Race relations 1: School for colour-blindness

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Glenn Lim
Glenn Lim

A Singapore race relations survey showed fewer than half the respondents had a close friend from another race. Since children make friends at school, the solution is obvious

By Glenn Lim

Glenn Lim
Glenn Lim

People like comfort zones. That is why they are called comfort zones. So the results of the recent survey on race relations in Singapore do not come as a huge surprise. Fewer than half the respondents had a close friend of another race – a point of concern for the director of the Institute of Policy Studies Janadas Devan.

When I was a university student in Australia, I had to push myself to step out and make friends with non-Singaporeans. Not easy when there are Singaporeans lurking at every corner. The point is, it takes effort to build a relationship with someone of a different culture and requires venturing into somewhat unfamiliar territory.

That ‘risk-appetite’ shrinks with age, so do opportunities to start any sort of relationship since we’re all so busy with work. But kids have no such hindrances. They are colour-blind and have all of their primary and secondary school lives to forge friendships. School life is the best time for interaction between races and for close, lasting friendships to develop.

I am Chinese and one of my best friends till today is a Sinhalese I’ve known since primary school. Yet I am one of those Mr Devan is probably concerned about. Most of my close friends are Chinese, largely because my schoolmates were almost exclusively Chinese.

Our primary and secondary schools need to recognize the role they play in facilitating those interactions not just through a single day when everyone gets dressed up in ethnic clothing, but by providing opportunities for students of all backgrounds to come together around commonalities like interests, values and aspirations. And if Singaporeans are challenged from a young age to step out of the multiple comfort zones in our lives, perhaps we will improve our race relations and who knows what else.

Glenn Lim is the director of a PR agency.

See also Race Relations 2