Education and Academic Freedom

Aaron Koh. “Doing class analysis in Singapore’s elite education: unravelling the smokescreen of ‘meritocratic talk’,” Globalisation, Societies and Education, vol. 12, no. 2, 2014, pp. 196-210.

  • This paper examines the specificity of the education–class nexus in an elite independent school in Singapore. It seeks to unravel the puzzle that meritocracy is dogmatically believed in Singapore in spite of evidences that point to the contrary. The paper draws on discursive (analysis of media materials) and institutional (analysis of interview conducted in Clarence High school) processes to mount the argument that doing class analysis in Singapore’s elite education is couched in a peculiarity, where meritocratic principles override all criticisms and contentions of the reproduction of educational privileges and advantages. The analysis of the overriding ‘meritocratic talk’ in the interviews conducted will show how the national doxa of meritocracy creates the belief environment that leads to institutional practices that echoes the dogma of meritocracy.

Cherian George. “Reputational risk,” in Singapore, Incomplete: Reflections on a First World Nation’s Arrested Political Development. Woodsville News, 2017.

  • Much of what I’ve learnt about the way the political system works came from directly observing it as a journalist at The Straits Times in the 1990s. When I moved to academia, I thought my close encounters with power were over. Fate had other plans. It enrolled me in an intense period of experiential learning that enriched my understanding of how institutions are micromanaged by and for the People’s Action Party government. The module didn’t come cheap: it cost me my job and forced me to pursue my academic career outside Singapore.

Daniel PS Goh. “Elite schools, postcolonial Chineseness and hegemonic masculinities in Singapore,” British Journal of Sociology of Education, vol. 36, no. 1, 2015, pp. 137-155.

  • The educational reproduction of elite masculinity in postcolonial societies has not been properly studied. This is partly because the postcolonial masculinities of non-western elites are accomplished through the cultivation of naturalized practices signifying the body politic of the nation-state. In Singapore, same-sex elite schools of colonial heritage, particularly Christian mission schools, play a central role in cultivating elite masculinity. Focusing on the elite Anglo-Chinese School, I analyze the array of class and racial anxieties displaced by the schooling of imperial white masculinity unto the decolonized field producing a middle-class Chineseness primed for the leadership of men. I also show that the masculinity is being transformed into a cosmopolitan masculinity co-opting maternal femininity, as the elites turn to engage neoliberal globalization. The case of Singapore shows the postcolonial adaptability of elite masculinities formed in the imperial era, achieved through the gender dynamics of resolving ethnic and class contradictions in elite schooling.

E. Mottram. “A Note On Academic Freedom and Politics,” Fajar: A Organ of the University Socialist Club, October 1954, pp. 3-4.

  • Fajar, the newspaper of the University of Malaya Socialist Club, was published by student activists and constantly struggled with a lack of academic freedom and an attempt by the colonial establishment to censor their work. In the wake of the trial of the editorial board for sedition in 1954, they published this article, reflecting on the importance of activism by students and of academic freedom in Singapore.

Ho Li-Ching. “‘Freedom can only exist in an ordered state’: Harmony and civic education in Singapore”, Journal of Curriculum Studies, vol. 49, no. 4, 2017, pp. 476-496.

  • This paper uses the concept of stories of peoplehood to examine how the Singapore government has constructed a story of harmony and to consider how this story has influenced two important school subjects focused on civic education: Social Studies and Character and Citizenship Education. Stories of peoplehood, including constitutive, economic and political power stories, play a central role in the political project of people-making which involves defining the nature of membership in a political community and promoting a collective political identity. This study provides an alternative way of conceptualizing the goals and curriculum content of civic education and it also offers an example of how a nation state with a strong Confucian tradition has chosen to address the educational goal of living together through the promotion of values such as social cohesion and community relationships within a story of harmony. The study also shows how Singapore political leaders construct a narrow and limited discourse of harmony within the curricula and use it to legitimize policies that privilege particular groups, limit political freedoms, marginalize groups with less power or status, and circumscribe the kinds of actions a citizen can legitimately take.

James Rowlins. “Out of Bounds: Freedom of Expression in Singapore Revisited,” New Naratif, April 3, 2019.

Singapore’s troubled relationship with freedom of speech and lack of a credible free press is no secret. William Gibson’s infamous treatise on Singapore, “Disneyland with the Death Penalty”, labelled the city-state’s newspapers as “essentially organs of the state”. Academics have analysed the mechanics of the state’s media interventionism in detail. James Gomez writes that the prevalence of a “censorial culture”, particularly “self-censorship, [is] how the PAP (People’s Action Party) administrative state has, over the decades, been able to effectively expand its control over the hearts and minds of its citizens”.

Michael Barr. “Racialised education in Singapore”, Educational Research for Policy and Practice, no. 5, 2006, pp. 15-31.

  • 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.

Tan Kok Chiang. My Nantah Story: The Rise and Demise of the People’s University. Ethos Books, 2017.

  • In 1958, more than a hundred thousand people attended the inauguration ceremony of Nanyang University (Nantah), a true “people’s university” that was founded with the support of all strata of society, from tycoons to trishaw-men. After producing 12,000 graduates and winning global recognition, the institution, the first Chinese-medium university outside China, held her final convocation in 1980. Drawing from the author’s own research and diverse sources that have never before been available in English, this book tells the fascinating story of Nantah’s short and eventful life and deconstructs the many myths and misconceptions that continue to surround her.

Tan Tarn How. “The mystery: Are activists and artists being locked out of academia?Tan Tarn How Too (personal blog), October 30, 2017.

Teo You Yenn. “Academic Freedom in Singapore and the ‘Fake News’ Law,” New Naratif, April 11, 2019.

  • In recent years, Singapore’s globally recognised and “world class” universities have done exceptionally well in science and engineering, and less well in the humanities and social sciences. This is not by accident. In the latter, especially when it comes to research about Singapore society, we have much room for improvement.

Vincent Chua and Irene YH Ng. “Unequal returns to social capital: the study of Malays in Singapore through a network lens”, Asian Ethnicity, vol. 16, no. 4, 2015, pp. 480-497.

  • Using the concepts of ‘social capital deficit’ and ‘return deficit’, this study considers the social network aspects of social disadvantage among Malays in Singapore, as compared to Singaporean Chinese. Analysing a 2005 representative survey, we find Malays have less social capital than Chinese, a social capital deficit partly explained by their lower educational attainment. We find no return deficit in earnings: that is, every additional unit of social capital increases earnings equally for Chinese and Malays. However, we find return deficits in education: every additional unit of social capital (e.g. ties to educated parents) increases educational attainment more for Chinese than Malays. In all, this study offers a social capital explanation for Malay ‘plight’, complementing the more conventional explanations of human and economic capital.