“Students should do their part for inter-racial harmony by being sensitive to ethnic, social and religious differences. He also urged them to be ‘welcoming of new citizens … because we need them, and they help grow our economy and make Singapore a better place’” (Schools Should Nurture ‘3 Loves’ In Students: SM, Miss Andrea Ong).
The article – “Schools Should Nurture ‘3 Loves’ In Students: SM” (January 16, 2011) by Miss Andrea Ong – expounded upon Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong’s sentiments on nation-building roles for youths, is an interesting read. Traditionally, the primary role of educational institutions was to educate students academically, empowering them with the relevant knowledge and skills to ace their examinations and assessments, before gradually scaling up the scholastic ladder to secure high-flying positions in the workplace. However, with evolving demands and expectations, schools too have a stake in an individual’s personal development, in terms of moral education, co-curricular enhancement, as well as to increase cognisance of community and national needs.
SM Goh is right to assert that young students should not be overly caught up in their pursuit for personal achievements or pragmatic accolades, and lose sight of contributing to the society at large. The Community Involvement Programme (CIP) – and its corresponding Service-Learning (SL) initiative – was originally introduced to expose students to volunteerism and community service; eventually imbuing them with an innate sense of ownership and responsibility. Over the years, respective schools have furthered this initiative, exposing their students to grassroots events, socio-political youth dialogues and conferences, exchange programmes et cetera. Nonetheless, are all these – termed affectionately by SM Goh as “love for community” – genuine endeavours?
The deficiency with existing community programmes is two-fold. First, an overwhelming majority of students simply “go through the motion”; having been coerced by their schools and teachers to participate in these projects or activities, there is a lack of proper comprehension of their roles and takeaways. They are simply inundated by these expectations, without proper reflection exercises. Second, because of scholarship and college application processes, students subscribe to a plethora of commitments so as to significantly beef up their curriculum vitae, and boost their résumés.
On the “Love for Singapore”, appreciation for our past and present achievements has been greatly stymied by the limitations of the National Education (NE) curriculum. The fact that the pedagogic approach prescribes nation-building for students, and discourages active engagement or discussion of perspectives has been a strong disincentive for students to be legitimately interested. The monotonous and pedantic material adopted has led many students to dismiss NE as mere propaganda; and are more than happy to relish in the comforts of personal conservatism, instead of taking that extra step out of their spheres. These antiquated notions must cease; and efforts must be taken to proactively encourage students to question and challenge the status quo, instead of taking it for granted.
Apathy is not the real problem amongst students; it is lethargy. Rather than shoving facts and views down their throats, the best way to galvanise tangible action to be undertaken is to get students to be involved in rendering change, and allowing them to perceive themselves as agents of this movement. Blind compliance is not the way to go.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.