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Stereotyping, Ignorance and the Joke of Singapore Education

[Closing down Nantah is an easy decision but can the stereotyping, ignorance and the joke of education about ‘Chinese heritage’ be removed after 33 years, even at the same Jurong campus?]

Even graduating with Chinese majors, English is still the first language for these graduates who still has better command of English than that of Chinese.   

We may have found the last laugh or at least a good laugh after the closure of Nanyang University 33 years ago in 1980.  

Yes. Closing down Nantah is an easy decision which needs only one vote. But has it achieved the objective of removing the prejudices against Nantah graduates or Chinese stream students?   

33 years later, the story continues…..

It begins with the following statement at the second day of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) 2013 Conviction by a student representative in his closing remarks:  

“the Chinese majors who probably have not gotten anything I said in English”.

Chinese readers of mainstream media may have already known the story last Friday and days after.

Stereotyping continues even after 33 years

There is basically no Chinese stream school in Singapore in 1987, seven years after the closure of Nantah.  English is the first language for all Singapore students and the mother tongues of Chinese, Malays and Tamil become second languages. 

Every student having 10 years (up to ‘O’ Level) or 12 years (up to ‘A’ Level) education in Singapore will have to study English or General Papers respectively in schools.  The current situation is we are facing more problems teaching our young the mother tongues than the English language.

This makes one wonder where is the basis of this stereotype coming from?  After studying 10 or 12 years English, for graduates another 3 or 4 more years, yet still can’t understand English? Is this a joke? Or maybe our education system is something like the USA system,  there are some students even after graduating from colleges still cannot command proper English – the average level of American English.      
Our society, our education system and even the government must have certain types of stereotype thinking against certain groups of people or students.  One example is ITE. We know about the case of ITE students so much so that the Prime Minster has to hold his National Day Speech at ITE HQ this year.  

This is why closing down Nantah is so easy but to do away the stereotype is not.  Even among local graduates, some may consider themselves higher class than others depending on their graduating universities and majors.

Ignorance of social change in the past 33 years

What surprise me is the student representative is from sociology department.   If sociology students do not know the social changes in Singapore, what and how about graduates from other disciplines.  All graduates can then claim they are ignorance about the social stereotyping and prejudices. Think deeply, how many of our top 20% or 30% of the educated population do think it in this way?  Does the PAP government intentionally want this ignorance and stereotype to happen?

The student representative must have a very short memory.  Just before him, the invited guest speaker is a Chinese majors from NUS.  She spoke in English and talked about her experience and the importance of Chinese language in her work. NTU and the faculty must have some reasons for inviting such a speaker – giving emphasis and importance to bilingualism.  This is really a slap to the university and the academics in the school of humanity and social sciences. 

In fact, many of the Chinese majors students, even after 3 (NUS) or 4 (NTU) years of study, their first language is still English.  And it is not surprised their command of English is still better than that of their Chinese after graduation. Singapore university system is different from other Chinese universities in China, Taiwan or Hong Kong.  Chinese majors does not mean you study 100% Chinese or in a 100% Chinese environment.   There are other courses and electives all in English that a student needs to take.   Our university’s Chinese department is more like the western style universities rather than a Chinese speaking university.  This makes the difference between Nantah and NTU.

The objective of closing down Nantah is to move away from the image and environment of a Chinese speaking university and yet this stereotyping and ignorance still exist today. Why?

It takes a political decision to close down Nantah but the problem remains.  A political decision, no matter how high handed, still cannot solve social, education or worst cultural problems, especially the decision is purely made on economics and politics. 

Perhaps, it is time to rethink the calling of PM Lee on right politics, and then right economics.  How to prevent stereotyping and ignorance under right politics right economics?  We already have this experience in the Population White Paper and the Hong Lim Park protest.

Sociology graduates fail to see the social and educational changes in Singapore.  Is this a joke of education or an intentional strategy?

Joke of bilingualism

Bilingualism is the aim of our education system, bilingualism here and bilingualism there with different kinds of funding.  The more we talk about it, the more difficult we will  face for the learning of Chinese language in schools.  For some students, we need to even provide them a Ipad so that he or she can complete a short and simple Chinese composition.

So, the problem is not English, especially in university level. It is the Chinese (Malay and Tamil as well) causing problem. The Malay Minister had even suggested teaching Malay language as a foreign language!  Can we assume that a foreign language standard will demand a lower proficiency than the standard of a second language?   We already have mother tongue B now we want to create another mother tongue F (F for foreign).     

So, this is a joke of our bilingualism policy and the joke of our education system.  We are training English speaking only graduates and yet some graduates are still stereotyping and ignoring the social changes.  They are still thinking like 30, 40 years ago - the era of ‘Chinese helicopters, Chinese heritage’.

Nantah is not NTU

Or if you wish NTU is not Nantah.  Even today, Nantah graduates still regularly receive alumni magazines from both NUS and NTU. Even today, the Nantah logo is still with NUS.  However, the academic records have been transferred from NUS to NTU. Who are they? NTU says its history dated back to 1955. Why?

Why does an easy political decision in 1980 still looking for a difficult solution today? The former President of NTU even suggested a rename of NTU by removing the word ‘technological’.  This is another dilemma – to please the Nantah graduates?
Why can’t we just close the chapter of Nantah from 1955 to 1980? Perhaps, it is better for NTU to cut off its relationship and history with Nantah and develops its own future without this historical burden.

No matter with or without the burden, the stereotyping, ignorance, prejudices and the joke of our education will continue as far as the PAP is still in power.  The PAP government with its ‘right politics, right economics’ mindset will not be able to find a proper solution to tackle this issue. It is because stereotyping, ignorance and prejudices work well with the PAP.  The PAP wants to be the man in between to balance and please different groups of people according to different pressures. So, what is the problem even there is a joke in our education system? So what?

Closing down Nantah is a policy option worked well in the past as there were basically no objections.  Or even there were objections, it was not loud enough.  Only now, 33 years later, we finally see the last laugh or at least a good laugh.   Will the past decision work really and finally? 

It is now a moment that we will see more good laughs out of the PAP policies, be it Swiss standard of living, AIM, CPIB, cleaning of hawkers' centre, population, housing, health care, foreign workers, ……. and education.

However, the PAP will consider this as an isolated incident – stereotyping, ignorance and prejudices are all one-time event.  This is why we have to define who has the last laugh – the people or the PAP.

Chinese media in Singapore has no choice but to report this news in a ‘balance’ way.


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