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Yes To Character And Values Education, But How Exactly MOE?

it is imperative for the new Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) unit to review schemes independently and formulate relevant recommendations for tangible advantages to take root.

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.

Good moral education must be premised upon cognitive and affective dimensions.

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.

Change is the new constant, but the question is what and how improvements should be implemented by the MOE and CCE unit.

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.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


13 thoughts on “Yes To Character And Values Education, But How Exactly MOE?

  1. This is call 雷声大,雨点小.
    New minister 新官上任三把火
    In local parlance, a wayang.

    Posted by 人才 | September 29, 2011, 11:14 am
  2. There is a pertinent need for the ministry to review schemes such as NE, CME etc. I do agree very much with your point made. What that should be taught to kids is probably how governance work and not as what you said one-dimensional accounts… Things like why is there a parliament? (of course in an inspiring manner) Oh wells, it is were a group of people that well represents the walks of life sits down to discuss blahblahblah……

    However I feel that the education system is generally problematic, given the great emphasis on examinations, just reviewing and restructuring these individual schemes may be of little practical effect.

    What that needs to be resolved is the test-prep approach to education.

    I strongly feel that the root of the problem lies in the general atmosphere of education in Singapore, which has sadly became more of a test-prep centre than a place that truly educates, informs and much less develop a sense of ownership from a young age, make them realise their roles and responsibilities as a citizen of the country. The disproportionate emphasis on achievements in terms of academic and non-academic areas is generally conditioning children to be merely answering machines and dramatic performers.

    The original intentions of examinations and assessments are to garner feedback, statistics of how much a child had learnt, how well the child had learnt, then (ideally) reviews are made of not just the child’s ability are carried out to right whatever that had gone wrong… Examinations are merely a means to an ends. But sadly, it had more or less became the “ENDS” for many Singaporean kids. Preoccupied with the examinations, we are taught to accept content without much room for questions. The problem doesn’t lie with rote memorization itself as much as the mindset that rote memorization instils.

    The test-prep atmosphere have severely reduced the odds of students looking beyond themselves.

    Posted by chy | September 29, 2011, 10:12 pm
    • You are spot-on; a point I overlooked was the fact that many NE, CME curriculum have been sacrificed for examination subjects (and the corresponding preparations). I don’t think it is uncommon for teachers to conveniently change such lessons into remedial or enrichment lessons to keep pace with the syllabus. Why bother with emotional or character development when scholastic-academic success is valued above everything else?

      The examination system which places disproportionate emphasis on rote-learning and regurgitation needs to come to an end. The problem also lies with the way we “test” or “assess” our children: examinations are overwhelmingly one-dimensional – usually testing an individual’s comprehension, memorisation and writing skills – and neglects lifelong skills such as presentation or oratorical abilities, research know-how, listening skills et cetera.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | September 29, 2011, 10:27 pm
      • By implication you are saying that “comprehension, memorization and writing skills” are not “lifelong skills?” Do note that oratorical abilities are tested in a component in English/Chinese examinations known as ORAL and “listening skills” are tested in LISTENING COMPRE. Research know-how is tested in JC Project Work.

        Posted by charis | April 30, 2012, 8:45 am
      • Hi Charis,

        That was not implied, unfortunately. What I contended was that these skills may be given disproportionate emphasis over other capabilities, that may be as – if not more – important.

        Now the question is, how effective are these examination components? You’ve poignantly pointed out these elements, but are they truly useful? The road to hell is paved with good intentions (policies are enacted based on noble ideals, but executed poorly); for one, Project Work has its fair share of detractors (https://guanyinmiao.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/has-project-work-in-junior-colleges-outlived-its-usefulness/).

        Jin Yao

        Posted by guanyinmiao | April 30, 2012, 8:54 am
  3. Yes, rote-learning and regurgitation needs to come to an end! I believe that not only students but teachers also share this common sentiment.

    I choose to believe that all teachers are definitely passionate in their area of expertise, subjects they teach. Just that in one form or another they have been forced to succumb to *external pressures* (in a dramatic way: invisible gags and twisting of arms!) . And also that they are highly creative individuals in their own way, everyone is unique and are of great value. Because each person is different, there are infinite ways of how the same thing can be taught. Personally I see extreme value in such creativity. And such value isn’t unwarranted, do take a look at the Finnish education system (i do not think sg teachers are essentially ‘not as qualified’ or worse off) the finns take so much pride in ensuring that their schools are unaffected by politicians and politics! Head teachers that the news (BBC) interviewed have reflected that the autonomy and immense trust involved is essentially the key to their success. (Personally i am in awe of their no-child-left-behind belief.)
    **Please read this, its so absurd and certainly we don’t want to happy to Singapore )= http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2094427,00.html

    (I don’t think this sentiment is uncommon) As much as one would like to truly develop a child’s understanding of a chapter they are covering in a subject, one simply cannot afford the time because they have to catch up with the syllabus and focus on *answering techniques*… A personal belief is that true understanding is better than rote memorization. Of course i am not demeaning developing understanding and learning through answering questions, just that it has became quite… (i can’t exactly put it into words.).

    If everything is about performance and grades during pen-and-paper tests, wouldn’t thinking then be made a “CHORE” for our kids? Cause such a pragmatic approach to ‘administering’ education would really raise the odds of a child missing out on the big picture and learn things disparately in their bits and pieces. It is unfortunate that our kids are so stressed out over their studies and just only, merely studies! I don’t see anything to be proud of to have kids all stressed up over their studies. Why tire, burn them out when they’re so young? If thinking is so tiring, who even bothers to THINK anymore? “no.. stop, i’ll just give you the answers. no questions asked”. Rather than expecting our kids to be perfect parrots of all the correct, standard, model answers, shouldn’t we be more interested to have them become true THINKING individuals capable of giving us insights?? That they are able to question assumptions, challenge statue quo and not be afraid to voice out, put across ideas that are different? Given the absurd emphasis on ‘answers’ nowadays, who bothers to question assumptions anymore? Thinking is so tiring, one would probably want to stay within their comfort zone.

    Survival in the global jungle is such that change is the only constant, if the younger generation are becoming increasingly tired of thinking and adept conformers. How is Singapore going to survive and prosper?

    We should worry why kids are becoming increasingly apathetic. Personally i feel that its not due to the onslaught of the internet, or the younger generations are essentially ‘worse off’ etc.. It is the education system that they have been through that have caused the dispassion! A pragmatic approach might have built Singapore and carried Singapore through tough, turbulent times. But insisting on this pragmatic approach and just merely implementing side-dishes to ‘seemingly’ remedy the pragmatic approach can break Singapore. 治标不治本.

    I do see value and am thankful for the Education system, such as its system of meritocracy which shouldn’t be taken for granted. Very well-intentioned programs are also aplenty but i guess much of their true positive effect is considerable.

    Im sorry that this is such a long reply, as you can see i am not a very succinct person when it comes to writing, i apologize for that. I have chose to leave off some parts as they are or not this will become absurdly long.. So in summary i guess the above ‘chunk’ conveys few main ideas:

    1) *External pressures* are tying down the hands of our teachers.

    2) True thinking individuals impossible cause of the absurd emphasis on answers!
    – We don’t need perfect answering machines. If thats really what we want, we don’t need
    singaporean couples to give birth to kids. Why not just build more smart machines and program them?

    Posted by hUiic | October 1, 2011, 11:37 pm
    • Dear Hui Ci,

      Thanks for your responses; it’s great to see that you are very passionate about the education system in Singapore (and to improve it). I don’t think I will be able to reply to every single point you raised, but I’ll give my personal views on some of them.

      1. Teachers in Singapore are doing a great job, and it is important that the teaching career is well-respected by students and parents. I believe that educators do want to help every single individual, but sometimes resources and manpower constraints limit these desires. I believe in Finland (when I was reading up previously), a single civics teacher is tagged with the same students for an extended period of time. I did write about the system some time ago: https://guanyinmiao.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/can-singapore-learn-anything-from-finland%E2%80%99s-education-mechanisms/.

      2. Schools have become very adept at customising syllabus and lesson plans for examination preparation; therefore, skills of rote memorisation and regurgitation take precedence over the development of more applicable, long-term skills.

      3. I think when it comes to examinations, we find ourselves in a Catch-22 situation: that is, standardised examinations are – at the moment – the best way to gauge an individual’s general academic and scholastic progress, however, it disadvantages those who do not perform well under these settings, or struggle with the subject in the first place. We want to do away with examinations and tests, but we cannot find a viable alternative for the benchmarking of our students against their counterparts and international schoolchildren. The solution, in my opinion, lies in diversifying how we evaluate them. Instead of just testing them on their written abilities, expand assessment to be more continuous (spread out across the year), and include elements of oratorical presentation, research elements and listening exercises (all these especially important for languages).

      Hope this answers your comment 😉 At the same time, I would also like you to join me at my new Education Roundtable (https://www.facebook.com/educationroundtable). Do like it and help me spread the word. The current discussion is on Project Work in Junior Colleges, but in the near future there will definitely be topics very relevant to what you have raised today.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | October 2, 2011, 11:14 am
  4. typo error: we don’t want that to “happen” to Singapore )=

    Posted by hUiic | October 1, 2011, 11:38 pm


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