Curriculum, Leadership and Religion in Singapore Schools: How a Secular Government Engineers Social Harmony and the ‘State Interest’

  • Clive DimmockEmail author
  • Salleh Hairon
  • Cheng-Yong Tan


This chapter analyses the place of religion across the landscape of Singapore school curricula, leadership and policy making. In so doing, it first provides a social, political, economic and demographic context to Singapore as a small multi-ethnic, multi-faith island republic. Its strongly authoritarian and secular government prioritizes the twin goals of social harmony and a workforce equipped with the skills to be a leading global twenty-first century, knowledge-based economy. Education is seen instrumentally by the government as a crucial vehicle to meeting both goals. Thus, the central argument is that for a large majority of the 360 schools in the system, there is no place for religion in the curriculum, since it is regarded as potentially divisive to social harmony; rather, social, moral and citizenship (National) education are emphasized for their apparent greater congruence with the government’s twin goals. However, such government policy creates tensions for the Malay-Muslim minority, some of whom prefer their children to be educated in madrasahs, of which there are currently six. A dichotomy thus exists for such schools between the desire for an Islamic religious education and the government’s priority for a modern academic curriculum. The chapter identifies the various ways in which the government manages such tensions to engineer the ‘state interest’, and the premium placed on skilful leadership at all levels to navigate and finesse the sensitive boundaries between faith and state.


Singapore Government Secular schools Social harmony State interest Religion Religious education Curriculum School leadership Secularization of schools Multi-ethnic Islamic religious schools Madrasahs Twenty-first century skills Twenty-first century knowledge-based economy Economic growth National education Background State and school context to religion State educational reforms and religion Social compact Academic and Islamic education PSLE 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Leadership and Professional Learning, Robert Owen Centre for Educational ChangeUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK
  2. 2.National Institute of EducationNanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore
  3. 3.Faculty of EducationThe University of Hong KongPokfulamHong Kong

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