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.


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