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Cultural Legacy and Educational Institution - An International Symposium on Chinese Schools in Southeast Asia

The symposium comprised three components: opening and keynote addresses, presentation of paper, and principal forum and student presentation. In the opening address, Prof Su Guaning, President Emeritus, NTU Singapore, traces the history of Chinese schools and highlights how the availability of education in the Chinese language helped to shape the identity of the Chinese diaspora in different regions. Prof Su spiced up the sharing by recounting his personal experiences, as well as the stories of his ancestor, making the opening address an engaging and animated one. Prof Luke Kang Kwong Kapathy, Chair, School of Humanities and Director of Centre for Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, NTU Singapore, then delivered the second opening address, emphasizing on the important role of Chinese schools in leaving a legacy for the future generations. Prof Luke poses a question, “Can education be a part of a cultural legacy?” This is a question, which educators and culturalists should ponder on. How education can be a part of culture, and how education can be a form of legacy? Prof Luke’s address intrigued the audiences and set the stage for the speakers. Prof Michael W. Apple, John Bascom Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison, urges the audiences to question the official knowledge and points out that what is not taught are often as important, if not more important than the what is being taught. Prof Apple also raises questions worthy of pondering, “How important is cultural restoration really to the Chinese communities? How is this built?” An exclusive interview with the keynote speaker was conducted later as the symposium progresses.

The presentation of paper began right after the tea break. The first panel was conducted in English. Prof Danny Wong from the Department of History in University of Malaya, Malaysia, shared about how national policies influence the development of Chinese schools in Malaysia. Besides the national policies, the enrolment of non-Chinese students also poses challenges to the Chinese school in managing the homogenous population. Dr Wong Ting-Hong from the Sociology Institute in Academia Sinica, Taiwan, investigates how Chinese schools in postwar Singapore were institutionally incorporated by the state, resulting in the localization and de-sinicization of the school curriculum. Dr Tan Yao Sua, Honorary Research Fellow of Centre for Malaysian Chinese Studies in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, then shifted the focus from Singapore to Malaysia by examining the roles played by the Chinese educationists in the development of Chinese education at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Lastly, Dr Wong Chee Ming, Visiting Researcher at Centre for Chinese Language and Culture in NTU Singapore, an alumnus of Maris Stella High School, inquires the historical and cultural memory of his alma mater. Dr Wong points out that while the Special Assistance Plan (SAP) was initiated to “save” the Chinese schools, the Chinese schools and the development of “bilingual schools” still inevitably fallen by the wayside.

The second and third panel was conducted in Chinese. Assoc Prof Nicholas Louis Chan from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature in Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, gives a glimpse of the bilingual education in nineteenth-century Hong Kong by vivid recounts of the history of Diocesan Native Female Training School. The history was reconstructed painstakingly through the thorough examination of many primary sources, which were yet to be investigated. Dr Neo Peng Fu, Director of Confucius Institute, NTU Singapore, probes on the involvement of Singapore’s Chinese schools in adult education from 1951 to 1956, through the Singapore Council for Adult Education and Singapore Chinese Schools Conference. Dr Neo’s research highlights the important contributions of the Chinese schools in Singapore, which are often neglected, even in the academia. Dr Thock Ker Pong, Senior Lecturer of Department of Chinese Studies, in University of Malaya, Malaysia, shares about the development of Chinese primary schools in Malaysia from the twentieth thru twentieth-first century. One of the challenges posed to the Chinese primary school is the large enrolment of non-Chinese students. Dr Thock points out multiple rationales for the trend and analyzed the risks and opportunities posed to the Chinese primary school.

Assoc Prof Wong Sin Kiong from the Department of Chinese Studies in National University of Singapore, Singapore, together with his master’s students Tong Wenxu, started the first presentation in the third panel.  Their research presents a comparative study Chinese High School and Raffles Institution, focusing on the relationship between patronage and schools. Their research shows that the Chinese communities not only committed to the building of Chinese schools but also contributed resources to the development of English schools. Asst Prof Qu Jingyi from the Department of Chinese in NTU Singapore, shares about collective memory and construction of school identity through the case study of Anglican High School. Asst Prof Qu points out that both major events and minor details, official documents and personal recounts are equally important in the collective memory and construction of school identity. He argues that collective identity can only be shaped and pass down through repetition and persistence. Asst Prof Li Jia from the Department of Asian Language and Cultures in National Institute of Education, Singapore, analyzes the development of the Chinese Literature curriculum in Singapore in the past sixty years and points out that Singapore Chinese Literature curriculum has passed from imitation to autonomy. The emphasis on the ability to appreciate literary works and aesthetic experiences curriculum in 2013 demonstrated the uniqueness of Singapore Chinese Literature curriculum. Lastly, Dr Teo Sum Lim, Lecturer at Singapore University of Social Sciences, Singapore, shares about how the decline of the Chinese education in Singapore impacted the Chinese litterateurs, through the examination of their literary works.

Another highlight of the symposium is the Principals Forum. Four principals were invited to share their experiences and perspectives: Dr. Foo Suan Fong, Executive Director, Singapore Centre for Chinese Language and former Principal of Dunman High School, Singapore, Mr Ngoh Choon Ho, former Principal of Hong Wen School, Singapore, Ms Tee Been Tin, Principal of Foon Yew High School, Malaysia, Ms Chong Siew Lay, Principal of Sekolah Menengah Universal Hua Xia, Malaysia. The principals of the various Chinese schools shared the challenges they faced, as well as the current development of the Chinese schools in Singapore and Malaysia, providing on-the-ground perspectives which complemented with the academic papers shared in the earlier sessions. This gave the audiences a wholesome outlook on the Chinese schools in Singapore and Malaysia. Lastly, students from SAP Schools, Qi Siyi (Hwa Chong Institution, Singapore) and Wang Ziyi (Dunman High School, Singapore) share their thoughts regarding the Chinese education. The students also participated in the Nanyang Research Programme (NRP), in which they conducted research on the history of their schools under the supervision of Asst Prof Qu Jingyi. The sharing of the students further extended the diversity of scope in the symposium, providing a glimpse of how the current students feel about the education landscape in Singapore.

The power-packed symposium provides insights from academia, principals, students, and the lively discussions from the audiences. While the preservation of traditions and cultures is a worthy pursuit, we need to consider how it should be done and reflect on how cultures and traditions play a part in education.

Welcome Speech: Associate Professor Yow Chuen Hoe (Head of Chinese, School of Humanities; Director of Centre for Chinese Language & Culture; Director of Chinese Heritage Centre, NTU Singapore)

Opening Sp


  • Professor Su Guaning (President Emeritus, NTU Singapor
  • e)
  • Professor Luke Kang Kwong Kapathy (Chair, School of Humanities; Director of Centre for Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, NTU Singapore)

Keynote Speech: Professor Michael W. Apple (John Bascom Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison)


  • Danny Wong Tze Ken (University of Malaya, Malaysia)
  • Li Jia (National Institute of Education, Singapore)
  • Neo Peng Fu (Director of Confucius Institute, NTU Singapore)
  • Nicholas Louis Chan (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
  • Qu Jingyi (NTU Singapore)
  • Tan Yao Sua (Centre for Malaysian Chinese Studies, Malaysia)
  • Teo Sum Lim (Singapore University of Social Sciences, Singapore)
  • Thock Ker Pong (University of Malaya, Malaysia)
  • Tong Wenxu (National University of Singapore, Singapore)
  • Wong Chee Ming (NTU Singapore)
  • Wong Sin Kiong (National University of Singapore, Singapore)
  • )

Principal Forum:

  • Foo Suan Fong (Executive Director of Singapore Centre for Chinese Language, Singapore)
  • Ngoh Choon Ho (Former Principal of Hong Wen School, Singapore)
  • Tee Bee Tin (Principal of Foon Yew High School, Malaysia)
  • Chong Siew Lay (Principal of Sekolah Menengah Universal Hua Xia, Malaysia)

Students Sharing: Qi Siyi (Hwa Chong Institution, Singapore) & Wang Ziyi (Dunman High School, Singapore)

Date: 17 Aug 2018, Friday | Time: 9 AM to 6 PM

Venue: HSS Conference Room (HSS-05-57)