In the 17th episode of “The History of Singapore”, Dr Thum Ping Tjin explains why and how the British sought to transform Singapore’s Chinese into loyal English-speaking British subjects, and how this alienated and radicalised the Chinese-speaking community and sparking off the movement for Singapore’s independence.
To safeguard British interests in Singapore after independence, the British desired to leave behind a reliably pro-British population, who would identify themselves as British. To achieve this, the colonial government embarked on massive social engineering to destroy Chinese culture and education.
“An internal memo between the education department officials stated that “as more English Schools are available, Chinese schools would decrease with the weak and poor schools weeded out eventually”. Publicly, they emphasise that this is a “constructive partnership” but privately, they talked about the decay of Chinese education happening in the background, as a “slowly engineered process”. Desperate schools would then have to accept complete government control to stay afloat, allowing the government to freely institute reforms that turns the Chinese schools into de-facto English schools.
The plan worked, Chinese schools struggled. Chinese schools were dependent on fees and contribution from the public. During the post-Korean war financial recession, donations dried up, schools had to raise their fees to make up the difference. This dissuaded many parents who felt that they had little choice but to send their children to the well funded and cheaper English school.
This created a vicious cycle…”
In this podcast, Dr Thum also shared how fundings were discriminately given to the schools in the 50s.
“In 1952, Chinese schools received a total of $1.3 million or around $26 per pupil, while English schools recieved a total of $3.4 million around or around $224 per pupil. Nine times as much as the Chinese schools. Meanwhile, Malay students were fully funded, their education is completely free and Indian students were subsidised $73 per pupil.”
At its height in 1950s, there were as much as 283 Chinese-schools in Singapore. Out of these 9 have turned into Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools, some have turned into government schools while close to 200 have since closed down.
Dr Thum Ping Tjin, a Singaporean historian who is a Research Associate at the Centre for Global History and co-ordinator of Project Southeast Asia at the University of Oxford. Planned as a series of 40 episodes, the podcast will cover Singapore’s founding as a British port in 1819 up to separation from Malaysia in 1963. Each episode is about 20 – 30 minutes long. Dr Thum has set up a Patreon page for those interested in supporting and helping him improve the podcast.
To support the pod, visit patreon.com/pjthum.