Ethnicity and British Colonialism; the rationale for Racially-Based Schools

Clive Whitehead

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This paper examines the rationale for ethnic schooling in former British colonial territories in East Africa and Southeast Asia. Critics, especially of British rule in Malaya and Singapore, have traditionally claimed that ethnic schools were established as part of a British political strategy of 'divide et impera'. An examination of the evidence suggests otherwise. There may be some support for the view that ethnic schooling was generated, at least in part, by a policy of benign neglect on the part of the British but the most plausible explanation lies in Britain's longstanding adherence to the principle of voluntaryism and the accommodation of broad guiding principles to the practical realities of population distribution, language diversity, cultural traditions and mutual antagonisms, resistance to religious proselytisation, and an ever-present shortfall of human and financial resources. To suggest that the British deliberately encouraged ethnic schools to maintain their colonial hegemony is to ascribe to colonial policy far more foresight and rationality than is merited by the available evidence
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-130
JournalEducation Research and Perspectives
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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