Immigrant Teachers in Singapore Schools: Backgrounds, Integration, and Diversification

Introduction

The realities of immigration and an increasingly diversifying society are significant concerns in Singapore’s national education, evinced through the considerable attention given to topics and themes related to immigration and diversity in the Social Studies (SS) and Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) syllabi. However, the spotlight on wider societal concerns pertaining to immigration and diversity is rarely directed towards Singapore’s education system itself. One way in which immigrant diversity manifests in the education system is through the presence of teachers of migrant backgrounds, or ‘immigrant teachers’.  

According to a Straits Times news article in 2011 (Ng, 2011), there were less than 620 ‘international teachers’ in Singapore schools, accounting for less than 2% of the then 31,000-strong teaching workforce. Since then, no updated figure on immigrant teachers in Singapore schools appeared to have been made publicly available, although the number as well as proportion to the entire teaching workforce are likely to have remained at a low level.

Though modest in number, having immigrant teachers in the Singapore teaching workforce is arguably significant in other ways. These teachers hail from life/career trajectories that differ significantly from teachers who are locally born-and-bred, which means they sometimes embody differences in values, beliefs and practices—at both social and professional levels—compared to their local counterparts. Yet, much like the local teachers, immigrant teachers must also carry the mantle as agents of Singapore’s national education. Thus, on the one hand, immigrant teachers potentially add diversity or difference to the Singapore school system; on the other hand, they are also expected to fit into the role of the educator and civil servant.

This article reports on an MOE-NIE funded study (OER 16/17 YPD) that explored the trajectories, identities, and integration experiences of immigrant teachers in Singapore schools. The broad research questions that guided this study included: firstly, who are the immigrant teachers in Singapore schools – namely, what demographic characteristics does this group exhibit? Secondly, what characterises the migration trajectories and experiences of these teachers? Thirdly, what are these immigrant teachers’ experiences of integration in societal and professional contexts?

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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