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In Memory of Sha’ari Tadin (1932 - 2009)

By Nur Azlin Salem, Oral History Specialist

Former People’s Action Party (PAP) MP for Kampong Chai Chee (1968 - 1976) and Bedok (1976 -1980), Sha’ari Tadin, passed away on 13 December 2009. Sha’ari was also fondly remembered as Cikgu Sha'ari, for his role as teacher, tutor, principal and educator. He was interviewed by the Oral History Centre in 1990.

Born in Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan in 1932, Sha’ari Tadin and his family moved to Singapore after WWII where he completed his primary education at Outram School. He joined the Singapore education service as trainee teacher in 1954. Sha’ari Tadin was best known for his dedication to teaching where he was well-regarded as a mentor and educator who made a lasting impact on his students. He shared with us his love for teaching and his thoughts on the importance of establishing good rapport with one’s students in his oral history interview:

“I definitely like teaching because I have this special interest in children. That’s my very strong inclination to teach children and I created a very good rapport with them. I remember in Telok Kurau English School where I got involved in scouting and I developed a very close rapport with the students and then we…grew very close. When I was in Jalan Daud, I had similar experiences…which I feel is lacking today in the teaching profession.

In my time, I was teaching everything except Music so most of my time I spent with the pupils. So I organised outings, organised hiking, all sorts of activities with my students during the weekends ... That I remember as being very crucial in establishing relationship with the young children. And you really know everyone of them. It's not like just go into a class and teach and then you go to another class. I feel that this close rapport with the pupils is very very crucial especially in getting them to really show their interest in their studies. You don't have much discipline problem because of the close rapport. I was not only interested in teaching my pupils but also in knowing their welfare as well. Like, if a pupil is sick or if he doesn’t come to school for a few days, we wonder what happened to so and so. Somebody told me he's sick. So let’s go to the house and visit him. That kind of love was there in the '50s.”

In 1962, under the Colombo Plan Scholarship, he studied at the University of Malaya where he graduated with a BA (Hons) in Malay Studies in 1965. Upon his return to Singapore, he was posted to Sang Nila Utama Secondary School, the premier Malay school at that time and where he would also serve as Acting Principal in 1967. Being the first few Singaporean Malay scholars in the 1960s, Sha'ari was approached by Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew to join the PAP.

“How to say no? In fact they really needed you, not so much you needed them. I suppose there is this dearth of Malay graduate [MP] so I was the first Malay graduate to be an MP. I told you I was not even a PAP member. So most of us were inducted into politics because of our position or background, whatever it is.”

It took much persuasion and consideration before Sha'ari agreed to join politics. A firm believer in a strong foundation in education among the younger generation of citizens, he believed that being in Parliament would enable him to achieve this aim.

In the late 1960s, the Government’s implementation of a large-scale public housing programme caused many residents from largely rural areas to be resettled to various parts of the island. Sha’ari saw the strong need to establish closer rapport with the people, especially in the Malay community and help them understand the need for better public housing. He launched the “changing of mindset” campaign in 1969 which sought to raise awareness among the Malay community, many of whom were still living in villages, to improve their living standards through means like education. On his role as MP for Kampong Chai Chee (1968 - 1976):

“I was consulted by the Prime Minister on matters pertaining to Malay issue or problem. Occasionally from time to time I was asked to comment on his draft speeches to be delivered to the Malay community, to give suggestions or amendments or to recommend changes. I have also helped to comment on news on Malay issues that were highlighted in the Berita Harian and get reaction from the grassroots, and whatever feedback that I got, this was conveyed to the Prime Minister for his information. Many a time I remember we were also informed of what was going in the Malay community as regards to the certain reaction to certain policies or certain unpopular polices that were implemented by government which received resistance from the Malay community. I would like to cite one incident about the resettlement of the Malays in the rural area. We had to spend some time to convince the Malays that the resettlement was not for their own good but also for the good of Singapore. The development had to give way to...In the course of carrying out the development, naturally it involved the demolition of mosques and other......where these people have to leave their kampongs to be resettled in the housing development flats.”

Shaari Tadin sharing an image
MP for Kampong Chai Chee, Sha’ari Tadin presenting bursaries to
students at the Malay Youth Literary Association in Jalan Eunos, 18/04/1971

Site visit
Sha’ari Tadin and government officials touring the reclaimed land at Kampong Chai Chee, 16/05/1971. Over 500 families, including farmers who are affected by the East Coast Reclamation Scheme are to be resettled by October to make way for a huge reservoir.

Site digging
Sha’ari Tadin with 400 National Servicemen and 200 Residents of Kampong Chai Chee
participating in the Operation Gotong-Royong (Self-help) in Jalan Kluang,
off Jalan Eunos, 06/05/1973

In May 1968, at the age of only 36, Sha'ari was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry for Culture and in 1972 he was promoted to Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Culture. During his term at the Ministry of Culture, he actively promoted the arts and culture of Singapore overseas. In his oral history interview Mr Shaari recalled,

"My duty among others in the Ministry (of Culture) was to oversee the control of undesirable publication and sit on the Film Censors Board. We had to watch for films which had racial and political overtone besides those which portray religious extremism. Ours being a multi- lingual and multi cultural, and multi religious, we need to be very sensitive about such films. If these films were not checked, it might create demarcation among our multi racial population. My duty in the Ministry also include promotion of cultural activities especially in helping to evolve a Singapore or national culture of our own...I was actively involved in leading cultural delegation to project multiracial , multi-cultural Singapore so that these other countries will understand our country better. I was involved in the setting up of [National] Dance Company (now Singapore Dance Theatre) which later put up performances abroad. I led several delegations to Indonesia, USSR, Teheran and Seoul. Whenever we performed, we were given accolades, especially when I led the first cultural delegation the Adelaide Festival of Art. It was the first time that this company received such an accolade from the audience. During the 2-week festival, the whole of Australia watched the programme over television. The show was a hit for two weeks. It was a good promotion for Singapore."

On the government’s cultural policy then, Mr Sha’ari had this to say:

"We chose a longer process that involved cultural democracy, instead of cultural assimilation. Cultural assimilation often takes place in an environment of two or more cultures of different relative strengths. Assimilation involves absorption of minority culture by the majority or stronger culture...Ours, is a national culture that will be achieved through the harmonious evolution of the various ethnic cultures. The resultant national culture will contain a facet of the various ethnic culture modified to suit the times. In contrast to the process of cultural assimilation, the national culture that emerges from a democratic framework will have less in common with its ethnic culture. There will be a certain degree of cultural displacement although the wh