Education Minister Heng Swee Keat’s emphasis on character, values and citizenship education – as expounded in his speech during the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) annual workplan seminar – is timely because of the evolving profiles and backgrounds of students, and the need to revise antiquated policies or programmes that remain pedantically in place. Cognisant of these developments, beyond the continuous engagement of parents, students and teachers, it is imperative for the new Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) unit to review schemes independently – specifically Civics and Moral Education (CME), National Education (NE), Co-Curricular Activities (CCA) – and formulate relevant recommendations for tangible advantages to take root.
Reforming Civics And Moral Education
Problems. The primary shortcoming of CME in Singapore is that it has not been taken seriously at the higher levels by students; largely a result of the monotonous reliance upon traditional syllabus that seeks to inform and prescribe facts or moral truths instead of encouraging healthy discourse. The preachy, instructional nature of the materials may remain productive for primary school schoolchildren, but social dilemmas cannot be simply dichotomised into rights and wrongs. At a more fundamental level, the MOE must strive to customise moral pedagogies for different groups of students, without deviating from the intention to encourage students to correct faults and emulate goodness.
Recommendations. There should be more judicious selection of relevant, innovative and applicable references; history-based Chinese texts might appear meaningful and constructive to professionals or planners, but may prove to be a tremendous turn-off for select students. Good moral education must be premised upon cognitive and affective dimensions: not only should participants be given case studies or role models to understand and contemplate, but they should be given the avenues to define their personal value systems, affective responses to situations and comprehend different relationships.
In essence, an exploratory journey – rather than a standardised one – should be encouraged. The MOE and its administrators should seek to motivate students to justify or rationalise their decisions, which would indirectly make them think about the consequences of their actions. Students, at a higher level, can have discussions on contentious debates on abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty et cetera; through these exchanges, youths would become more aware of the different religious, moral and societal considerations that interplay, and learn to appreciate these differences.
Encouraging Meaningful Co-Curricular Activities
Problems. Because of the disproportionate focus on achievements and accomplishments, schools have gradually allowed the assessment of a student’s performance in his or her CCA to take precedence over the actual growth or maturity of the student. In the institution’s pursuit of obtaining a greater number of awards in sporting and performing arts competition, many educators have lost sight of the original purposes of these involvements. Parents too, obsessed with beefing up their children’s curriculum vitae and portfolios, make unfairly pragmatic decisions in CCA selection and participation.
Recommendations. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. A student’s participation in a CCA should be given due recognition; after all, arbitrary traits like passion and interest can never be fairly evaluated. Furthermore, laments on the limited scope of CCA in schools – such as how more unconventional activities remain unrecognised, or cannot be formalised because of the lack of resources and manpower – can be addressed through economies of scale within school clusters. Each school can have niche projects or CCAs that are open to students from neighbouring institutions.
Relooking National Education
Problems. Inevitable labels of propaganda – which has become more pronounced with the changing political landscape, and greater levels of awareness with the proliferation of accessible commentaries and opinions available on the Internet – remain challenging for the CCE unit. Sentiments of disillusionment cannot be allowed to manifest. Textbooks and NE resources seem to present one-dimensional and narrative features that allow little room for alternative viewpoints, and schools seem reluctant to provide platforms for students to actively question rather than taking the status quo for granted.
Recommendations. Change is the new constant, but the question is what and how improvements should be implemented by the MOE and CCE unit.
Lessons should not be confined to the classroom per se; schools can develop partnerships with grassroots stakeholders to introduce community service and non-partisan initiatives in the respective neighbourhoods. Through this participation, students will start developing a sense of ownership from a young age, and make them realise their roles and responsibilities as a citizen of the country. The ripple effects will definitely be significant in the long-run, as the engagement is extended to more members of the society.
Other suggestions for political and national education in Singapore (from one of my previous posts here): developing materials that seek to engage and empower, not prescribe and spoon-feed; put in place a build-up approach, which will cater syllabuses in accordance to the ages and interests of the students; promote inter-disciplinary approaches; as well as to heighten abilities to distinguish between facts and opinions.