Sunday 22 July 2012

Racial Harmony Day Celebrations 2012: Social media's role in racial harmony

Minister says there is a need to exercise greater responsibility
By Kezia Toh, Matthias Chew and Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 21 Jul 2012

RECENT derogatory posts made online show that racial and religions issues 'can be sensitive and emotional'.

There must thus be greater responsibility in the way social media is used in this multi-ethnic, multi-religious society, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Addressing teachers and students at Innova Junior College, where Racial Harmony Day was marked yesterday, he said efforts in building racial harmony will always be a work in progress, 'so we must continue to educate our young and our new immigrants about the importance of maintaining social cohesion and harmony'.

Three other political office holders from his ministry also dropped in at other schools. Racial Harmony Day is observed in schools on or near July 21, the anniversary of the 1964 race riots.

Yesterday, Mr Heng reminded Innova's students and teachers that racial and religious harmony is 'not necessarily a natural state'. He said one lesson drawn from the 1964 riots was that communal tensions can escalate into violence very quickly.

He also cited more recent examples of religious riots in Egypt and Kyrgyzstan.

Beatty Secondary principal Shaw Swee Tat said Racial Harmony Day, observed since 1998, has evolved over the years.

It used to be focused on remembering the race riots, but schools have become more creative over the years and graduated to focusing on 'the positive message of diversity', he said.

At Innova, for example, Mr Heng launched a photo montage of more than 200 pictures celebrating the college's community engagement efforts.

At Beatty Secondary, Minister of State for Education Lawrence Wong launched an original song written by the students about racial harmony. He also attended a carnival showcasing the food and culture of various races.

At Eunos Primary School, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Hawazi Daipi launched a set of big books on Singapore's major festivals.

Produced by the Education Ministry's Character and Citizenship Education Branch, they illustrate the major festivals celebrated by the different races and religions here. The books, which come in English and the three mother-tongue languages, will be distributed to primary schools.

At Bukit View Primary, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Sim Ann kicked off an arts festival.

Beatty Secondary student Nur Amira Shaifqah, 15, said writing the song about racial harmony reminded her that 'no matter who we are, being together is what counts'.

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