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The SDP had written to the Ministry of Education (MOE) for permission to conduct talks to students in schools. The MOE turned down the request saying that “schools are neutral places for learning and not platforms for partisan politics”.
That being the case, the SDP will cite textbooks that are indisputably published by the MOE and used in our secondary schools in history and social studies classes. They are written by the Curriculum Planning & Development Division of the MOE:
- Singapore: The Making Of A Nation-State, 1300-1975
- Singapore: From Settlement To Nation Pre-1819 to 1971
- Upper Secondary Social Studies 3 (2nd edition)
The truth of the matter is that the content in these textbooks is even more biased and partisan than the one that the Ministry says is not an MOE-approved book. There is a pattern of using of opinion as facts in the MOE textbooks, especially the social studies one. This is often done to the exclusion of contrary views – and even contradictory evidence. In other words, our children are told what to think rather than how to critically evaluate what they read.
Even when attempts are made at presenting two sides of an issue, students are often asked loaded and leading questions that shepherd their answers towards the desired ends. Partisan references to the PAP leave no doubt that the textbooks are meant to promote the values and thinking of the ruling party.
This is a tragic outcome for Singapore’s future as we mould an entire generation of citizens crippled in their analytical ability and unable to think independently outside the PAP worldview.
For brevity, we highlight just 10 examples of the partisan nature of the textbooks:
Example 1: Lim Chin Siong
One of the history books paints Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee Suan as violent troublemakers:
“The Communists had control of two powerful trade unions, namely Singapore Factory and Shop Workers’ Union (SFSWU) and Singapore Bus Workers’ Union (SBWU). These unions were led by Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee Suan.
On the same day (24 October 1956), the pro-communist leader, Lim Chin Siong had organised a workers’ meeting a short distance away from the Chinese High School. When the meeting ended, some of the workers joined the students in creating disorder.
The riots came to an end when the police arrested almost all the union leaders, including Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee Suan. During the riots, 13 people died and more than 100 were injured.”
It has emerged from declassified documents by the British government that it was Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock who “had provoked the riots and this had enabled the detention of Lim Chin Siong.” Documents also “show these were the tactics of provocation that were employed in the 1956 riots that led to Lim Chin Siong’s arrest.”
Shouldn’t our students be given this information and encouraged to do more reading and research before forming their conclusions? We need to stop the practice of glorifying the PAP and demonising its opponents in our schools.
Example 2: Photos and illustrations
The texts carry these illustrations:
In the section ‘What Is The Role Of The People?’, students are told that the people “have the power and responsibility to choose the right leaders for Singapore”. Accompanying the text is a photograph of PAP MP Mr Christopher de Souza.
In the chapter on governance, the book asked “What Are The Guiding Principles Of Governance?” It proceeds to cite the four areas that Lee Hsien Loong enumerated in his 2004 National Day Rally speech:
- Leadership is key
- Anticipate change and stay relevant
- Reward for work and work for reward
- A stake for everyone and opportunities for all
“Honest and capable leaders are needed to maintain stability in the government and to make the right decisions for the country. These leaders must have moral courage and integrity to do what is right and not what is popular with the people. What would happen to Singapore if the leaders only make decisions that are popular with the people?
The government has realised that good leadership and good government do not occur by chance. Potential leaders are specially selected and groomed. Besides talent and ability, leaders are also selected based on their good character.”
The paragraphs seem more suited for the Petir, the PAP’s party organ, than a school textbook. Worse, there was no attempt to help students evaluate the statement. Given that the PAP has produced Ministers and MPs like Phey Yew Kok, Tan Kia Gan, Wee Toon Boon, Teh Cheang Wan, Choo Wee Kiang, and Michael Palmer, is the text accurate and valid? Why are students presented only one side of the story?
Example 4: Representative democracy
On the subject of governance, the text says: “Singapore practices representative democracy.” But this is only half the story. For a democracy to function meaningfully and effectively, there must also be a free media and a free and fair electoral process. The people must also enjoy fundamental freedoms of speech, association and assembly. All these are not practised in Singapore. Given such a circumstance, can Singapore still be considered a democracy, much less a representative one?
This subject is not addressed anywhere in the textbooks. The basic rights of citizens that are enshrined in our Constitution are not presented and the students are not invited to have a deeper discussion on what it means to be a citizen of this country other than on the PAP’s terms.
Example 5: The Pledge
And when the National Pledge is mentioned, the book asks students to:
“Examine the phrase ‘one united people, regardless of race, language or religion’. What do you understand by this phrase? Why do you think there is a need to stress this idea in the national pledge? Share your opinion with a partner.”
There seems to be an effort to steer students away from focusing on the part that calls on citizens “to build a democratic society, based on justice and equality”.
Example 6: Healthcare
in the chapter on healthcare, a section compares the pros and cons of Medisave and Medishield. At the end, however, a sidebar called Pause and Ponder asks the question: “Why is it important for the government to have support for new policies such as Medisave and Medishield?”
Why is the question written in such a leading manner? Why are students constantly shepherded into supporting the PAP’s policies? Is there no room for a more open and meaningful discussion on the realities of healthcare affordability in Singapore?
Example 7: Foreign talent/low birthrate
As for the PAP’s Foreign Talent Policy, the Social Studies book says: “While Singapore waits for its pro-family measures to show some positive results, there is a need to enhance its competitiveness by bringing in talent from other countries.”
What the book does not tell students is that the “pro-family measures” have thus far not been effective. Our population size has been shrinking all these years. Can’t the students discuss the effectiveness, or the lack thereof, of the PAP’s family policies?
The book then instructs the student to “Look at Figure 2.37 for reasons why attracting foreign talent to Singapore is important.” The Figure reads,
“Singapore faces stiff competition from other industrialising countries and being small, it is not possible to produce all required professionals locally. Thus, we must encourage foreign talent to come here so as to boost the quality of our manpower. Foreign talent can create more jobs and increase productivity.”
Again, the text misses out crucial information. For example, Lee Kuan Yew says that without foreigners, we cannot attract investments and produce jobs. Should students not be asked how and why we have come to this stage? The book also omits to discuss related topics such as (a) New jobs created going to foreigners, (b) Our city’s infrastructure being unable to cope with the massive influx of foreigners, (c) The difficulty of foreigners integrating with locals, (d) The resultant rise in the cost of living and (e) The PAP’s definition of ‘talent’.
Instead of stimulating and encouraging our students to analyse what they read, the MOE seems more interested to get students to accept the material as received wisdom and to memorise it for exams.
Example 8: Media
On the topic of managing race relations, one of the books relates the case of Maria Hertogh and the riots, writing that, “The events throughout the [Hertogh] court trial had much media coverage in the English, Malay and Tamil newspapers.”
It shows pictures of overturned cars and houses on fire with the headline “Five dead, 100 hurt in riots”. The Pause and Ponder sidebar then asks: “Why is it important to have a newspaper that is not biased in the reporting of events?” – a clear allusion to the PAP’s justification of controlling the media in Singapore.
The text does not teach students of the importance for dialogue and debate without resorting to violence no matter how much we may disagree with the other party’s views. In other words, it does not educate students. Rather, it conditions their minds and the inculcates in them the PAP’s partisan values.
Example 9: Self-help groups
The book extols the virtues of self-help groups like CDAC, SINDA, Mendaki and the Eurasian Association by quoting an excerpt from “a newspaper”:
“The self-help groups’ biggest achievement has been in saving students from the under-achievement trap. Dropout rates have fallen, grades have improved and more students have gone on to continue post-secondary education.”
The textbook does not provide information on how it arrives at the conclusion that self-help groups have achieved what the newspaper quote purports that they have achieved. It simply makes an assertion. Again, students are told what to think and not taught how to think.
Example 10: People’s Association
In discussing the role of grassroots organisations, the textbook cites the work of the People’s Association saying that it “creates common space through a wide range of programmes and activities”.
It makes no mention of the controversy regarding the control of its activities by the PAP – even in wards that the party does not control. Such a topic may not reflect very well on the PAP but isn’t one of the purposes of education – especially in a social studies class – supposed to draw on themes such as equity and fair play for discussion?