Students who experience discrimination 'should not hesitate' to provide feedback to schools: Maliki Osman
SINGAPORE: Students and staff who experience any form of discrimination should not hesitate to bring it up to their institution immediately, said Second Minister for Education Maliki Osman on Monday (Jul 5).
He was responding to parliamentary questions by Ms Raeesah Khan (WP-Sengkang) and Nominated Member of Parliament Shahira Abdullah about how the Ministry of Education (MOE) addresses concerns from students about racial discrimination in schools.
Students can approach senior staff or faculty members in person, via email or other formal feedback mechanisms, said Dr Maliki.
“In schools, students are informed that they can raise any issues to their teachers or any staff member,” he added.
“In IHLs (institutions of higher learning), information on feedback channels are broadcasted on various platforms, including institutions’ websites, student handbook and portal."
Students are also informed about these feedback channels during enrolment and orientation briefings, he added.
In June, a Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) teaching staff member was captured making racist remarks towards an interracial couple in a viral video.
The staff member was also accused of making Islamophobic remarks in class in 2017, according to an online post by an NP alumna.
While students and staff can remain anonymous when providing feedback or reporting any incident, they are generally encouraged to identify themselves and provide their contact details, so that more thorough investigations can be conducted, said Dr Maliki.
Institutions may implement measures so students and staff are protected during investigations.
“For example, institutions may issue a no-contact order between the complainant and perpetrator or temporarily suspend the perpetrator from campus while investigations are ongoing,” he added.
POLARISING EFFECT OF SOCIAL MEDIA
The viral video featuring the NP lecturer was among recent events that drew polarising views on social media.
Other incidents included a video of a woman asking commuters on the MRT for their race, as well as when the People's Association used a Malay couple's wedding photo for a standee in a Hari Raya event.
These events have highlighted the polarising effect of online platforms and social media, and we must guard against such potential divisions, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong in the same Parliament session on Monday.
“This is especially important because we can only strengthen our multi-culturalism, if we treat fellow Singaporeans as partners, instead of adversaries to be confronted.”
‘RESPONSIBLE’ ONLINE BEHAVIOUR
Companies and organisations can help cultivate “responsible” online behaviour.
Mr Tong said the Media Literacy Council (MLC) work with partners to support projects by youths promoting respect, responsibility, empathy and integrity, and online behaviours that demonstrate safety, responsibility and civility.
Social media companies also play a part in managing content hosted on their platforms, by “constantly improving and enforcing their policies to remove content that promotes violence against people based on race or ethnicity”, added Mr Tong.
For example, Facebook has a set of community standards, which classifies hate speech as “objectionable content”. Twitter also has a similar set of policies on hateful conduct.
Mr Tong noted that the Government works with these social media companies to promote “healthy, online discourse”.
CONVERSATIONS ON RACE AND RELIGION
Beyond social media, the Government encourages “open, meaningful and responsible” conversations on race and religion, said Mr Tong.
MCCY supports dialogues and civic engagements, by working with stakeholders in the public, private and people sectors to identify and equip individuals with the relevant skills to “create safe spaces for sensitive topics to be discussed”, he said.
“Within the public service, we have trained and developed a sizeable pool of facilitators who are able to design and lead engagements both within the public service and with the wider community,” he added.
One example is the ongoing Emerging Stronger Conversations, which are mostly led by public officers across various government agencies who are trained in facilitation.
Mr Tong noted that community and religious groups also play a key role in “engaging constructive discussions, clarifying doubts and misconceptions, and rallying Singaporeans around our shared values to take a stand against divisive rhetoric” on race and religion.
He listed the Centre for Interfaith Understanding’s series of public workshops, MCCY’s "Create and Connect" digital media workshops, and OnePeople.sg’s “Regardless of Race” dialogue series.
WHERE THE LAW COMES IN
Should there be “egregious cases that undermine our racial and religious harmony”, Mr Tong said the law will step in.
Last year, for instance, an individual took to Twitter to make racist remarks against people of different races, including comments against Indians while referring to a news article on foreign workers living in dormitories contributing to high COVID-19 infection rate in Singapore.
This individual was charged for offences of “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion or race” under Section 298A of the Penal Code, he added.
Mr Tong also said that the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) can direct Internet content providers to take down broadcasting material that “glorifies, incites or endorses ethnic, racial or religious hatred, strife or intolerance”, which is prohibited under the Internet code of practice.