Parliamentary Replies

March 06, 2020

Intercultural Attitudes of Students from SAP Schools

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang, Nee Soon GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education (a) whether the Ministry has conducted a study on students from Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools for their attitudes towards inclusivity and respect for people of different cultural backgrounds; (b) if so, to what extent do the results of these studies diverge from those of students from non-SAP schools; and (c) if not, whether the Ministry will consider conducting such a study.

Response

1. Before I answer the Member's question, it is useful to remind ourselves about the origins of SAP schools.

2. We are a diverse, immigrant society. In the early years of our independence, we established English as the common working language for multi-cultural Singapore, as a practical arrangement, to access global economic opportunities and create jobs for Singaporeans.

3. Recognising this, parents started sending their children to English schools and as a result, enrolment for Chinese-medium schools fell drastically in the 1970s and 1980s.

4. Hence, in 1979, the Government established SAP schools, to preserve the ethos of Chinese-medium schools and promote the learning of the language and its culture, while still using English as the primary language of instruction.

5. SAP schools did not start as popular schools. On the contrary, they were established as part of a struggle to preserve the Chinese language and culture. But over the years, with the dedicated efforts of the schools and the support of the community, and helped by the rise of China, they have become more popular.

6. Education in Singapore reflects the diversity of our society. We make bilingualism a cornerstone of our education policy. We offer opportunities for students to pursue MTL at a higher level – not just through SAP schools, but also through the Elective Programme in Malay Language for Secondary Schools (EMAS), Language Elective Programmes for Chinese, Malay and Tamil, and the National Elective Tamil Programme. Government schools, clan-based and religiously-affiliated schools, SAP schools, and designated schools like the madrasahs all co-exist in our education landscape.

7. At the same time, we ensure that our students learn about the languages and cultures of other communities. National programmes, such as Values in Action and the Outward Bound School, offer students the chance to forge bonds across communities and social groups.

8. Likewise, SAP schools make substantial efforts to encourage and build the students' understanding of other cultures, through inter-school, cluster-based and community-based activities such as camps, festive celebrations and dialogues. Almost all SAP schools teach their students conversational Malay.

9. All these efforts have an impact. A 2018 study found that there is no difference in the attitudes of secondary school students in SAP and non-SAP schools towards people from different backgrounds and cultures.

10. MOE will continue our efforts in this area. So regardless of what school we are from – be it SAP, independent, government, clan or mission-based – we must do our part to forge a united Singapore.