Can our teachers teach the truth in a climate of fear?

Singapore Democrats

It’s hard to decide which is worse: The recent banning of ex-ISA detainee Mr Vincent Cheng from speaking at the National Library or the subsequent attempt to justify the censorship.

Ms Amy Gay, communications director of the National Library Board, had explained that the intent of the seminar was to “seek insights into Singapore’s history through research and study.” Pray tell how does Mr Cheng’s inclusion as a speaker not be in line with that objective?

How do you think historians get their history? From those who make it, of course. In this instance while the maker of history is still alive, why not get him to speak directly to the public instead of relying on third parties? What better way to get insight into Singapore’s history from a history-maker in person? 

This brings us to the question of education in Singapore. Ms Gay tells us that the seminar series is aimed at junior college and secondary school students. It is troubling, but really not surprising, that the authorities see it fit to white-wash history before allowing our students to learn it.

Without doubt there is much censorship that goes on in Singapore’s academe. In 1994, Dr Bilveer Singh wrote a piece in Jakarta Post about the income divide in Singapore. The PAP Government rebutted the don and challenged him to substantiate his claim.

Dr Singh promptly withdrew his statements and issued an apology for the “gross error”. (Compare this to his inaccurate interpretation of Mr Chiam See Tong’s departure from the SDP and refusal to even accept Dr Chee Soon Juan’s invitation to meet to sort out the inaccuracies.)

On the other hand, school textbooks extol PAP leaders communist-style. This is an excerpt in a secondary two textbook that is “based on the New Syllabus by Ministry of Education”:

We are enjoying a trouble free life because of [Lee Kuan Yew’s] hard work. Singapore is clean and green city (sic). The honest leaders have succeeded in attracting foreign investors to invest their money in Singapore. What is more than all these is:- The leaders have set a good example and have passed on all their good qualities to the people of Singapore.

Read the full article here: What they teach in school

In 2003, three economists from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) released a report that indicated that three out of every four newly created jobs between 1997 and 2002 went to foreign workers.

Again the government shot back, castigating the academics for making erroneous claims. Again the professors rescinded their resarch findings and apologized for their “mistake”.

Last year, NTU president Dr Su Guaning personally stopped the publication of a report in the students’ newspaper about Dr Chee’s visit to the campus. To their credit the students subsequently descended on Speakers’ Corner to protest against the university’s censorship.

Chee posing for a picture with students


When SDP leaders visited the NUS, university officials quickly surrounded the party members and prevented them from engaging the students. The officials advised the Democrats to contact the students’ union to organise an event to speak on campus.

Chee speaking with University officials Michael Ng (centre) and Peck Thian Guan (right)

When the SDP approached the organisation the student leaders there dragged their feet and ended up not doing anything. In the meantime PAP ministers continue to visit the campus and address the students. 

When our teachers cannot teach students without having to censor, what hope is there for Singapore’s future? Are we also not teaching our youths to hide the truth in order to appease our rulers?

What sort of education are our students receiving? More important, what kind of people are we shaping? This latest kerfuffle involving Mr Vincent Cheng is just a symptom of the disease that plagues this seemingly modern society, the disease of fear and censorship.

How all this will affect our future is one question that few stop, or dare, to ask.

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