“There is much emphasis these days on academic excellence, but schools should focus more on moral education to ensure that our children grow up with the right values” (Moral Education Needed To Reinforce Right Values, Madam Lee Siew Keng).
The letter “Moral Education Needed To Reinforce Right Values” (November 21, 2010) by Madam Lee Siew Keng makes the excellent point that moral education is sorely lacking – in quality and quantity – within institutions. While it is true that the Ministry of Education (MOE) has the resources and potential to dramatically enhance the existing moral education programme – in pre-schools and high schools – the endeavours undertaken have to be complemented by efforts on the part of parents and families as well. Given a change in the angle of approach towards moral education, students themselves would also be poised to be more responsible for their actions and decisions.
To claim that current approaches by the MOE towards moral education are overly antiquated and pedantic would be an understatement. Traditional methodologies employed by educators are premised upon the assumption that moral behaviour is naturally polarised upon white or black, good or bad. Subsequently, teachers directly communicate these virtues – such as kindness, humility, honesty et cetera – to their students, and henceforth reward their positive expression and criticise actions that are contrary to these beliefs. Unfortunately, these pedagogies do not take into account “grey areas” or moral dilemmas; presuppose that society has reached a consensus on these moral values; and more often than not the teachers would indirectly impose their own perspectives – possibly confounded with personal or religious beliefs – upon students.
There is a desperate need to mould the teacher’s role into one of a moderator, rather than one of a “values dispenser”. The teacher does not insist on sharing the “right” views; instead, the message should be that people hold different moral yardsticks and standards, and that compromises can be reached through constructive negotiation. This is especially important, given the fact that a child’s moral view is often shaped by a plethora of aspects: including their parents, their teachers, their friends, and even their personal interactions with people and events.
Instead of sticking to a textbook approach of presenting “rights” and “wrongs”, MOE can explore resources and ways to render moral education more engaging and productive. Professionals – in psychology and education – can be invited to train educators on methods such as “moral dilemmas”, in which students would be forced to balance contradictions, make sense of their moral compasses, and decide their personal courses of action. This can be done in conjunction with families and parents. The teachers thus play a more integral role in comprehending each individual’s reasoning and concerns, while constantly highlighting rules and constrains, simulating justice and community-based limitations.
If progress is not made in heightening the features of our moral education programmes, future generations of students would ultimately be at the losing end.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.