The recent incident of Ngee Ann Polytechnic senior lecturer Tan Boon Lee brazenly confronting and harassing an interracial couple represents a new low in race relations, in Singapore in recent times.
This comes after a series of overtly racist incidents in the past few months, targeting minorities. While in the past these things may have been easily glossed over, due to lack of incriminating evidence, in this day and age, thanks to the viral effect of social media, such perps cannot escape scrutiny.
What is significant about this issue is, beyond the content of what he said, is that it came from a member of our teaching profession – the very people who are supposed to be upholding values such as equality and who are supposed to be sternly rooting out racism or discrimination in any form in young impressionable minds.
The role of a teacher in society is not just to impart knowledge. It is also to inculcate the right values in our young people. That such an individual with such thoughts could have been allowed to teach does raise fundamental questions about the criteria for choosing educators. Teachers are, after all, the people that one might expect the highest standards of behaviour from.
For it is in school that we memorise and recite the pledge in all four national languages. Our primary school teachers ingrained in us the value of being united “regardless of race, language or religion.”
Perhaps, the pledge was never anything more than a ritual to some people – people pick up their values from so many influences – their parents/their family/the company they keep etc.
Indeed, Tan Boon Lee has brought disrepute to the teaching profession as a whole. What is the point of boasting the best scores in Maths and Science in the world, if we lose sight of some of the most elemental, basic foundational values upon which the country was built?
To their credit, the polytechnic has acted swiftly in not only suspending the lecturer but in taking a firm stand. “We regret that the individual in question is a member of our staff,” the polytechnic reportedly said, and added: “the remarks made by the individual are highly offensive, disrespectful and go against our staff code of conduct and values.”
The polytechnic’s stated position echoes the responses of a considerable number of Singaporeans of all creeds who have spoken out against Tan Boon Lee’s remarks.
Is the national pledge just a ritual?
Nevertheless, it is time to re-examine to what extent people hold on to the values of our pledge.
Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has also reportedly weighed in on the matter, saying he “is not sure if Singapore was moving in the right direction on racial tolerance and harmony.”
So clearly there are some blind spots that we have been missing out in our national social education. What more needs to be done?