Racialised Education in Singapore

  • Michael D. BarrEmail author


The Singapore education system plays a central role in the mythology of the young country’s nation building project. The education system is portrayed as the cradle of Singapore’s multiracialism, fostering racial harmony and understanding. Yet this historical study of primary school English textbooks from the 1970s to the present reveals that since the beginning of the 1980s they have been systemically designed in such a way that they evoke high levels of racial consciousness, and at their worst have displayed a pro-Chinese bias that has deprived non-Chinese children of inspiring role models. This study helps to explain the results of recent sociological research that has cast doubt on the effectiveness of the Singapore education system as an instrument for promoting racial harmony.


English textbooks ethnicity multiracialism pedagogy primary school race racism Singapore stereotyping teaching English 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Barr M.D. (2000). Lee Kuan Yew: The beliefs behind the man. London: Curzon; Washington D. C.: Georgetown University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Barr, M. D., Low, J. 2005Assimilation as multiracialism: The case of Singapore’s MalaysAsian Ethnicity6161182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cornell, S., Hartman, D. 1998Ethnicity and race: Making identities in a changing worldPine Forge PressThousand Oaks, CAGoogle Scholar
  4. Goby, V. 2004If you look like me, I’ll talk to you: A preliminary study of ethnic identity and inter-ethnic-interaction among women in SingaporeAsian Ethnicity5235244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Khoo, A., Lim, K.M. 2004Trainee-teachers’ stereotypes of ethnic groups in SingaporeLai, A. E. eds. Beyond rituals and riots: Ethnic pluralism and social cohesion in SingaporeEastern Universities Press by Marshall Cavendish for Institute of Policy StudiesSingapore197227Google Scholar
  6. Kwa, K. B. (2004). Multiculturalism or multiracialism? A critical analysis of the portrayal of race in primary one english textbooks in Singapore. Honours Thesis in English Language, National Institute of Education, Singapore, 2004.Google Scholar
  7. Lee, C., Cherian, M., Rahil Ismail, , Ng, M., Sim, J., Chee, M.F. 2004Children’s experiences of multiracial relationships in informal primary school settingsLai, A. E. eds. Beyond rituals and riots; Ethnic pluralism and social cohesion in SingaporeEastern Universities Press by Marshall Cavendish for Institute of Policy StudiesSingapore114145Google Scholar
  8. Mirror of opinion: Highlights of Malay, Chinese & Tamil press. (1969). Singapore Ministry of Culture.Google Scholar
  9. Moore, R. Q. 2000Multiracialism and meritocracy: Singapore’s aproach to race and inqualityReview of Social Economy58339360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Ooi, G. L. 2005The role of the development state and interethnic relations in SingaporeAsian Ethnicity6109120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Rahim, L. Z. 1998The Singapore dilemma: The political and educational marginality of the Malay communityOxford University PressKuala LumpurGoogle Scholar
  12. Singapore Infomap,, accessed 11 August 2005.Google Scholar
  13. Sng, S. A. (1996). Ethnic stereotypes in textbooks: Reading between the lines, going between the pages. Bachelor of Social Sciences (Honours) Thesis, Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore.Google Scholar
  14. Teo, C. H. (2001). Radm (NS) Teo Chee Hean minister for education and 2nd minister for defence at the Pasir Ris Loyang Racial Harmony Day on Sunday 29 July 2001, cited on Singapore Government Press Releases at, accessed 27 February 2004.Google Scholar
  15. Vasil, R. 1995Asianising Singapore: The PAP’s management of ethnicityHeinemann AsiaSingaporeGoogle Scholar
  16. Yaacob, I. (2003). Yaacob Ibrahim Minister for Community Development and Sport, speech at the Wee Kim Wee Seminar on Cross-cultural Understanding, ‘Accommodating differences: Building a culture of understanding and peace,’ 2 August 2003, published as a Singapore Goverment Press Release online at, accessed 9 February 2004.Google Scholar

Textbooks Cited

  1. English this way book 1 special Singapore edition. (1970). London: Collier Macmillan International.Google Scholar
  2. English this way book 2 special Singapore edition. (1970).Google Scholar
  3. English today as second language for Singapore primary schools. (1976, revised edition 1977). Singapore: Academia Publications.Google Scholar
  4. Enjoying English: Nelson’s primary English course for Singapore 1A. (1979). Singapore: Thomas Nelson.Google Scholar
  5. Enjoying English 1B. (1979).Google Scholar
  6. Looking ahead with English 2A. (1970). Singapore: Longman.Google Scholar
  7. Looking ahead with English 3. (1970).Google Scholar
  8. New primary English 2A. (1972). Singapore: Longman.Google Scholar
  9. Primary English for Singapore EL2 2A. (1976). Singapore: Preston Corporation.Google Scholar
  10. New course English 6A/B. (1981, 1982) Singapore: Educational Publishing Bureau for Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore.Google Scholar
  11. New course English 6D/C. (1982, 1983).Google Scholar
  12. New English thematic series course book 1A, (1991). Singapore: EPB Publishers and Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore.Google Scholar
  13. Primary English programme [PEP]Textbook 1A. (1982). Singapore: Longman and Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore.Google Scholar
  14. PEP textbook 4A extended. (l982).Google Scholar
  15. PEP textbook 4A. (1983).Google Scholar
  16. PEP textbook 4B extended. (1982).Google Scholar
  17. PEP textbook 4B. (1983).Google Scholar
  18. PEP textbook 6A extended. (1984).Google Scholar
  19. PEP textbook 6B extended. (1984).Google Scholar
  20. PEP textbook 6A. (1985).Google Scholar
  21. PEP textbook 6B. (1985).Google Scholar
  22. 1980s and 1990sGoogle Scholar
  23. New English series for primary education [NESPE] course book 1A. (1981). Singapore: Pan Pacific Book Distributors and the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore.Google Scholar
  24. NESPE course book 1B. (1981).Google Scholar
  25. NESPE teacher’s edition 1A. (1981).Google Scholar
  26. NESPE course book 4A. (1982).Google Scholar
  27. NESPE course book 4B extended. (1981).Google Scholar
  28. NESPE teacher’s edition 4A. extended. (1982).Google Scholar
  29. NESPE teacher’s edition 4B extended. (1982).Google Scholar
  30. NESPE course book 4B. (1983).Google Scholar
  31. NESPE course book 6A. (1983).Google Scholar
  32. NESPE course book 6A extended. (1983).Google Scholar
  33. NESPE course book 6B extended. (1983).Google Scholar
  34. NESPE course book 6A. (1984–94).Google Scholar
  35. NESPE course book 6B. (1985–94).Google Scholar
  36. Primary English thematic series [PETS] 1A. (1991). Singapore: EPB Publishers and Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore.Google Scholar
  37. PETS 6B EM3. (1996).Google Scholar
  38. In step: A course in English for primary schools 2B. (2001). Singapore: Pan Pacific Publications and approved by the Ministry of Education.Google Scholar
  39. My pals and here! English writing skills 1. (2002). Singapore: Times Media Private.Google Scholar
  40. My pals are here! English 6A. (2005).Google Scholar
  41. Treks. Setting off: Interactive English for primary levels course book 1A, (2000). Singapore: SNP Publishing.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of History, Philosophy, Religion and ClassicsThe University of QueenslandSt. LuciaAustralia

Personalised recommendations