Schools should spur discussions on race, religion: Ong Ye Kung
Conversations in school play a big role in helping students navigate differences, says Education Minister
Young people today have a different view of race and religion compared with older generations, and conversations in school play a big role in helping students navigate differences, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung yesterday.
The generation above him had a tolerant view towards diversity and coexisting, while his own generation became more accepting and appreciative of other cultures.
"But if you ask people of my generation to sit down and have a conversation (about sensitive issues), it feels awkward, and almost a bit embarrassing and uncomfortable.
"This generation is different. They actually want to talk about it. But they need facilitation and they're honest about it," he said.
The minister was speaking during a media visit to Tampines Secondary School yesterday, when he joined students to commemorate Racial Harmony Day.
Racial Harmony Day falls on Tuesday, but as that day is during the one-week school midterm break, celebrations were brought forward.
Mr Ong said the Education Ministry (MOE) is encouraging principals to hold more in-depth conversations in school, including during character and citizenship education classes.
During the debate on the ministries' budgets in March, it was announced that schools would engage secondary students on contemporary issues, such as bullying, using social media, and race and religion, fortnightly.
MOE is training more teachers who can specialise in this and can facilitate such discussions, Mr Ong added.
But he emphasised that context matters in discussing race and religion.
"We are constantly under the influence of American social media, American pop culture, but we are not American. Our histories are totally different."
This will be a topic teachers will have to carefully engage students on, he noted.
"The starting point has got to be our own conversations and dialogues. You are bound to discover that students are reading things on the Internet, getting ideas that are more 'Americanised', for example, and when you bring it up, then you can have a contestation of ideas respectfully, and then that's how students get to internalise them."
Just sending them reading material is not going to help, said Mr Ong, adding: "You need that engagement."
At Tampines Secondary, teachers use conversation cards and board games to engage students in discussions on issues involving race, religion, culture and tradition.
In a Secondary 3 class The Straits Times observed, students discussed various scenarios and how they would respond to them.
For example, a given scenario was someone being surprised that a Malay student does well in mathematics and complimenting the student "you're actually really smart for a Malay".
In response, students said this was a backhanded compliment with improper tone and hurtful phrasing, as it sounded sarcastic.
They discussed how they would let the person know that it could be offensive, without using aggression.
In a separate visit, Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah joined pupils at Juying Primary School to mark Racial Harmony Day.
Across Singapore, students were encouraged to appreciate the country's racial and cultural diversity.
Strategy for Covid cases in school is to ring-fence: Ong Ye Kung
The Ministry of Education's (MOE) approach to Covid-19 cases in schools will be to ring-fence and quarantine students or staff on as small a scale as possible, as opposed to reacting with a full closure of schools.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said this yesterday, in the wake of a false positive case in Jurong West Secondary School that was due to a mislabelled sample.
The case was brought up and addressed by MOE and the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Tuesday.
Mr Ong spoke to the media yesterday after a visit to Tampines Secondary School to commemorate Racial Harmony Day.
Responding to a question on how the ministry would react if there is student-to-student transmission, Mr Ong said the plan is "actually quite established".
"If you notice how we have reacted whenever there was a transmission, including that false transmission, essentially we put the entire affected level on home-based learning."
The false positive case was a 13-year-old girl who was swabbed because she had been in contact with a schoolmate, a 13-year-old boy who was previously confirmed to be infected.
In a statement on Tuesday, MOH said the female student was reported to be infected based on erroneous test results submitted by the laboratory, which had mislabelled a swab sample from a Covid-19-positive individual.
Mr Ong said: "You need to ring-fence and quarantine and put students and teachers on leave of absence, but do it on as small a scale as possible - if we can do that for a class to keep the school safe, or if not, a level, or maybe a school - as opposed to always reacting with a full closure or opening.
"I don't think that is appropriate."
He noted that parents and teachers seem to understand this approach, which he said was comforting.
When the Secondary 1 level in Jurong West Secondary was closed, more than 90 per cent of students from the other levels continued to go to school, said Mr Ong.
"That means they understood that by ring-fencing that level, the rest of the school is actually safe - because of our measures, they don't intermingle."
Measures that schools have implemented to reduce mingling include staggering recess timings and holding assemblies in classrooms.
Schools have even come up with designated routes for students to get to their classrooms so they do not meet in the hallways or stairwells.