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.

Reference

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

Singapore. (2014, May 1). Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved May 25, 2014, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sn.html

Yin, D. (2013, June 6). Singapore Needs Immigrants, Says Jim Rogers. Forbes. Retrieved May 25, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidyin/2013/06/06/singapore-needs-immigrants-says-jim-rogers

 

Enhanced by Zemanta
Advertisements

Structural Denial of Ethnic Diversity in Japan

by Sten Alvarsson

Japan’s ethnic diversity is continuing to be denied at the expense of a more equal and inclusive society. Ironically, equality and inclusivity are both at the heart of mainstream Japan’s perceived identity. This could be described as “ethnicity blindness” and is best described by Professor Kondo (2013) who states that, “Japan is still the only developed industrialised democracy that does not have an anti-discrimination law” (para. 6). This can be seen as a result from the belief that racism and discrimination do not exist in Japan so, therefore, there is no need to have laws targeting such behavior. On the whole, however, ethnicity blindness is not the most accurate depiction of the situation regarding ethnic minorities in Japan. Instead, the inequality and exclusivity regarding the country’s ethnic diversity is what I would describe as being “ethnic denial”.

While Japan’s ethnic diversity is fully comprehended by the country’s ethnic minorities, amongst the Yamato majority, however, the belief in a monolithic and homogeneous national identity persists. This belief is structurally enforced which was highlighted by the country’s 2010 census which failed to provide a measure for ethnicity (Japan Times, 2010). Instead, only nationality was measured without the acknowledgment of the ethnic diversity that exists under the umbrella of Japanese citizenship. This structural denial of the ethnic diversity of minority groups includes the Ainu, Koreans, Ryukyuans, Chinese, naturalized citizens and children from mixed marriages. Ethnic minorities are ignored despite the fact that minority groups such as these make up around 10 percent of the local population in areas such as the Kinki region of central Western Japan (Sugimoto, 2010). This structural denial is one of the keystones in maintaining the myth of a national identity that is both monolithic and homogeneous.

Japan’s structural denial of ethnic diversity within the country in order to enforce the myth of a monolithic and homogeneous national identity is not only a domestic issue but is also of international consequence and concern. Japan uses its perceived ethnic and cultural purity to ignore its international obligations as a signature member of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Instead, Japan maintains a policy of neglecting asylum seekers and rejects the overwhelming majority of their claims (Dean & Nagashima, 2007). In fact, from 1981 to 2007 Japan only accepted 451 refugees (Sugimoto, 2010). Sadako Ogata, a Japanese national who served as the former High Commissioner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 1991 – 2001 stated that one of the fundamental reasons for Japan’s exclusion of asylum seekers is due to, “prejudice and discrimination against foreigners which is based upon the mono-ethnic myth” (as cited in Dean & Nagashima, 2007, p. 497). It must be remembered that this mono-ethnic myth has no historical routes and was brought into popular consciousness after the Second World War.

Ethnic diversity in Japan needs to be acknowledged and accepted. Unlike the country’s last census in 2010, Japan’s next census in 2015 should strive to measure its ethnic diversity. In order to achieve this, such questions as, “Where were you born?”, “Where were your parents born?” and, “What national origin or ethnicity do you consider yourself to be?” should be included in the census. As a multicultural country, Australia recognises 275 different cultural and ethnic groups in its census (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011). For Japan, there is no excuse not to also measure the diversity that exists amongst its citizens.

The structural denial of ethnic diversity in Japan needs to end in order to contribute to a more equal and inclusive society for all its members. After all, in Japan there are over 100 different varieties of the chrysanthemum flower (kiku 菊) with a myriad of different colors, scents, sizes, textures, patterns and durations. Wouldn’t it be a shame if Japan only recognised a single variety of chrysanthemum and denied the existence of the rest?

References

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2011). Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups. Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/1249.0main+features22011

Dean, M., & Nagashima, M. (2007). Sharing the Burden: The Role of Government and NGOs in Protecting and Providing for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Japan. Journal of Refugee Studies, 20(3), 481-508.

Japan Times. (2010, October 5). Census blind to Japan’s true diversity. Retrieved from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2010/10/05/issues/census-blind-to-japans-true-diversity/#.Umt_AflmhcZ

Kondo, A. (2013, May 6). Can Japan turn to foreign workers. Retrieved from http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2013/05/06/can-japan-turn-to-foreign-workers/

Sugimoto, Y. (2010). An Introduction to Japanese Society (3rd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Race, ethnicity, and caste: Classifying and dividing

by Naresh Kumar

It is interesting to learn more about race and ethnicity. I never knew before that the issues regarding race and ethnicity are so complex. People from all around the world are affected and for some it is painful to bear the fact that they have been classified, which they are not even aware of. It seems that your career, your position in the society, and other things in life are decided by your color rather than your ability. In the society where the classification of races is huge, it is hard for a person to proceed his or her career in the desired field.

In South Asia, society is divided into castes rather than ethnicity (Mines & Lamb, 2002). There are many tribes and castes in India, Nepal, and in other South Asian countries. However, it seems that these days, people are more influenced by western ideas. I always used to wonder within myself to hear about blacks and whites and used to think, why we judge people by their skin tones. I have never experienced class stratification according to the skin tone but for castes there is so much in South Asian countries. As we educate ourselves, it is not hard to say that there is inequality between people all around the world and that it is done by us. One thing that amazes me a lot is that why do we need to differentiate each other. I guess it is all for more money and more power.

I think that the quota system and affirmative actions as in name of racial preferences can bring no more than gaps and more highlights on race and ethnicity. The history that we are trying to learn can give us no more than differences between us. I am not against knowing the history but I wonder why there are so many inequalities in the past. The sad thing is that most of all take so many things in life for granted. I wonder how the media is playing its role to bring the truth and facts in front of the society. Rather than encouraging, it is doing the opposite by promoting differences among us (Everett, 2008). I guess the motive is profit. Media plays a vital role in spreading information around the world but rather than giving people the facts, it is manipulating them.

I guess the problem is within ourselves, rather than embracing who we are and being proud of that, we are always looking to change our identity, appearance, and everything about us. We need to appreciate and accept ourselves as we are, rather than trying to be someone else.

References

Everett, A. (2008). Learning race and ethnicity: Youth and digital media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Mines, D. P., & Lamb, S. (2002). Everyday life in South Asia. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.