Address by Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Mr Ng Chee Meng at Pioneer Junior College on Racial Harmony Day 2016

Published Date: 21 July 2016 12:00 AM

News Speeches

1. Good morning. It is my pleasure to be here with you at Pioneer Junior College to commemorate Racial Harmony Day.

2. Racial Harmony Day, along with three other commemorative events, was introduced in schools so that our young people do not forget where we came from and how our pioneers overcame the odds and built the strong home and nation we are today1. Racial Harmony Day marks the racial riots in 1964 where lives were lost. It is a sobering reminder of the fragility and importance of racial harmony in Singapore.


3. As a Junior College student, you have commemorated Racial Harmony Day for at least 10 years. In primary school, you probably wore cultural costumes, sampled the food, played traditional games, enjoyed the music and dance performances of the various cultures in Singapore. In secondary school, you probably did a variation of those themes, but learned a lot more about the history, the places, the practices and the beliefs of our races and major religions. At pre-university, you might be wondering what is left to do.

4. I believe that we still have to keep at it. No matter your age, even for teachers or other adults in Singapore – we have to keep working on deepening our understanding of one another and strengthening our inter-racial relations. Singapore today is even, arguably, more diverse than in 1964. More than a third of marriages now in Singapore are between a Singaporean and a foreigner, and almost a quarter of new babies born now have one non-Singaporean parent. The proportion of inter-ethnic marriages has also doubled from a decade ago to make up 20% of all marriages here.2 As such, now living and studying amidst us are more people of mixed and diverse ethnicities, and they are likely to have relatives of different cultures too.

5. While the complexion of our society is changing, Singapore is buffeted by greater geopolitical uncertainties and security threats. We must safeguard our social cohesion against incidents that may tear our communities apart along racial and religious lines. Other countries far older and more established than us have experienced sudden civil conflict in the past, and there are still tensions between different community groups in other countries.

6. Here in Singapore, a survey conducted by and the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) in 2014 revealed that 7 out of 10 respondents do not experience any religious or racial tension in their daily lives. In addition, 6 out of 10 respondents expressed an interest in understanding other cultures and having closer interactions with members of other cultural groups. Overall, these statistics paint a positive picture. But should we worry about the 30% who do experience tension or the 40% who are not interested in understanding other cultures? Furthermore, 55% of Singaporeans do not have a close friend of another race, despite us living in one of the most racially diverse countries in the world. There is definitely more that can be done, so that we, as a society, can move beyond merely tolerating and accepting diversity to developing mutual and in-depth understanding of one another.

7. Today I am happy to see the Bus and Walking Trails students from Pioneer Junior College’s Community Engagement Council have created. The Trail you created shows how common spaces can bring people of rich and diverse cultural heritage together. The work you have done demonstrates your commitment to promote social cohesion in your community. Let me challenge you to be both an advocate and role model of racial harmony. To achieve this, I encourage you to actively reach out to school mates or neighbours of other races, and do something which you all enjoy together. Pursue your common interests; celebrate one another’s cultural festivals; and strike up deep and long-lasting friendships. You can definitely do more than preserving the current state of harmonious interracial relations. Racial harmony continues being a fundamental national tenet today as it was in 1965. We must work hard to strengthen trust among our different ethnic groups, by forging deeper and more meaningful friendships.

8. Two weeks ago, over 800 teachers came together over 4 days at the annual Racial Harmony Forum. They embarked on exploratory quests to cultural sites. After the visits, they pieced together narratives which strengthened their personal beliefs about safeguarding our “Cultural Heritage”, which is the theme for this year’s Racial Harmony celebrations. Some of the 10 cultural sites visited included – Nagore Dargah, The Intan and United Temple.3 These places are manifestations of the rich and diverse cultural heritage we have inherited from our forefathers. There is still much unexplored places, narratives and traditions of the many cultures here which continue to evolve around us. Can Singapore harness it to promote greater intercultural understanding and appreciation within the community?


9. Our unique challenges remain, and new challenges have arisen in our more complex global environment. With it also come opportunities that we can ride on to make deeper meaning of racial harmony for future generations of Singaporeans. I look forward to participating in more innovative and engaging racial harmony celebrations in future.

10. Thank you once again for inviting me to join in your celebrations today. I wish you all a meaningful Racial Harmony Day.



  1. Based on

  2. Based on “Population in brief 2015”; published by NPTD, Singapore Department of Statistics, MHA and ICA.

  3. Nagore Dargah, located along Telok Ayer Street, is a shrine built by Muslims from southern India between 1828 and 1830. It is now an Indian Muslim Heritage Centre and focuses on the history of the Indian-Muslim diaspora here. Located in the heart of Joo Chiat, The Intan was set up in 2003 to showcase the history, traditions and lifestyle of Peranakans in Singapore. The private museum exhibits Peranakan artefacts from Malaysia, Indonesia, India, China and England within a modern home setting. United Temple in Toa Payoh pioneered the combined temple model in 1970s. It houses different Chinese deities worshipped by the various dialect groups and remains a centre of activity for worshippers and residents. Other cultural heritage quest sites are Ba’alwie Mosque, Catholic Centre & St Joseph's Church (Victoria Street), Chinese Clans, Eurasian Association, Kampong Lorong Buangkok, Khadijah Mosque & Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), and Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple & Sri Krishnan Temple.
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