Singaporeans were shocked by the Facebook post by Sharifah Begum who posted that she was told she could not wear a hijab (as an admin assistant). And this came three months after Sani B Sarip’s post, describing how a Chinese boy was heard in a cinema saying he didn’t want to “sit beside Malay people”? It’s in Singapore’s National Pledge: “…regardless of race, language or religion…”. All Singaporeans recite it every day in school. So where is the tolerance and understanding?
Comments Fiona Walker, CEO and principal of schools of Julia Gabriel Centre Singapore, “There is really no excuse to not be tolerant in Singapore, we all work together and live together, celebrate each others festivals and celebrations. My children were both born and bred in Singapore and have closets that include clothes for Hari Raya, Chinese New Year and Deepavali.
“Racial intolerance stems from two things, fear of the unknown and ignorance.”
So how do you teach a child to be open and tolerant of other cultures, tribes, people? Says Walker, “When a child says something that may be insensitive instead of getting angry ask yourself ‘how can I teach this child to think differently, how can I open up their mind’?”
Dr Jacqueline Chung, senior principal and academic director for St James’ Church Kindergarten (Harding), agrees, adding that: “The best way to teach tolerance is for significant adults to model/demonstrate tolerance in your own attitude, speech and actions.”
Walker adds: “Be alert to the influences around your child, sometimes an old-fashioned mindset that may have been more accepted in the past may need to be addressed. For example, sometimes grandparents can hold a point of view which is not what you want your child growing up with.”
It is important that you explain to the older generation that your child should not be exposed to such views, and that casual comments and old names are not acceptable these days.
Dr Chung suggests five ways you can help your child learn about different cultures and types of people:
1. Talk to children about values like respect, diversity and acceptance, and how these values are important for social harmony — just getting along with people. Help children to be aware that people’s feelings matter regardless of their nationality, race, background, age, gender, culture, ability and so on.
2. Use real-life situations/encounters to highlight examples of tolerance or intolerance. Get children to identify bias and unfair stereotypes, and ask them to share why they think such speech/actions are right or wrong.
3. When current issues surface on social media, discuss the different reactions from netizens — responses that are tolerant and those that are not. Ask children how they could respond.
4. Share articles or books that address issues of tolerance. Point out the positive results of tolerance; as well as the serious and negative results that intolerance can bring.
5. And again: Encourage your children to meet and interact with people from diverse backgrounds.