But I was born here!

One of my favourite UOI (Units of inquiry) has started for my G3 students – in our library lesson last week I introduced the theme through reference to (a somewhat dated, but still very clear) video

Now one thing you can be certain about with students is that their responses will not be predictable. So too this time – what happened? They were cheering every-time their own flag appeared – irrespective whether it was to say that their nation was in the “top” for migration to or from – the subtlety of the relative positions totally escaped them.

At the point of the video where there is talk about how visa systems let people in or exclude them, I paused the video and mentioned the fact that actually all of them sitting there were migrants. Shocked silence for a few seconds followed by indignant cries of “but I’ve lived here all my life” or “but I was born here” or “my parents have lived here for 12 years”. I then asked how many of them were Singapore passport holders. In the 4 classes I had that afternoon, none. Yet they were all insistent on their rights not to be called migrants. I suspect they think of migrants as migrant workers in the sense of their helpers or construction workers.  When we got to the “push” and “pull” factors I said perhaps they should go home and ask their parents what were the push and pull reasons for being in Singapore.

How protected a life our students lead. A large number of leaving parents have come to me at the end of last year to have their library records cleared and signed off and told tales of the employment pass holder being made redundant and a home leave Christmas holiday being turned into a “packing up in a hurry and going home to an uncertain future” holiday. Those children leave and the ones left behind have no idea of the realities, are shielded from the realities.  I remember how few children could relate to Eve Buntings “Yard Sale” during the Global Read Aloud last year. They could only tell tales of moving to ever larger houses and getting more possessions rather than scaling down. The offspring of the 1%.

How much should our children know? How much should these sad, difficult and terrible things be made real and relevant to them instead of being images on screen or stories in books?  And if we make it more real, do we build empathy or fear?  I remember my daughter having weeks of nightmares after first learning about 9/11, combined with a trip to the coastal defense museum in HK and jets flying at the level of our apartment in HK. 5 year olds are not good with historical time perspective. Perhaps 8 year olds are not good with financial and living condition perspectives. Tough questions. Is this the right unit for Grade 3s?

You can find my research guide for the unit here, but I’d like to highlight some resources I find particular effective include:

Virtual reality

Clouds over Sidra


Interactive documentary

Refugee republic

Dynamic flow map

Also only until 2010, but a brilliant piece of interactive mapping of migrant flows too and from countries.

As educators we are expected to present information in a neutral fashion. I can only hope that some of our students are able to take what we present and link the past to the present and the future given the current changes in global politics – particularly with relation to human migration.

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