National Identity and History Teaching in Singapore: Bringing the Malays Back in

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In the two decades following Singapore’s independence in 1965, its government seemed reluctant to utilise the school history curriculum for nation building. This hesitation disguised early difficulties in navigating a nation-building pathway between the perceived dangers of ethnic mistrust and insecure politics. At the beginning of the 1980s, the government refreshed its nation-building efforts, returning to many of its early themes, including a refusal to acknowledge the existence and importance of Singapore’s precolonial Malay history. By insisting instead that Singapore’s history started with the first British settlement in 1819, this allowed for the telling of an ethnic Chinese success story, with minimal recognition of the contributions of minority ethnic communities, particularly the indigenous Malays. Since the turn of the century, this myth has substantially collapsed under the weight of new scholarship. Contrarian scholarship on Singapore’s precolonial history began entering the mainstream towards the end of the 2000s. Meanwhile, revisionists who were involved in teacher training and curricular development had already been pushing forward with reforms. The recognition of Singapore’s Malay past is a welcome development, although tensions over how much bearing this revised history has on understanding Singapore’s colonial and postcolonial achievements remain.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNegotiating Ethnic Diversity and National Identity in History Education
Subtitle of host publicationInternational and Comparative Perspectives
EditorsHelen Mu Hung Ting, Luigi Cajani
Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9783013125355
ISBN (Print)9783031125348
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • British colonialism
  • C.M. Turnbull
  • Lee Kuan Yew
  • Singapore
  • Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles


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