into good, productive citizens. In America, public education started as a way to teach society the quintessential American democratic principles and common values. Thomas Jefferson believed that it was to society’s benefit to educate all its citizens so that they can provide leadership and support for their communities. Public schools were supported by taxes allocated for the town districts, teaching reading, writing, arithmetic, and history. Gradually, universal schooling emerged in America, accompanied by a more compelling argument of the economic benefits of public education. Horace Mann, an American education reformist, convinced big manufacturers that their contributions would eventually end up in their pocket books, since public education during the era of industrialisation would produce disciplined and self-motivated workers. Math and science are prioritised in public education systems around the world today because our current public education system was born during the Industrial Revolution, meeting needs of the industrial economy. Public schools supplied factories with a skilled labour force, and provided basic literacy to the masses. This was the education that the vast majority of the population received. There is a common thread running through the significance of public education in America and Britain in the 1800s, and Singa-

pore in the 1960s. All nations, for the survival of their national economy, focused upon the streamlining and centralisation of education, a “One Size Fits All” model. According to the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the aim of Singaporean education in its early days was to “produce a good man and a useful citizen.” This was the “Survival-Driven Phase” from 1959 to 1978. Prior to independence, only the affluent were educated, leaving most of Singapore’s two million people illiterate and unskilled at independence. Therefore, the focus of this “survival” period was on expanding basic education as quickly as possible. The expansion had been so rapid that universal primary education was attained in 1965 and universal lower secondary by the early 1970s. By the end of the “survival- Female students at the First Anniversary of Ling driven phase”, Singapore Fang Tailoring and Sewing School, c.1965, created a national system (Photo courtesy of National Museum of Singapore, National Heritage Board) of public education, akin to the nation-wide public education created by tearing down individual one-room schoolhouses in America. Public education is controlled by governments around the world, largely to ensure national progress. The Singaporean government’s meritocratic philosophy has always been heralded as the driver of Singapore’s academic success. Dr Goh Keng Swee’s report in 1978, commonly referred to as the Goh Report, was underpinned by the fundamental belief that students had varying learning ability, and would therefore be better off being grouped together to learn at their appropriate pace. This resulted in streaming and the Gifted Education Program, which differentiates students according to their academic propensities. Thus, one sees the overwhelming priority of the government to groom those who possess the potential to become Singapore’s future leaders. Public education truly lives up to its namesake only during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. Previously, liberal arts education and Christian education were largely the prerogative of the elite or confined to the realm of religion. Public education was instituted to ensure the survival of a nation, assuming responsibility for the education and socialisation of citizens. Yet, Singapore’s education system faces constant criticism for its rigidity and the lack of debate, which might have been caused by a self-internalised negative perception of disagreeing with authority. When developing critical and creative thinking skills become essential to the nation, Singapore’s education system is caught in the throes of change. ■


Sullivan, L. “Public Education.” The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (2009): 421. Accessed August 13, 2013.doi: 10.4135/ 9781412972024.n2063 2 Gopinathan, S. and Ho WahKam, “Recent Developments in Education in Singapore.”School Effectiveness and School Improvement Vol. 10 No. 1(1999): 99–117. Accessed August 13, 2013.0924-3453/99/1001-0099 3 Eyre, J. J., “Roman Education in the Late Republic and Early Empire.” Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1963): 47-59. Accessed August 13, 2013. 4 OECD, “Singapore: Rapid Improvement Followed by Strong Performance.” Strong Performers and Successful Reformers for Education: Lessons from PISA for the United States. Accessed August 13, 2013: singapore/46581101.pdf. 1


THE SINGAPOREAN STUDENT: AN AGENT OF CHANGE? SoCh in Action: Evoking Thoughts; Inspiring Deeds

TEO WEI HOW, RAYNER Photographs courtesy of SOCH IN ACTION Founded in 2011 by Madhu Verma, Social Change (SoCh) in Action is a notfor-profit organisation and social enterprise dedicated to the empowerment of young children. Driven primarily by a small but committed core of volunteers, SoCh in Action conceptualises and puts into practice programmes that foster an “I Can” attitude amongst young children towards social change and guides them in the translation of their thoughts and voices into meaningful actions directed at the betterment of society. SoCh in Action’s landmark CatCh (Catalyst for Change) Workshop is an instance of such a programme. Conducted in schools across Singapore, the CatCh (Catalyst for Change) Workshop seeks to kindle a keen sense of social awareness amongst young children and to guide them in their identification of the social problems plaguing their society. It also seeks to prompt, stimulate and guide these children, utilising design thinking, to search for creative solutions to the social predicaments they perceive to exist within their community. In doing so, it not only compels the wider community to recognise young children as potent agents of social change, but also enables young children to understand that they, even in a limited capacity, can effect a positive change within their community. Apart from implementing programmes that cultivate an “I Can” attitude amongst young children towards social change, SoCh in Action also provides multiple platforms for socially cognisant young children to display their community projects to inspire others, as well as to interact with like-minded individuals. Two of the most visible avenues provided by SoCh in Action is its pioneering annual Be the Change Exposition which attracts over a thousand participants from over 50 schools and its annual Design for Change (the world’s largest change movement by children) collaborative Design for Change Challenge. Although SoCh in Action has achieved a significant measure of success as a young non-profit organization and social enterprise, it still faces a number of fundamental challenges. In our brief conversation with Madhu, she revealed that two of the main challenges SoCh in Action faces in their outreach programmes are the lack of awareness and sensitivity amongst young children of issues plaguing their society and the bureaucratic inertia of organisations in responding to sponsorship requests. In spite of the seemingly insurmountable challenges SoCh in Action faces on a regular basis, Madhu remains positive as she wisely and astutely remarks that social change does not require a massive plan nor a grand vision. All it takes, she muses aloud, is for us to put our phones in our pockets, look around us, see that we can do about the world we live in and to ask constantly ask ourselves how we could be better citizens. ■

SoCh in Action’s annual Be the Change Exposition will be held on the 7th of November this year. Visit SoCh in Action’s official webpage: http://sochinaction. com/ for details regarding the venue of this year’s Be the Change Exposition and information pertaining to the expositions of the previous years.


EDUCATION PState-Society OLICIES: Relations LEAN GUANHUA DIONNE TEO Photography by LAI JUN WEI, courtesy of MR LARRY LOH, FAIRFIELD METHODIST SECONDARY SCHOOL and PANG ZHIFENG The word “Education” is definitely no stranger in our generation’s vocabulary. After all, we have all had a brush with education before; whether in an institution or in our daily lives - learning, or being taught. Singapore’s society is especially familiar with this notion of education because of our government’s emphasis on providing excellent education present since colonial rule. Our society seems to be constantly flooded with education policies that push us to strive further in our learning experience. As we become more educated, we start to find flaws in the policies put forth by the government. The government then responds by improving or changing the policies. The prestigious status Singapore’s education policies have achieved globally seems to be attributed to our government’s mindfulness of the public’s feedback. The government has sought to gather feedback through various channels such as visits to different institutions, focus group discussions, letters, email, and social media1. As a result, our education policies never remain static, but constantly adapt to suit the needs of the economy and people, as well as cater to our nation-building strategies. Singapore is a small country and hence our natural resources are extremely limited. Our government realised that to adapt to this characteristic physical climate, they had to focus on producing quality human capitalthat could attract Multi-National Corporations into Singapore for export-oriented industrialisation. This had to be done through repeated emphasis and improvement to the education system to support our nation’s e c o n o m y, which indeed took place from the 1960s to the early 1970s. Our govern-

ment’s direction of action has indeed produced a globally valued human capital. We have seen a high influx of foreigners in recent years, because foreigners view Singapore as a hub of economic growth - a place of great potential to develop their expertise and prosper. The quality education system also avails them to a plethora of good schools for their children, assuring parents that their child will grow up to be an asset to society. Singapore’s education system first took root and developed based on colonial origins, a two-way process between two parties – a process of negotiation and compromise between the British and the Chinese2. Back then, education was a site of conflict between these two main parties the British viewed Chinese schools as breeding grounds for communism as its curriculum was largely based on a China-oriented worldview3. Hence the British aimed to tackle this problem by attempting to construct a common Singaporean identity through incorporating the different racial groups into same schools. However, the Chinese saw this as a threat to replace their fully Chinese schools4. They were also afraid that the implementation of the British curriculum would result in the neglect of indigenous Singapore cultures and impede nation-building strategies in the long run. The Chinese hence strongly resisted the movement evident in their opposition towards the policy of bilingualism implemented since the All-Party Report on Chinese Education in 1956. Since then, policies implemented were carefully tailored to balance the needs of the different minority races and the Chinese. As Singapore moved into her post-war period, education policies were once again amended to meet new goals that mainly addressed the lingua franca of Singapore through the education system5. The English language was thought to be the vehicle of opportunities and growth, hence, much focus was placed on teaching in English. The colonial government restricted funding only to schools that taught two languages, and even placed a high proportion of teaching hours on the English language. However, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and 139 schools opposed the bilingual plan, resulting in a compromise where the


this change has its proponents and critics9.

British authorities fixed the proportion of teaching hours on using English as merely a guideline instead of making it a mandatory rule.6 Hence it is clear that the legitimacy of the state then, depended mostly on the Chinese masses. This set the stage for future policies implemented such as the huge opposition to the proposed reduction in weightage in Chinese Language for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) in recent years, which resulted in the government placating the demands of the Chinese. This is also evident in the creation of Special Assistance Plan (SAP) Schools and additional funding to promote teaching and use of Chinese Language.7 So far, it can be noted that aside from the government, the public has also contributed greatly to shaping Singapore’s education policies in her early days. This similar interaction between the government and citizens is also pivotal where the economy is concerned. The education system was and still is continually upgraded to parallel Singapore’s economic expansion. This includes reforms close to our hearts, such as streaming in primary and secondary institutions, and the introduction of different levels of institutes - ITE(s), polytechnics, junior colleges, private education institutes and universities. The purpose for these reforms hinged on the government’s realisation that every person’s learning abilities are different.8 This led to a system of subject-based banding to replace the EM3 stream in 2008. This new system allowed primary school students a greater flexibility in their choices of subject, and thus a higher chance to realise his or her potential. Of course,

The role of education in Singapore, broadly speaking, can be agreed upon as primarily to assist in nation building. However, narrowing it to state-society relations, the role and definition of education can be accurately summarised in Ottoway’s10 words, “Education is an activity which goes on in the society and the society in its turn determines the nature of education.”11 Indeed, on reflection, even though feedback from the public is extremely valuable for the improvement on standing education policies, we often fail to realise that education is a ubiquitous notion – where not only the people, but also our government is constantly educated, on how to adjust their policies such that they take into account their people’s needs, remain impartial, and ensure economic growth, all simultaneously. Perhaps it is time we credit our visionary leaders in honing our education sector to its current prestigious global position, and support them in their persistent journey of educating themselves about their people, just as they have supported us in our Education as well.12 ■


Gwendolyn Ng, “Heng welcomes parents’ feedback,” My Paper, May 25, 2011. The Chinese were the Majority race during times of colonial ruling. 3 Ibid. 4 Ting-Hong Wong (2006).Institutionally Incorporated, Symbolically Un-remade: State Reform of Chinese Schools in Postwar Singapore. Pg635 5 GopinathanSaravanan, Towards a national system of education in Singapore,1945-1973, (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1974) 6 Ibid. Pg 639. 7 Ministry of Education Press Release on April 2011. press/2011/04/additional-funding-to-promote-teaching-and-use-of-chinese-language.php. Last accessed 8 July 2013. 8 Ministry of Education Singapore, Catering to your child’s abilities, Subject-based Banding, (March 2013) 9 Proponents say that subject-based banding eradicates the ‘labelling’ of students early on in life, which may have a detrimental effect on their self-esteem. Critics argue that streaming allowed students to have a more specific curriculum catering to their needs. Some argue for the new system as this would lessen the number of (former) EM3 students directly placed or ‘stereotyped’ into the Normal (Academic/Technical) stream in secondary school. 10 Ottoway has written many books on the topic of Education, and was also a lecturer at the University of Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. 11 S.S. Chandra, S.S. Chandra &Rajendra Kumar Sharma (), “Definition of Educational Sociology”, in “Sociology of Education”, Atlantic Publishers &Dist, 1996, p.121 12 Singapore’s education system ranks fifth in the world according to the global education survey (as of 2012), behind Japan, South Korea, Finland and Hong Kong. 1




on education and university students...

If you’ve ever been curious about University students from the perspective of a lecturer, satisfaction is but a few paragraphs away. Mnemozine speaks to Nanyang Technological University’s A/P Cherian George in an interview which covers all the bases - from university education in Singapore, to his impression of Singaporean students. CHAN HUAN JUN Photography by LAI JUN WEI Having lectured for almost a decade, what is your impression of Singaporean students? Also, have you observed any idiosyncratic differences in the generation of students back at the beginning of your professorship, and the generation of students today? Singaporean students are an intelligent bunch. Visiting professors who can make comparisons with students elsewhere rarely have complaints about the intellectual capabilities of our undergrads. One common weakness, however, is their lack of initiative. Employers have observed this, too. So it is a concern that merits attention. It could have consequences not only for individuals but for the economy as a whole. Perhaps it is a result of the environment that Singaporeans have grown up in. We expect the “system” to fix problems that crop up – and, by and large, these expectations are fulfilled. So being passive is actually a rational response. Young people from countries where the system is not so all-encompassing and efficient grow up more proactive. Somehow, our students need to recognise and reduce this competitive disadvantage. I also get the sense that today’s students are more comfortable relating through technology than in person. They are the generation that grew up with the internet. And possibly as a result of this, students are too tongue-tied in class, but much more vocal in online discussions. In view of the growing relevance of the internet today, what do you think should be the role of the University in educating students on its usage? Case in point: Ex-Nus law scholar Alvin Tan’s infamous cyberspace exploits. Within each discipline, we train students in domain-specific information literacy – like how to make the most of online databases, and so on. However, I don’t think universities should be expected to start from scratch. Students entering university should already be equipped with information literacy fundamentals from school and junior college. They should certainly know all about the pitfalls of plagiarism before

they step into university. Our role is to reinforce these basics and teach students how to use new media in a more specialised way for particular disciplines. As for the sex bloggers case, look, there is an infinite number of ways people can goof up and do stupid things online and offline. Should we require everyone to take an examinable course called “Common Sense 101”? That would be an insult to the majority of the population that already possesses it. And it still wouldn’t get rid of the outliers. Nor is it really necessary to do so. These sensational breaches of etiquette tend to be isolated incidents. There are far more serious problems in the world to worry about than these headline-grabbing events. Moving away from technology, what then, do you feel is the role of the university in this day and age? How should education prepare a student for the working world? We shouldn’t go overboard in instrumentally linking education and work. With the exception of professional courses such as medicine and engineering, it is a mistake to expect universities to be purely vocational institutions, where the knowledge imparted can be mechanistically mapped onto future careers. The changes in the working world are

Associate Professor Cherian George

INTERVIEW rapid. If a university makes the mistake of tailoring a course to current workplace demands, there is a high chance that what you have learnt will have fallen out of fashion upon graduation. What a good university should do is to provide deeper capabilities that can outlast industry changes and economic shifts. An example of this would be higher order thinking and processing skills. Leading companies and experienced employers are always on the lookout for such attributes. Idealistically speaking, a university education should be centered on the development of the individual, and not as a means to a better livelihood. This is an important, but impractical perspective. With the exception of a few wealthy individuals for whom university is nothing more than an intellectually stimulating holiday, most of us want to make sure higher education contributes to our eventual success materially. The challenge now is to persuade students and their parents not be seduced by the perceived superiority of practical courses over traditional academic disciplines like philosophy and history. Do you think Singapore then is ready to move away from such practical considerations? Do you think a liberal arts college would be successful here? I think there would be no shortage of sophisticated, educated parents who would recognise the value of liberal arts programmes – which in any case have small intakes. But I think there would be a public uproar if the number of places for, say, philosophy


exceeded business or engineering. So liberal arts will remain a minority and fairly elite avenue. But what the universities have been trying to do for the masses of students enrolled in the more practically-oriented majors is to expose them to a broader education – a kind of liberal arts lite. Whether students seize those opportunities is another matter. What advice do you have for our students? Well, I have two pieces of advice. First, don’t obsess over your grades. While it may have been true that your A-level results were crucial for opening doors, university is quite different. Employers don’t care that much about your exact GPA, compared with how you do in the interview and so on. When picking modules, don’t go for soft options that you think you might score good grades in but have little interest in or that don’t add much to your education. It’s time to shake off that A-Level angst and concentrate more on your learning than on your grades. Second, university is an intense social experience. Use it to grow as a person. This isn’t just wishy-washy advice; it actually has implications for your future. Singapore is a small place. Students you currently interact with may very well be around for decades as your clients, colleagues, and even your bosses. You’d be surprised how long impressions last – people two or three times your age hark back to their university days when talking about their peers. So start trying to be known as a dependable, mature person. And be there for one another, because ultimately human relationships matter more than almost anything. ■


THE BEGINNING OF A NEW CHAPTER Andy finds out more about the first liberal arts college in Singapore and Southeast Asia and chatted separately with associate professor Derek Heng and Yale-NUS student, Thomas MooreJones, from New Zealand. ANDY CHONG Photography by ANDY CHONG and courtesy of MICHAEL MOORE-JONES It is interesting that the founding president of Yale-NUS, Professor Pericles Lewis, traces the roots of the college to the setting up of Yale College in 1701 and Raffles College in Bukit Timah in 1928. The convergence of the histories of these two prestigious colleges culminated in the setting up of Yale-NUS College, which officially started in July 2013. What makes Yale-NUS unique? Associate Professor Heng suggests that the idea of a liberal arts college in Asia is an exciting prospect for the tertiary education landscape here. This is one of the pull factors that led him to join the 50-strong faculty. “One can either observe and critique or get involved. I chose to get involved instead”, he said. Like many other students, Michael Moore-Jones had turned down other top universities to attend Yale-NUS. The main attraction is a brand of liberal arts education that offers both Asian and Western disciplines. Michael feels that it is a right fit for him, considering that he has lived in both Asia and the West. Professor Heng argues that the Yale-NUS model is one of a kind in the world. After all, the college only takes in the crème de la crème – 157 applicants from 11,400 applicants. The stringent selection process seeks to maintain the Yale residential college model and an extremely small professor-to-student ratio. He notes that this model is definitely not cost effective and unjustifiable for most universities. Michael calls this model the “lean university”. The Yale-NUS curriculum is optimised and crafted around the concept of learning. There is a one hour lecture for the core curriculum modules and the rest of the classes are seminar based, which takes in no more than 15 students. This allows professors to monitor the academic progress of each individual student for a period of 4 years, providing constructive feedback and guiding them to work towards their honour theses. Multi-disciplinary teaching is also a key concept at Yale-NUS. For example, students can find a history professor, a literature professor and an art historian teaching the same course. Students will be expected to read widely across cultures, disciplines and acquire different modes of inquiry. This is also the reason why Michael chose a liberal arts education instead of a traditional university. He explains, “I want to be able to read widely and understand all the subtle references made by people—and I

Above: Yale-NUS student Thomas Moore-Jones

Above: A/P Derek Heng

think this ability is something I can only get through studying the liberal arts.” The onus is on students to catch the Yale-NUS vision of building a “community of learning”. “We don’t know how intelligent they really are,” Professor Heng joked. He explained that learning should be a process for both the professors and the students. During his time in Ohio State University, he encountered students who asked questions that even helped him further his own research. Michael shares this philosophy. He founded They Don’t Teach You This in School, a non-profit website that encourages the sharing of educational experience between adults and young people. He believes in the “time value of experience”, which is equally important as imparting knowledge in education. Eventually, he hopes to get his professors and fellow students on board. Nonetheless, the Yale-NUS collaboration is not without its critics and controversy. Professor Heng notes that most of these criticisms are targeted at the Singapore Government rather than the college itself. One such criticism is the curtailing of academic freedom, which is the hallmark of the liberal arts education model. He firmly believes that the tenure system, which originated from 19th Germany, is effectively in place in NUS and gives professors academic freedom. It also helped that the Yale-NUS faculty spent the academic year of 2012 - 2013 in New Haven and that they were in a better position to answer the critics upfront. Professor Heng asserted that “there are no questions that cannot be asked, or nothing that cannot be debated in Yale-NUS”. As for now, the verdict is still hanging in this new chapter of tertiary education in Singapore. The pioneer batch of professors and students know that the great histories of these two colleges rest upon their shoulders, and now it is their time to open a new chapter. ■ Derek Heng is Associate Professor of History in Yale-NUS and taught at the history departments of NUS and Ohio State University for 6 and 7 years respectively. His current research is on the adaptive strategies of pre-modern Southeast Asian small coastal polities like Temasek. Michael Moore-Jones is a first year Yale-NUS student and founder of Email him at if you are interested to contribute.



THE IMPORTANCE OF SOCIO-EMOTIONAL LEARNING Having taught History for ten years with the Ministry of Education, Alex Tan Weng Cheong shares his teaching experiences and views on the importance of socio-emotional learning with Mnemozine ADELINE ANG What are the strengths and weaknesses of the GCE ‘A’ Level History syllabus? The GCE ‘A’ Level History syllabus, if taken at H2 level, covers two papers, i.e. “International History 1945-2000” and “History of Southeast Asia c.1900-1997.” The first paper deals with the Cold War, the problems of the global economy, the Arab-Israeli and Indo-Pakistani conflicts, and the growth of the United Nations. The educational value of the paper is that historical developments of post–World War II provide students with a helicopter-view of events that have had long-standing impacts on global developments, thus facilitating their understanding of current affairs. The second paper brings students closer to home. They study the development of Southeast Asian nationalism, struggles of independence, and regional conflict and cooperation, both within and beyond the context of ASEAN interactions. I place a higher premium on this paper. Singapore is part of Southeast Asia; it is imperative that students gain a strong foundation in understanding a region of the world that they are living in, and increase their appreciation for the diverse communities within it. The current syllabus is assessed though written examinations consisting of “source-based study” and essays. The style of essay questions demands a rigorous level of critical thinking, not mere memorisation. The “source-based study” component trains students to analyse the credibility of assertions made in sources, a critical skill of historians. One weakness of the syllabus is in its over-emphasis of using purely secondary sources in essay-writing. If I could re-design the curriculum, I would place a greater importance on analysing primary sources and the study of developments in historiography. However, this would demand for more curriculum time to be devoted to the subject, and schools often face constraints in time. What is the most overrated advice given to undergraduates who plan to work in the teaching service? The notion that undergraduates should teach if they want to “change lives” is overrated. Many teach because they are inexplicably pulled towards public service and the need to develop children’s lives. Despite long hours, many remain in the service for that one reason. Yet, many leave because of that too. They become demoralised when they don’t see immediate changes in students. Teaching is not a profession where your effort will reap immediate returns. The returns reaped, and

the emotional impact made on a student, will only manifest decades into his life, long after he has graduated. If you expect to “change lives”, you must be in it for the long-haul, not just half a decade or so. You left teaching to pursue a Ph.D. Why? Age. I did not want to embark on such an intellectually rigorous endeavour in my 40’s. When the opportunity came along at the right time, I took it up. You were recently involved in a workshop on Socio-Emotional Learning (SEL). Can you give us a brief overview of what your workshop entailed? The inspiration for the workshop came from Mrs. Soon Huey Yann, our undergraduate coordinator. Since I have teaching experience, she approached me for help with scoping the workshop. I provided input into workshop activities and material for the trainers, who were certified in SEL. The workshop covered the importance of navigating emotions and managing inter-personal interactions. Having given participants exposure to these two domains, it is my hope that they will hone them further through their life experiences. Unapplied skills will never be internalised. The workshop is based on ideas by the Collaborative for Academic and Socio-Emotional Learning (CASEL), a nonprofit movement started in America. America and Singapore are structurally different in their education systems. How can the ideas be adapted into the context of Singapore schools? Being structurally different does not mean we are at a disadvantage in implementing enrichment programmes like SEL. Given the diversity of school systems in the USA, there is not an equal emphasis on SEL in all schools. Since Singaporean schools are smaller in size and more centralised in nature, it is easier to make an across-the-board implementation of SEL. However, I think Singaporean schools ought to move away from incentivising good character and conduct through monetary reward. I have seen students participate in community service projects only to make their curriculum vitae look glossy. This goes against the grain of cultivating SEL in students. That having been said, I have seen students who devote their time to volunteering. That is probably the best gift students can give teachers, in terms of proving to us, teachers, that we have shaped them beyond the classroom, into areas of personal growth. ■





Sock Keng shares her experiences and insights from her summer internship at the Documentation Center of Cambodia. TAN SOCK KENG Photography by TAN SOCK KENG and CHRISTOPHER MICHEL/WIKICOMMONS “Some young people in Cambodia today don’t believe that the Khmer Rouge regime ever took place, or that it was as horrific as they hear from relatives or the media,” explained my colleague Pechet, when I queried why he had asked a high school student if she believed that the Khmer Rouge was real. We were conducting interviews with members of the local community in Banteay Meanchey province, as part of a project by the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) to curate exhibitions on the Khmer Rouge regime forprovincial museums. It was then that I realised the urgency of increasing awareness about the Khmer Rouge period. In modern, industrial societies, education is often geared towards equipping students with skills and knowledge for the economy. But education has a greater, enduring task: teaching and learning humanity. Particularly in a society that has experienced turbulent sociopolitical change, inculcating lessons on the salience of human life and our shared humanity is ever more pertinent. But how does one teach genocide, to both young Cambodians who never lived under the regime and to survivors seeking explanation and closure? Today in Cambodia, DC-Cam, an independent non-governmental organisation, seeks to widen understanding of the genocide1 that took place during the Khmer Rouge regime. Originally established by the Yale University Cambodian Genocide Program in 1995 to collect and document information, DC-Cam today strives to increase public awareness and in the long run promote values of justice and human rights in Cambodian society. I first set foot in Cambodia on a family vacation in 2008. I was struck by the realisation that a society not far from home, descendant to the glorious Khmer Empire of yore, was still recovering from the debilitating impact of the Khmer Rouge regime of 1975-1979. For a few years, I nursed an intermittent interest in Cambodia’s modern history. When the time to make plans for the summer finally came, I decided that I wanted to return to live in Cambodia for a period of time. My wish was realised when DC-Cam granted me a two-month internship at its Phnom Penh office. At DC-Cam, I was assigned to the Museum team. As part of its plans to remain relevant to the changing needs of Cambodian

society, DC-Cam is expanding its operations to form the Sleuk Rith Institute, which comprises three wings: a genocide museum, a research center for policy development, and a school for genocide, conflict and human rights studies. Through the future Museum of Memory, the Institute hopes to fulfill its goals of healing and education, targeted at survivors, young Cambodians and foreign visitors. Not only will the new museum in Siem Reap – not far from the perennially popular Angkor Wat – showcase an exhibition on Democratic Kampuchea, it will also draw from Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage to help promote healing among Cambodians, by displaying cultural artefacts from the pre-modern period. This marriage of genocide history and cultural history departs from the Center’s previous focus on the Khmer Rouge regime itself, such as in DC-Cam’s exhibitions at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which I also had the opportunity to review and provide recommendations for revision.

Sock Keng with her colleagues and museum officials in Battambang province

Part of my work as a member of the museum team comprised a field trip to Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces in northwestern Cambodia to prepare for upcoming exhibitions on the Khmer Rouge. At the moment, museal commemoration of the Khmer Rouge regime is centred in Phnom Penh where Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek Killing Fields are located. DC-Cam hopes that installing exhibitions in the provinces will help disseminate knowledge to Cambodians who lack the means to travel to the capital. On the field trip, my colleagues and I interviewed various stakeholders. We spoke to officials on their aspirations for the museums amid scarce resources, chatted with high school students on their knowledge of Khmer Rouge history and the ongoing tribunal, and discussed local commemorative initiatives with religious workers. Hearing from our interviewees and visiting sites related to the Khmer Rouge regime, we gleaned insights on how to tailor our exhibition to reflect the diversity of experiences in different regions. Especially poignant to me was visiting the Trapeang Thma dam in Banteay Meanchey province. The dam was built using forced labour numbering some 15,000 to 20,000. Today the dam sustains surrounding farms and young people flock there for a leisurely swim amid the scenic environs, unaware of the site’s grisly origins. Besides highlighting these episodes specific to each province, our team also strives to steep our work in survivor stories from these regions. With thousands of oral histories col-

31 lected over its eighteen years of work, DC-Cam is well-placed to showcase the voices of survivors. The museum project is not DC-Cam’s only effort at teaching the Khmer Rouge genocide. Targeting Cambodia’s youth – who make up more than half the population– DC-Cam developed a textbook for high school students and lobbied for it to be integrated into the national curriculum2. Scholars such as the esteemed Professor David Chandler were consulted and activities were conducted to gauge students’ knowledge. Other efforts include a radio program, a monthly magazine, and trips to the tribunal for survivors, students and rural Cambodians. Despite having studied Khmer Rouge history for a few years now, I still find myself unable to comprehend the scale of the atrocities committed during the regime and the vastness of its impact on Cambodian society. All the people I met during my stint at DC-Cam had a story to tell, be it of their lives under the regime, or of family members who in bits and pieces had revealed their experiences. The shifting sands of time and the

vagaries of memory present real threats to remembering the Khmer Rouge years. It is hoped that the variety of strategies adopted by DC-Cam to widen awareness of this period of life in Cambodia can help embed it in the collective memory of the people. ■


The use of the word “genocide” has been controversial in the Cambodian case, as academic and legal understandings of the term have been tied to the United Nations’ Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which states that genocide must be committed against “a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. In the Cambodian case, scholars and lawyers generally agree that the Khmer Rouge committed genocide against groups such as the Vietnamese, although it is difficult to substantiate the case for genocide against Khmer victims. However, DC-Cam employs the term in accordance to localized usage to facilitate Cambodians’ understanding of the event. In Khmer language, the most suitable term for describing the Khmer Rouge is translated into English as “genocide”. 1

Before, social studies textbooks included a short section on the Khmer Rouge regime, but the entire section on modern history was removed in 2002 due to a conflict over the textbook’s coverage on the United Nations-administered elections in 1993. 2


(Psst... in Punggol, not Mandai)

WONG LI QIN Photograph courtesy of NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD Mentored by ALVIN TAN, Director/Heritage Institutions, NHB 27th June 1973 – the Singapore Zoological Gardens opened its doors to visitors for the first time and has since been consistently one of Singapore’s top tourist attractions. The Zoo began with 270 animals of about 72 species and has successfully expanded to house over 2,000 animals and 240 species today. However, to the unaware and perhaps uninterested, one might believe that the Zoo at Mandai Road today is the most comprehensive one we have ever had. But it really isn’t. As early as the 1920s, there was a space where animals could live harmoniously; and it all began in an estate along 317 Serangoon Road owned by a pet-lover named William Lawrence Basapa. Basapa loved animals passionately and was an animal trader by profession. He kept a pet tiger by his side named Apay (see photo) , which he led around with a chain even at four years old. But as Basapa’s wife and neighbours became increasingly intolerant of and overwhelmed by both the stench and the noise, Bapasa had to find an alternative space to house all his animals and birds. In 1928, he built his first integrated fullsize zoo and bird park on a piece of acquired land measuring 11 hectares at Punggol. Over a period of ten years, Basapa painstakingly built up and created a home for over 200 animals and 2000 birds, many which had never been seen in Singapore before his time. It was an impressive collection and

became globally known as the “Singapore Zoo” (some sources refer to it as Babujan Zoo), hosting famous visitors such as Albert Einstein. Basapa also contributed more than 80 animal skeletons and skins for research purposes to the Raffles Museum, some of which can be found today at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. Mohinder Singh, a visitor of the zoo when he was a teenager, recalled how he would cycle for seventy-five minutes from the city centre to reach Punggol coast where the zoo was. He said, “People used to visit [Punggol Zoo] because they couldn’t see any other. There was no other. Even Johore Zoo which the Tengku started was also very small.” In order to sustain the zoo, Basapa charged an entrance fee of fifty cents for adults and twenty cents for children, while some other residents claimed that the nominal fee was forty cents and students got 75% off (ten cents). The Zoo continued business through the 1930s, actively introducing more animals to the collection. It also facilitated in the filming of an American film titled “Dyak”, which featured a dead python battle in one of its pivotal scene. Just before the outbreak of World War II, the Zoo met with its sudden demise. Thinking that the Japanese’s onslaught would come from the North, the British began to set up military defenses at the Punggol coast. Basapa’s family had twenty-four hours to evacuate all their animals and vacate the land. Given the short time span, there was simply no other means but to free the birds and smaller animals, with the bigger and more dangerous ones shot

NHB FEATURE down. During the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese military used the land to store ammunitions and supplies; making use of the power generators left behind by Basapa. A heartbroken Basapa passed away in 1943 after much grief. For many years since the end of WWII, the land at Punggol coast became a deserted wasteland. There was nothing, and nobody went there. It was only until the late 1950s when a private fish farm began business that life began at Punggol coast again. Today, the area of land that once housed Singapore’s very first zoo has been revived as one of the development projects in Punggol – commonly known today as Punggol End. People can now cycle via the Punggol Park Connector and picnic along the coast while looking over the beautiful skyline of islands across the beach. For those who regularly visit Punggol End for your evening jogs and family days, it might be worth it to stop for moment and think: “Hey! This used to be Singapore’s very first public zoo!” Well, I’m certain that nobody would have imagined it to be. ■ This is the second of a four-part series in collaboration with the National Heritage Board to explore the unknown in Singapore.




LI LING Photography by LI LING

cultural framework in which it operates and be recognised for its local characteristics.

“Malaya is often called a cultural desert: is it that bad in reality?” Marco Hsu (Ma Ge 玛戈) starts his book A Brief History of Malayan Art by asking this question. An educator and art critic, Hsu then narrates the developments of art on the Malayan peninsula and expresses the aspiration that Malaya would, one day, become a cultural oasis of “limitless plantations, and fruit orchards of never-ending yield.” On August 22nd, the NUS Museum opened a new permanent exhibition titled Between Here and Nanyang: Marco Hsu’s Brief History of Malayan Art. Though artefacts, the exhibition highlights the period preceding the formation of the young nation-state of Malaya, the years that constitute the background of Hsu’s writing.

In his book, Hsu also places great significance on institutions of art education such as influential art academies. His evaluation of the artists is always preceded by a brief introduction of their education background, in particular the art schools in where they were taught and the master artists from whom they received guidance in the formative years. On the one hand, such an introduction serves to group the artists into different schools based on their training. On the other hand, it also signifies the shift from sojourning artists to locally born and trained young artists in the Malayan art scene. The Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), an art college set up by a group of China trained artists to groom local talents, is one such institution that receives many mentions by Hsu.

While the book is grounded on major historical developments of decolonisation and independence, Hsu seems to be less concerned about such political trajectories. Instead, he pays more attention to the cultural history of people in Malaya and argues that Malaya’s art development reflects both local changes and external influences. An educator himself, Hsu clearly sees the educational value of the book. He provides a “rough and simple sketch” of Malaya’s art history from the Stone Age to his contemporary time. As a result, the book could be read both as a “chronology narrative” of Malayan art history and as timely reviews of art exhibitions held in the region. When the book was published in 1963, it was distributed not only to book stores, but also to schools. It is probably Hsu’s hope that through this book, people of Malaya, especially students, would start to appreciate the cultural lineage and diversity of the region, to support the nascent art scene and most importantly, to reconsider their perceptions of Malaya as barren soil for cultural growth. Hsu’s discussion of Malayan art history is framed by historical constructs such as Nanyang and Malaya. The term “Nanyang”, or the South Seas, is often used by the Chinese who made their ways to Southeast Asia in the 19th and 20th Centuries. The term Malaya both refers to the geographical boundary of the Malayan peninsula and Singapore, and also carries the political connotation of awakening nationalism and emerging identity. The history of Malayan art therefore needs to be understood within the

To Hsu, an art education does not stop at the training of artists. It also requires the cultivation of art appreciation among the people of Malaya. Institutions such as the British Council, Chinese Chamber of Commerce and schools are highlighted as facilitating and enabling the development of art appreciation culture in Malaya. These organisations both provided the venue for art exhibitions and encouraged art production and consumption among artists and students alike. Besides public institutions, private art collectors like Lee Kong Chian and Tan Tsze Chor were also avid supporters of art and artists. Their patronage in the forms of either commissioning artwork production or collecting art pieces further encouraged the pursuit of many young artists. Indeed, Marco Hsu’s A Brief History of Malayan Art goes beyond mere listing artists and art works. The production and reception of local art necessitate an analysis of cultural constructs such as Nanyang and Malaya. Malaya’s art history is also understood in relation to larger institutional structures of the local art scene. Such a framework includes, but is not limited to, schools, art academies, art societies, and government agencies that are tasked with developing art and key personnel that support the growth of art. Starting with a question on whether Malaya was a cultural desert and ending the book with his aspiration that Malaya would become a cultural oasis, Hsu therefore sheds light on the cultural force that underpins the development of art in Malaya. ■



SQUATTERS INTO CITIZENS: The 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire and

the Making of Modern Singapore JOSHUA CHEN Mention the acronym HDB today and ceaseless laments by Singaporeans about the sky-high prices of flats will be heard. The success of the Housing and Development Board (HDB) is known to most. The national, if not sometimes romanticised, account of the Bukit Ho Swee fire, and the HDB’s subsequent interventionist efforts at re-housing victims and abolishing slums altogether, is deeply embedded in the minds of Singaporeans, especially those who lived through the 1960s. Loh Kah Seng’s Squatters into Citizens provides a revisionist perspective on the aforementioned event and its influence on the making of modern Singapore. Loh reveals the complex and tenuous relationship between kampung dwellers and the state. Through interviews with victims of the fire, his pre-dominant source of historical evidence, Loh illuminates their plight and their somewhat ambivalent and sceptical sentiments towards the state. Fire victims were mostly suspicious and disillusioned by solutions proffered by the People’s Action Party (PAP) through HDB policies. This book transcends the official record of national history, and peels away at a layer of the tragedy often ignored. Loh argues that kampungs, despite being hastily abolished by the PAP, were relevant at that time. Kampungs created semiautonomous communities, as land was privately owned, despite the government dismissing them as dangerous and anachronistic. Kampungs functioned vis-a-vis local economic networks and social systems independent of government intervention. Secret society members chided for being harmful to crime rates of the country actually maintained the security of kampungs. Kampung life and its function as a socio-economic apparatus were foregone in favour of a HDB flat system, and what was assumed, at that time, to be the most feasible housing system for economic survival. Yet Loh proves otherwise, and uncovers this blind spot for readers by highlighting the many social advantages of kampungs.

The final chapter of the book summarises three themes that arose from the Bukit Ho Swee fire: first, the national record of PAP’s triumphant solutions to the HDB fire is one-dimensional; second, the nostalgic sentiments of older Singaporeans towards kampung life exposes the lack of kinship developed through the HDB system; third, the mythical belief that the government sparked the Bukit Ho Swee fire, as justification to implement HDB housing policies, continues to linger in the hearts and minds of some Singaporeans, revealing a sense of distrust between citizens and the state. Loh succeeds in providing a re-interpretation of the Bukit Ho Swee fire through the voices of the victims, most of which have been obscured by historical narratives of the government. They are the “underclass [...] faceless, voiceless and unplaced in the official Singapore Story.” Drawing on an extensive collection of oral interviews from both the author himself and the National Archives of Singapore, the book focuses on kampung dwellers; Their lives, thoughts and emotions during the early stages of Singapore’s independence are integral in understanding the complex story of Singapore’s rise to modernity. The cover page depicts a child looking forward and an old lady looking the other way, symbolic of the contradiction inherent in the story of Singapore’s modernity. While today’s generation of Singaporeans looks forward to trends of modernisation, the old continue to reminisce the losses of a Singapore they knew to be much different. The face of the older lady remains unseen, emblematic of the voices of the fire victims that continue to be silenced and marginalised, having fallen out of pace with Singapore’s uncompromising and accelerating modernisation. The vivid imagery captures the essence of the book and is essential for any Singaporean seeking to understand his place in the history of Singapore. ■

This book was written by Loh Kah Seng, and published by NUS Press in 2013



Profile for HISSOC Publications

Mnemozine: Issue Five  

A publication of the National University of Singapore's History Society

Mnemozine: Issue Five  

A publication of the National University of Singapore's History Society

Profile for mnemozine

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