Changes of heritage values and cultures in Chinese schools: A case study of Dunman High School

Ziyi Wang and Jingyi Qu1


Despite being phased out in the 1970s, the contributions of traditional Chinese schools still remain deeply relevant in the context of modern Singapore, especially in terms of their emphasis on moral education. However, while former Chinese schools or huaxiao that continue to exist today still form an indispensable part of the Singapore education system, many of the traditional cultures and heritage values in Chinese schools may no longer be followed by students attending these schools due to the influence and influx of Western cultures. Furthermore, while school identities in the form of school motto, mission, and uniform may have remained the same since the founding of the different Chinese schools, the significance to the school population may have varied greatly over time. The same goes for the tradition of cultural activities, with their significance to students constantly evolving and emerging. Thus, while aiming to explore and understand the heritage values and traditional cultures of past and present Chinese schools, by focusing on both the tangible and intangible aspects, this chapter also wishes to yield insights with regards to promoting identification with such heritage and culnires.

Chinese schools in this context are of interest not only as sites of an exclusive identity, limited in relevance to a particular social network that carries certain social capital, but also as culniral spaces where various literary and culniral practices of the Chinese tradition were transmitted exemplarily over decades in the last century, as part of Singapore's emerging national identity. Therefore, it is recognised that the heritage values of Chinese schools do not exist in a void but lie crucially in the intersection between its cultural meanings and students’ identification with it. Similarly, the symbols of school identities focused on here are not simply regarded as something fixed but viewed as tools to spread Chinese values and heritages in the various Chinese schools. Guided by various prominent cultural identity theories, this chapter seeks first to understand the level of identification students have with contemporary Chinese schools via the usage of empirical methods, through a survey on smdents’ identification with various cultural features. The chapter then proceeds with an analysis of the underlying reasons behind the results, seeking to extrapolate insights towards the enhancing of students’ cultural identity in Chinese schools in general.

Owing to the constraints of time, resources, and manpower, this research is inherently limited in scale, especially in the number of schools surveyed and focus areas. The research materials for this chapter were obtained solely from the case study of a prominent Chinese School in Singapore, namely, Dunman High School. Furthermore, this research centres around the broad environment of the Chinese School explored as a whole, and not zooming into individual behaviours, both students and teachers, in the school population. However, while the data and analysis of any school may be seen as disparate, questions that this paper aims to illuminate remain relevant. When extrapolation is transferred from one case study to another, a trial survey would be required.

This chapter does hope to yield insights into questions with regards to enhancing students' cultural identification with Chinese schools in general after understanding the heritage values of Chinese schools or huaxiao past and present in Singapore and reasons for the phenomenon for the dilution of Chinese heritage values in Chinese schools. Generalisations deemed appropriate by the researchers will be made in order to extract characterisation broadly applicable to most, if not all, Chinese Schools in Singapore.


The main methods used in this research are interviews (oral history) with relevant parties/authorities, general surveys to find out more about the cultural spaces among a larger group of respondents, and, last but not least, detailed digital and non-digital secondary background research into the history of the Chinese schools and other relevant information. Carefully designed surveys and interviews were carried out in Dunman High School to ascertain the level of identification students have with their school. Underlying reasons are analysed from the results.

Participants and focus group

A survey was conducted among current Dunman High students to check their awareness of school identities, school culture and heritage, and arcliitecmral spaces in the school as well as their opinions on Dunman High School as a traditional Chinese School. Altogether 54 responses were collected from shidents from all levels in the school (ages varying from 13 to 18 years), ranging from Year Is who have spent barely a year in the school to Year 6s who will be leaving the school soon after six years of education in Dunman High.

The determination of initial sample size required was done using the following formula (Daniel, 1999). The aim of this simple formula is to find an appropriate initial sample size for the estimation of population prevalence with good precision:

where n is the initial sample size required, z is the level of confidence according to the standard normal distribution (a value of 1.75 is given for a level of

Changes of heritage values and cultures 217

significance of 92%), p is the estimated proportion of the population that suits the given traits (we assumed a value of 0.5 for p), and d is the tolerated margin of error (which is given a value of 12% for this case).

Taking into account the various numbers, the initial sample size required is:

The initial sample size was then adjusted accordingly using the formula below after taking into consideration the total school population:2

where n0 is the final sample size required and N is the school population of Dun- man High School (with a value of approximately 2400).

Three experienced staff members of Dunman High School were interviewed too, together with three student leaders from the student population.3 The six interviewees, despite coming from different backgrounds and age groups, are able to represent and offer a range of views on how any culnire and heritage is exhibited in the school and their opinions on the significance behind the main school identities and architectural spaces. With differences observed among the group of interviewees, there are definitely constants too. All interviewees exhibit good knowledge of the school background and history. This is complemented by their full awareness of the current situation in Dunman High School, which allows us to compare past versus present simations.

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