Politicising Primary Education in Singapore
Following barely a month after Singaporeans had the importance of not “politicising” NGOs and other supposedly independent institutions rammed down their throats by government and mainstream media actors, many netizens were shocked to discover what appears to be a blatant attempt to “politicise” the education system itself – in this year’s primary 5 social studies exam.
Circulating online was the above image taken of this year’s exam paper which contains a couple of questions around a quote from Othman Wok, a former PAP cabinet minister.
Othman Wok was one of Singapore’s founding fathers.
Refer to his quotes below and answer the questions that follow.
“Most of the members at that time who were loyal to the PAP stuck with us. But there were others who were so naive that they were talked into joining the other side. It was foolish to join the other side, because they were not really fighting for the aspirations of the people of Singapore.”
This quote is quite troubling for a few reasons. It appears to set up a politically charged and divisive “us” versus “them” narrative wherein “us” includes the speaker – who is described as a “founding father” – “the PAP” and “the people of Singapore”. It is important to note that this “us” also includes the child sitting the exam. Apart from this group, those who are not “us” are described as “naive” and “foolish”, and it is they who joined “the other side”, a not very subtle reference to the PAP’s political opponents.
In the context of the cut and thrust of a tense political debate this quote seems like the perfect example of strongly worded political rhetoric. In the context of a primary school exam however the implications are quite sinister. The word brainwashing springs to mind. The kicker comes from the “questions that follow”.
(i) Why was there a split within the PAP in 1961?
(ii) Which group of people does “the other side” refer to?
For all the politically charged rhetoric, the real problem with this quote is these two questions, which are worth one mark each. To pick up top marks, a primary school child is expected to internalise and accept as “correct” the idea that some “naive” and “foolish” people decided to split from the PAP and join the political opposition. An opposition which was “not really fighting for the aspirations of the people of Singapore”. This is very obviously a politically charged and historically dubious assertion that paints the ruling party in a positive light in the minds of impressionable children. Conversely the political opposition are insulted and have their motives unsubtly derided.
It seems obvious that this – in the 2013 exam – represents a current and ongoing attempt by the ruling party to use the eduction system as a platform to push their partisan view of politics and history. No less than that, the victims of this politicisation are the children of Singapore, over whom the government and Ministry of Education should really be seen as having a duty of care. One wonders if the Minister for Eduction Heng Swee Keat has an opinion on this. And for all the government and media actors who went to great lengths just one month ago to emphasise the importance of not using NGOs and other bodies as a platform for partisanship, one wonders how such an exam question could possibly be justified.