To subtly introduce concepts such as colours, diversity, individuality and choice, the uniform at our Healthy Start Child Development Centre comes in a range of pastel colours. However, shorts come in navy blue for all and every T-shirt though different in colour is printed uniformly with the school’s motif. This feature evokes curiosity among parents and the children, and it has been a good conversation starter.
Sometimes we ask the children why they think the uniform comes in different colours and sometimes we are asked the question ourselves. Our answer is usually not a precise explanation and we usually take the opportunity to encourage a conversation where all opinions and guesses are valued and considered plausible. In the process, we try to introduce the view that while all of us have our preferences and make different choices, we can still come together as friends learning together and caring for each other.
So, on any regular school day, it is most unlikely that our children will walk into a classroom where everyone is dressed similarly. Hence, on Wednesday when our children saw each other dressed in red, they started getting excited in anticipation of a special day. “We are Singapore” by Ho Lee-Ling was the reader for the day and all activities for the day were around National Day which we explained as Singapore’s birthday.
A birthday was understood by the children but when we innocuously asked them which other country they would like to visit; the unanimous answer was “We want to go the Singapore.” We realised then that our children could not fathom the concept of a country. We also realised that it was rather difficult explaining to the children what a country meant.
My colleague who was taking the class told me that when she said that it was a place where people cared for each other, she immediately felt that it was inadequate and not exactly accurate because we also encouraged everyone in our school to care for each other. She then thought of saying that it was like a big family where everyone felt like brothers and sisters who shared what they had but decided against it. Finally, she described it as a place where most people living there consider it their home which they will respect and protect. These people would also have many happy memories about their life there and will work together to make their country better.
My colleague and I are both not sure if the answer was good enough, but we know that we have a responsibility to ensure that children understand and experience their country as a place where they feel included, have the opportunity to continually learn and are able to build a meaningful and comfortable life.
Wishing one and all a long weekend filled with pride, gratitude and joy,
Our island-story has many more bright chapters to unfold. – PM Lee Hsien Loong, 8 August 2019