Saturday, June 13, 2015

Sharon Au's faux pas warrants a relook into SAP education.

I had wanted to blog about this earlier, but I really had to give myself a break so I went off to Kuala Lumpur on a carnal food fest. After I got back to Singapore, my lecturer started spamming readings for the second half of summer term, so I spent the last 3 days mugging up 2 weeks worth of e-commerce lectures.

So let's talk about something non-financial for a change.

When I heard that Sharon Au made some remarks which made some ethnic minorities uncomfortable during the opening of the SEA games, I googled her educational background because I felt that the education system was probably more guilty for the incident than Sharon herself. After all, Sharon can be said to be acting a comedian, and Sharon's infraction was no more culpable than a Russell Peters in a stand-up comedy show.

I have confidence that ethnic minorities in Singapore are magnanimous people and they have already moved on from the incident, however, I can't help but feel that this incident can be a good catalyst for policy makers to relook SAP education in Singapore because, after all, Sharon Au spent 6 years in SAP schools and very Chinese-inclined colleges, she may not even be aware that what she has done is even offensive to others.

SAP school are not a good way to educate ethnic Chinese students, why the does the government need to isolate a group of ethnic Chinese students for 6 or more years, then apply the 'elite' label to them just because they take CL1 as a subject ? If American whites were to come together and then start harping about how they are elite and special, you wouldn't end up with SAP schools, you'd end up with something like the KKK, no one wants to be associated with them.

In Singapore, history is littered with similar infractions in the past where some insensitive was said about ethnic minorities, I leave it to the readers to google the incidents involving Seng Han Thong and Choo Wee Kiang and then make a value judgement as to why reforms to SAP education are an urgent priority now if we want to push our multi-ethnic society forward.

Here are the reforms I propose :

a) End the isolation of SAP students.

Have the standard Express stream program for all Singaporeans regardless of race but have classes for 4 days a week. Reserve one day for training in electives. CL1 should be an option but we should have more flexibility for what students can do with their time. There can be an Institute for English Literature for folks who want to get deeper into the English language. There can be an Advanced Science Institute as well.

b) Remove the elitist label for student who take CL1.  

With China being a burgeoning market, it would be insane not to promote the Chinese language. CL1 should be open to all students who get an A* for CL2, even students who are weak in other subjects. SAP schools should be retooled as Chinese Institutes where CL1 students gather over weekends to learn Higher Chinese.

This allows specialization in Chinese and eliminates the downside of isolation.

c) Scholarships can incentivise students to take CL1.

To encourage more students to pick up CL1 over other specialisations, perhaps scholarships can be used to entice students to pick this elective.  There should be more opportunities to get subsidised travel to Shanghai.

Student may be able to choose between Higher Chinese or Higher Mathematics but he may choose higher Chinese because it has more travel opportunities and scholarships.

d) Create institutes to promote the Singapore's business agenda without isolating ethnic Chinese students.

We do not need to end with just promoting the learning of Chinese language, institutes which cover India and Indonesia can provide Singaporeans opportunities to learn Hindi and Bahasa Indonesia to tap into the growth of emerging markets.

In conclusion, Chinese chauvinism is a hidden disease of Singapore society. You can argue that minorities like ethnic Indians and Malays have to live with it, but do not forget that English-speaking Chinese like myself and Peranakans are victims too !

I have been told over and over again that my inability to memorise proverbs is affront to my Cantonese ancestors.

I hope that in time, we can forgive and forget about Sharon Au, but we should keep telling policy makers that the root of Chinese Chauvinism have grown deep into the SAP program, and there are ways to promote racial harmony without sacrificing language proficiency.


  1. Govt should not allow madrasahs either. There are few non Muslims in those schools.

  2. I think it's fair to say that SAP schools and Madrasahs can be relooked simultaneously.

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