Tamils, Social Capital and Educational Marginalisation in Singapore: Labouring to Learn

By Gandhimathy Durairaj


Singapore has long been known for its multiculturalism and the emphasis it places on fostering social harmony and diversity. The city-state is home to a diverse population of various ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. However, like many countries, Singapore has had its share of challenges and struggles concerning the rights and experiences of minority ethnic groups, including the Tamil community.

In Tamils, Social Capital and Educational Marginalisation in Singapore: Labouring to Learn, author Lavanya Balachandran explores how race and class intersect and impact the educational performance of Tamil youths in Singapore. Using a social capital framework, Balachandran uncovers the historical emergence and perpetuation of educational inequality in a postcolonial setting.

This study sheds light on educational marginalisation among Singaporean Tamil youths, contributing to understanding social inequality in a non-liberal multicultural context. Marginalisation is experienced differently across ethnic minority groups and is influenced by broader socio-historical factors such as migration, assimilation, and minority-majority relations.

Balachandran observed that despite being numerically dominant within the Indian population, Tamil individuals face limited access to diverse class networks and have limited inter-ethnic interactions, hindering their social mobility. Tamil students from lower academic streams and disadvantaged backgrounds also experience exclusion based on race, economics, and academics. However, Tamils find some relief from marginalisation through bonding with peers and family for social support. However, expressions of resistance among Tamil youths can detract from learning and reinforce cultural deficit narratives about ethnic minorities’ academic performance.

The lens of social capital is particularly relevant to understanding marginality in a multicultural setting like Singapore, where public policies are explicitly pursued along racial lines and in so doing, limits the institutional space within which the racially identified individual operates. This is a fascinating read for students of marginalisation in multicultural societies, and understanding inequality in an ostensibly egalitarian and equal-opportunity setting.

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