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Working Against Globalization: The Role of National Education in Singapore

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Despite arguments that the forces of globalization contribute to the deterritorialization and fragmentation of “culture”, “place”, “homeland” and “identity” (Appadurai, 1996; Tomlison, 1999), I have argued at various points in the preceding chapters that the management of culture and identity politics in Singapore, through varied forms of governmentality, are the very embodiment of the modalities of re-territorialization and localization. In Chapter 2, I gave examples of state discourses and practices that were employed to regulate the Singaporean habitus. Whether it is through the means of state-initiated social, economic, and education policies or public campaigns, these tactics of governmentality are layered with discourses of nationalism, nationhood, homeland, and national identity. Importantly, discourses of nationalism have power effects. They work to impel Singaporeans to “stay local” while taking up the challenge to “go global”.

The implementation of National Education (NE) curriculum as part of the TSLN education reform is an example par excellence of a state-led curriculum intervention infused with discourses of nationalism. This chapter examines the pedagogical intent of NE and argues that NE is the creation and maintenance of a national culture, and the repackaging of its past, and is symptomatic of what Appadurai (1996, p. 178) has called “a production of locality”. The curriculum framework of NE, as I will elucidate, is to be understood as a state-promoted experimentation with cultural education that ostensibly aims to foster a more robust national identity as Singaporeans participate in global capitalism. This, I argue, also deals covertly with the Singapore government's anxiety and nervousness over the absence of loyalty in the national imaginary as Singapore experiments with globalization.

Yet it needs to be pointed out that the explicit teaching of nationalism, which is what NE aims to do, does not herald the triumph of the Singapore state in crafting a territorial bound national identity. Rather, I argue that discourses of “homeland”, “nation” and “place” will be de-territorialized, contested and dismantled by the forces of globalization and transnationalism. As Kenneth Paul Tan (2007, p. 296), a local political scientist has also pointed out, “globalization has made it increasingly possible for Singaporeans to rethink their national identities, and consider themselves as inhabiting the multiple, complete, shifting and overlapping identities and moral communities that do not all fit together in coherent ways, and certainly may not sit comfortably with the static and clear-cut roles …” as imagined by the state such as the pedagogical intent of NE.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2010

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