Schools can help students learn about different races and cultures: Heng Swee Keat

Mr Heng, who was the guest of honour at Pioneer Secondary School's racial harmony day celebrations, said that there are schools that have programmes within their curriculum to encourage students to understand the "cultures and traditions of others around them". Co-curricular activities and school camps are also necessary activities that help build common interests and friendships among youths of different races, he added.

Here is Mr Heng's speech in full:

Good Morning. It is my pleasure to be here at Pioneer Secondary School to celebrate Racial Harmony Day with all of you.

2. Sometimes we take for granted the harmony we experience in multi-racial and multi-cultural Singapore. We are of different races and religions, yet we live together peacefully in our housing estates, learn and play together in the schools and community, rely on one another,and are able to celebrate this occasion together. This happy state of affairs did not come about by chance. It is the result of sustained and conscious efforts by Singaporeans f rom all backgrounds to nurture a harmonious society.

Inter-racial Relations in Singapore

3. Many of you here would not have experienced the racial riots of 1964, and would not know that these racial riots led to the loss of lives and injured many people then. But Singaporeans living in that period were deeply shaken by those riots, and resolved from then on never to take racial harmony for granted. That is why schools commemorate Racial Harmony Day on 21 st July every year, to remind ourselves that we do not want a repeat of the racial riots of 1964.

4. Whatever the challenges and global developments that come our way, we must not allow anything to affect our relationship with our friends, classmates, neighbours and loved ones in our lives. During the 1964 racial riots, there were a number of people who sheltered their neighbours and friends of another race from harm.

Mr Ng Cheng Peng, then an accounts clerk with Prudential, was walking back to his home on 21 st July 1964 when he came face to fa ce with a group of rioters. Mr Ng's office colleague, Mr Abdul, who was there, helped lead him to take a safer route home. Nr Ng has always been very grateful to Mr Abdul for saving his life and they became very close friends. We want to build such goodwill and trust, and establish strong ties across races so that we will stand up for one anot her, even under pressure.

5. So how are we doing currently in terms of our ties across races? The Institute of Policy Studies, in collaboration with, has just released their survey findings on Indicators of Racial and Religious Harmony. The survey showed that Singaporeans have a healthy level of interest in getting to know people from other races, and understanding other racial and religious groups' customs and practices.

Almost 7 in 10 survey participants agreed that it is a good thing for Singapore to be made up of people from different racial groups. A bout 6 in 10 say they will try to get to know people of other races and religions.

However, I am slightly concerned that 16% of participants think that they are not likely to do so. While this negative response comes from a minority, we should influence one another to make friends with people of other races.

The foundation for such cohesiveness must be built at an early stage, through shared experiences in our schools.

Engaging Students: School Programmes

6. In our schools, the shared experience of working with members from different classes, during Co-Curri cular Activities (CCAs), or in a school camp is absolutely important.

These experiences help build common interests and friendships among youths of different races. This shared, common space must be nurt ured and cherished, to develop deep understanding of and respect f or the different cultures and traditions that are part of our national identity. That is why it is important for schools to design and plan da ily learning and groupings in mixed teams. Schools also need to give students skills to work and play together, and appreciate one another.

This will be more effective than designing a once-a-year racial harmony programme.

7. I know of some schools t hat have programmes within their curriculum to encourage students to learn, understand and appreciate the cultures and traditions of othe rs around them.

In Pioneer Secondary School, students gain a better understanding of racial harmony through a people-centred approach. Student s undergo a 5-part Design Thinking process which includes tasks to help youths understand the evolving identity of Singapore over time, t hrough the lenses of the older generation.

Through fieldwork and interviews, student s derive a deeper understanding of Singapore's efforts towards racial integration and social harmony in the past. Students then prototype their ideas and learning through games, and exhibits at the Pioneer Secondary School Racial Harmony Learning Carnival 2013 today.

The carnival allows students to share their u nderstanding of racial harmony with their peers and friends.

8. Some students have gone one step further to think more deeply about helping others appreciate raci al harmony. Students from Republic Polytechnic came up with the idea and have developed a smart phone application to help students bette r understand each other's cultural practices and beliefs.

The application, called One People, is an interactive city simulation game developed on the Android platform.

Pioneer Secondary School is piloting the application. Through the touch-screen interface, users plan a nd decide how to build a virtual community made up of different races that will live in harmony.

Support for Schools: Enhancing CCE Efforts

9. I am also pleased to announce that to support schools' efforts to foster commitment to racial harmony, MOE is collaborating with The Straits Times on a Newspapers in Education programme, to provide four special issues of the student new spaper, IN, for all secondary school students. Newspapers like the Straits Times provide a wealth of information on current affairs.

The provision of su ch resources supports teachers' efforts to develop critical thinking, and informed perspectives about issues that have an impact on Singapore. The first edition, delivered to all secondary schools in the second week of July, focuses on racial harmony.

I am pleased to note that the issue has been well-received, and has enriched discussions on racial harmony in our classrooms.

10. What can you do to promote Racial Harmony? A little action goes a long way. Not later, not someone else but now and every one of you can make a difference.

It is important for each and every one of us to better understand our different cultures and practices. When you choose to do this, you contribute to the good work of your school, your parents and the community in reinforc ing the importance of social harmony.


11. "Celebrating Singapore" is this year's Racial Harmony Day theme.

The theme acknowledges that Singapore's diversity gives us much cause to celebrate, as we work to wards envisioning and creating a more inclusive Singapore. With our resources and imagination, Singapore will continue to progress in a changing world.

12. Let us rejoice in our harmony, but let us never f orget what being a Singaporean means.

It is not just tolerating other groups but understanding and appreciating our fellow citizens and opening our hearts to them, whether they ar e young, old or new. Let us acknowledge our differences, but also recognise that we have a lot in common, and continually work on our ra cial harmony efforts.

Diversity is our strength. It makes us a stronger and more resilient nation in a globalised world.

13. I wish all of you an engaging and meaningful Racial Harmony Day.

Thank you.