Photo credit: 15MBCN_INT on Twitter

Lesson not learnt from the Little India riot

So, did the new social studies textbook oversimplify matters or are netizens making a mountain out of a molehill?

Lau Ai Xuan

Published: 22 January 2016, 6:28 PM

A photo of the latest edition of a Social Studies textbook has been making its rounds on social media. The issue of contention is a passage on the 2013 Little India riot.

Disgruntled netizens were quick to point out how the new Social Studies textbook oversimplified what happened during the riot.

What’s going on?

The Little India riot, which took place on December 8, 2013, started when a private bus accidentally caused the death of an Indian construction worker. The riot, which saw about 400 foreign workers overturning police cars, burning vehicles, and hurling bricks at responders, was the first in Singapore in more than 40 years.

The riot resulted in over $650,000 worth of damages to public property. A total of 18 casualties were reported to be injured, with 10 being police officers and four SCDF personnel.

Some argue that this version of events does not paint an accurate picture of what happened. Photo credit: YAHOO.SG

In the latest edition of the textbook for upper secondary students, the Little India riot is mentioned in a “Did You Know?” section, usually placed at the end of a chapter.

Netizens are critical of how the textbook seems to highlight the “swift actions” of the government in controlling the riot, when rioters were actually only dispersed two hours after the incident started.

In fact, the report by the Committee of Inquiry, which was set up to establish the cause of the riot, highlighted “lapses by the police”.

There is also unhappiness over how the text fails to mention other major elements of the riot.

Netizens have pointed out that the text does not bring up the fact that the riot began because of an “emotional outburst” and alcohol was found to be a “major contributory factor”. Neither did it mention that race became a hot topic following the riot.


The rioters set fire to several vehicles and threw bricks at the police.

Just by reading from the passage, however, one might think that the Police Force had stepped in before any destruction could happen, which will definitely affect the perspectives of the upper secondary students reading this.

Grace Neo, 20, thinks that the textbook is glossing the conflict over and this should not be the case: “The passage did not address what caused the riot and why the riot took place, but merely the measures taken. There are no one size fits all measures so shouldn’t the students have at least the right to know the context of it?”

Popular blogger Mr Brown had his own take on the issue.

However, 20-year-old Ngee Ann Polytechnic student Mindy Chia believes that the summary in the textbook is sufficient: “I agree that this is not the full story, but this is a textbook, not a research paper. If teachers want their students to widen learning, they can play videos of the news coverage and have a discussion group to explore. Learning is not limited to just the textbook anyway.”

22-year-old NTU student, Jane Tan, agreed: “Aren’t all stories or incidents inside brief? When [textbooks] talk about Stalin, it’s not like every detail is explained. If someone from the past sees it, they’ll probably complain also. Honestly, if we are interested in the story, we can Google it ourselves.”

What’s your take?

1. What do you think of the textbook’s version of the Little India riot?
2. Do you think that teachers should expound on the riot instead of leaving the discussion to the students?
3. What are the major issues from the riot that you think should be discussed in schools?

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