The Dilemma of Multicultural Education

Anonymous student post

As I have noted in the previous blog post, Singapore is dealing with problems that have appeared due to the cultural and linguistic diversity brought by immigrants. Besides the declining use of ethnic mother tongues as well as individuals’ cultural identities, there are other results that have been observed due to English-speaking bilingual education. Those are the social mobility in society and the country’s conflicting ideals.

According to Nakamura (2009), people’s English ability has certain influence on upward mobility in society. In her research, it has been proved that those who use English have higher incomes than those who use their ethnic mother tongues daily. As we have discussed in class, there is a certain social structure in Singapore that creates this situation. The structure of “the higher education you get, the higher income and social status you get in the society” is especially notable in Singapore.

If we keep this fact in mind and look at the university education, you would notice that almost all of the university courses are offered in English, hardly any in the ethnic mother tongues (except for the language classes). There is no doubt that if you cannot use English, you will fail to get into the university and thus end up having a lower social status. In addition, even if people could use English, their income and status depends on what type of “English” they use. If they could only speak in “Singlish” (Singaporean English), then, their income would be lower than those who can speak in “British-like English”.

This shows that linguistic ability is what creates Singapore’s social hierarchy. In other words, immigrants tend to do better by assimilating (using English) rather than “staying ethnic” (using mother tongues).

Although it is obvious that there is a top-down pressure of speaking a “proper English” in the society, there is still many campaigns or programs that Singaporean government tries to keep ethnic diversity, as they recognize it as their national strength. One example is that in 1979, the government started the “Special Assistance Plan School” for Chinese schools in Singapore (Lee, 2008). This school offers a higher education in Chinese for the purpose of not diminishing the Chinese cultures, values and norms. Also, as I have noticed while studying in National University of Singapore, there were many opportunities for students to be aware of their cultural identities such as cultural weeks, which students with different ethnic groups introduced their cultures to others.

In my opinion, “Singapore as a multicultural country” is in a dilemma in that people are encouraged to keep their ethnic identities but they cannot do better in society if they actually “stayed ethnic.” In conclusion, this type of gap between “linguatocracy” (Nakamura, 2009) which refers to those who can speak “proper English” and immigrants who could only speak in their mother tongues will be apparent in any other countries that are expecting to open up themselves for immigrants. We could learn from Singapore’s case and think of the way to conduct educations in the diversified society.


Lee, E. (2008). Singapore: the unexpected nation. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Nakamura, M. (2009). Shingaporu ni okeru kokumin togo. Kyoto: Horitsubunkasha.

English Education and Preservation of Ethnic Diversity in Singapore

English: National Institute of Education, Sing...

English: National Institute of Education, Singapore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anonymous student post

Large numbers of Singapore’s population are immigrants. Since the country got its independence in 1965, there have always been new immigrants coming in from all over the world who become members of the community. As a result, it has become very ethnically and culturally diverse. Just looking at its population, according to CIA World Factbook, there are 74.2% Chinese, 13.3% Malay, 9.2% Indian, 3.3% other (2012 est.) Some scholars believe that this cultural diversity brought by immigrants is what has made Singapore so economically successful. (Yin, 2013)

Adjusting to this type of diverse environment, Singapore sets four different languages for its official use. So when I was there, I could see many public signs, written in those four when I was there. It was certainly a surprising experience for someone who has been lived in Japan, which only has Japanese as its official language.

Following this astonishment, a new question came up to my mind as a student who was studying in a university in Singapore; that is, how do the educational institutions deal with this diversity?

In this blog post, I would like to see the current language education system in Singapore and observe the outcomes.

Firstly, the Singaporean government heavily focuses on education as it contributes to economic development and unification of the people. They decided to offer basic education in two languages, one is English, other is their ethnic mother tongue languages from where their roots are from, such as Chinese, Malay or Tamil. The reason is that government believes educating people in English will be useful in the process of future economic development foreseeing the globalization; and other languages to preserve their cultural identities. (Nakamura, 2009)

This has worked out successfully for the first aspect. English has contributed Singapore becoming the hub of Southeast Asia. It also has become the symbol of nationwide unity that connects people with different cultures and enabled them to communicate with each other. Now they even created so-called “Singlish” (Singapore-English; mixture of English and languages of different ethnic groups exist in Singapore), which could also be considered as part of their national identity.

However, for the second aspect of preserving diverse cultures through learning non-English languages, is not functioning as it was expected. As a matter of fact, less people are using their ethnic mother tongues in Singapore as they no longer use them outside their communities. Because cultures could not be transmitted onto next generation without the languages, it has become a problem. This is also leading to the changes in individual’s identities. As their language ability for non-English languages declines, their identity as a member of each community declines, too. Thus, this is now seen as a challenge how to keep their languages and cultural diversity in this country (Nakamura, 2009).

In addition, there is an issue that social mobility in the society is somewhat depending on their English ability. I will further discuss this point in the later blog post.

In conclusion, through this outcome of bi(multi-)lingual language education in Singapore, we could observe the difficulty of uniting people with different cultural backgrounds under one national identity whilst preserving the cultural diversity. This type of phenomenon is what many nation states would be expecting to see in their countries as more and more international migration occurs in the world. How to protect the cultures and languages while adjusting to the flow of globalization is a difficult question to find a solution.


Nakamura, M. (2009). Shingaporu ni okeru kokumin togo. Kyoto: Horitsubunkasha.

Singapore. (2014, May 1). Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved May 25, 2014, from

Yin, D. (2013, June 6). Singapore Needs Immigrants, Says Jim Rogers. Forbes. Retrieved May 25, 2014, from


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The preference for lighter skin in Mexico and Asia

by Han Si Hun (Jake)

In the book Shades of Differences, Christina Sue talks about the categorization of the color in Mexico (especially in Veracruz), and I believe that this categorization of color in Mexico is similar to the discrimination of races. As Sue argues, “Veracruzanos do not embrace their mixed-race status in and of itself: instead, they strive to ‘whiten’ themselves and their progeny.” It can be said that Veracruzanos have a strong preference for white. Sue also argues that Veracruzanos are looking for partners who have whiter skin for the possibility of the next generation coming out with lighter skin, and that Veracruzanos have strong images of black people related to the history of slavery.

This kind of discrimination and the preference of lighter skin color actually happened to my friends when I was staying in Singapore. I never really had an issue with the light skin or dark skin thing in Singapore. However, I went to of those middle schools where most of the black friends (Malaysian and Indians) dated either light-skinned black women or people of another race (lighter skinned people). I did not have a problem with people preferring light skin but sometimes I feel it people are sort of implying “darker” skin is worse. I used to be able to see people’s preferences for things as simple as that. But I remembered the question that I raised to my friend “why are you preferring to meet lighter skin than you?” and my friend was saying, “It is because I want my kids to be lighter than me.” This can be said that the preference of lighter skin is not only happening in Veracruz, but also in Asian countries.

I found out a report from The Asia Market Intelligence (AMI), which showed that the 68 percent of Hong Kong men are more appealing to lighter skin women (Schwartz 2012). In the case of Korea, white skin is also one of the important points for a beauty of women and it is also a part of men`s preference for their partner as well. We Koreans are also having stereotypes of darker skinned people as the people from the countryside. This can be said that the color discrimination on people is not only happening in Mexico but it is also a problem happening in Asian countries as well.

Works Cited

Schwartz, S. (2012, July). Men find fair skin more alluring. South China Morning Post.

Why Does Skin Color Matter in Indian Marriages?

by Sho Hamamoto

It seems that having fair skin still matters in Indian marriages. Many Indian men and women are suffering from an obsession with fair skin. Why is it important to have fair skin in Indian marriages? There are three possible reasons for the obsession. Jyotsna Vaid (2009) mentions maintaining the purity of the bloodstream of the upper castes and an association between darker skin and lower class working under a hot sun. India is a very strict class society due to the caste system and sensitive to social classes. This is one of reasons why the percentage of arranged marriages in India stands at 90%. Arranged marriages prevent marriages between different classes. Skin color is one of class symbols. As Glenn mentions, there is an association between darker skin and lower class working under a hot sun in India. Due to the fact that skin color represents one’s class in India, people prefer fair skin (upper class) to darker skin (lower class).

Agrawal (2012) provides another reason for the preference for fair skin is a mind-set by British rule. Under the British rule, Whites were superior to Indians (darker skin people). The legacy of British rule may still remain in the Indian society and create an image that lighter skin is superior to darker skin.

Lastly, media is a major contributor to creating an image that lighter skin is better than darker skin. In media including TV programs, ads, and movies, lighter skin tends to be described as a sophisticated feature. People on media tend to have fair skin and those media create an ideal image of people. As a result, people have had an image that lighter skin is more sophisticated than darker skin.

As seen above, skin color still matters in India marriages because of a strict class society in India, British rule, and an image that fair skin is sophisticated created by media. It is not easy to change the situation because you have to change the structure (class society, media and so on).

An interesting point is that an association between fair skin and “a sophisticated image” can be seen in many other countries, such as Japan, China, Korea, and Singapore. Why is the sophisticated image of fair skin shared in different countries? Personally, a class society has much to do with this phenomenon. Darker skin may be linked to lower class working under a hot sun while fair skin is linked to upper class. This historical image has created the sophisticated image of fair skin and media has bolstered the image. This can be an explanation for the shared image of fair skin in many different countries.


Agrawal, V. (2012). Why Indian men want fair skin brides? Retrieved from–health/relationships/why-indian-men-want-fair-skin-brides

Glenn, E. (2009). Shades of difference. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Lancy. (2013, April 15). Does skin color really matter in Indian marriages?. Retrieved from

Statics Brain. (2012). Arranged/forced marriages statistics. Retrieved from

Why Indian Men want Fair Skin Brides from