Singapore has recently seen an influx of immigrants from the People's Republic of China
As typically happens during recessions, there is a sense that 'foreign talent' is taking away jobs from indigenous Singaporeans. However, the debate is not always restricted to the economic sphere and often slips into the realm of race and ethnicity.
Race and ethnicity are sensitive issues here in Singapore. Government policies are implemented with a focus on increasing the 'common space' and fostering a tolerant and multi-cultural environment.
Citizens can only attend Singaporean schools where the curriculum is tightly controlled. International schools with their own individual courses of study are the preserve of the expatriate population. Government subsidized housing is assigned on the basis of 'race' to ensure that ethnic enclaves are not formed. Public holidays are allocated to the various communities as a result of which all Singaporeans celebrate Christmas, Hari Raya (Eid), Deepavali and Chinese New Year as public holidays. An individual's race is even mentioned on their identity card (and yes my race is Pakistani!).
Singapore's subsidized public housing is managed by the Housing Development Board
Immigration into Singapore takes the form of those who have 'Permanent Resident' (PR) status and those who have become naturalized Singapore citizens. Male children of all citizens must participate in the military for two years (National Service) under the Enlistment Act. While it is optional for male children of PRs, applications for Singapore citizenship from PR kids who did not partake in National Service are not entertained.
Many perceive the recent wave of immigrants, mainly from the People's Republic of China and India, as being 'opportunists' who have a limited commitment to Singapore. Some believe they are only here to take advantage of government subsidies, especially housing grants and baby bonuses. (To address Singapore's problem of an ageing population cash subsidies and tax credits are provided by the government as inducements to citizens to have babies.)
Additionally, it is commonly thought the new immigrants have scant regard for the rules which have slowly transformed 'Singapore Inc.' into a powerful brand. Many have imported social habits and customs (e.g. littering, spitting) which Singaporeans have painstakingly moved away from during the last four decades.
Language is another contentious issue. Singapore has four official languages (Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and English) but everyone learns and speaks English (see also 'Singlish'). Many of the fresh Chinese immigrants speak only Mandarin. This irks those Singaporeans who rely on English as the lingua franca of the island.
Signage in Singapore's four official languages is a common sight across the city
I do not wish to pontificate about the pros and cons of immigration as a necessity for maintaining economic growth and, hence, social stability in the island. I will leave that to the country's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, who can argue the case much more persuasively than me. (He does have a track record of delivering results which any corporate or political leader can only dream off!)
What I do wish to say is that the issue of integrating Singapore's diverse population is more than just about making certain everyone can speak English.
It is about the ability to speak Mandarin in a Chinese society.
The teaching of Mandarin must be made compulsory for all Singaporeans, irrespective of their race. The academic curriculum should be revised to ensure that Singapore's kids are functionally fluent in three languages: English, Mandarin, and their mother tongue (Malay or Tamil).
Make Mandarin a compulsory subject for the next generation of Singaporeans
Some may suggest that such an action can be deemed to be domineering by the majority race. Or whether Singapore’s already overburdened students can manage another serious subject.
Learning Mandarin is a practical matter and one that should be motivated by self-interest. If I could speak Mandarin my employability and market value will increase tremendously. The nature of jobs and occupations available to me multiply exponentially.
It is not unusual for small nations to be multi-lingual. Most residents of the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland speak three languages. To be sure, the national curriculum will need to be adequately adjusted to ensure that space is created for teaching Mandarin. A major change in the curriculum cannot happen overnight and should be preceded by adequate research and debate.