The Singapore Management University now has its own values-based programme – known as SMU LifeLessons – with the intent of putting some structure “in the imparting of values and soft skills, such as communication, to students” (Nov. 1). In the words of Dr. Bervyn Lee, the school’s director of student life, values “should be taught and not left to be caught”.
The initiative is, nevertheless, more patalable than the i-NUS qualities proposed by President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan of the National University of Singapore. Students must develop as well-rounded individuals, “with the crucial qualities of inquisitiveness, initiative, inner resilience, imagination, inclusiveness, and integrity” (here). At the very least the SMU endeavour encourages undergraduates to reflect on their personal interactions, to grow independently, instead of having “qualities” or values foisted needlessly upon them.
Still, while I personally agree with the need for consistent introspection, for individuals to be more circumspect, I think it is mildly ludicrous to posit that students “must [necessarily] see the value in … thinking about motivations and purpose”. The proposition assumes that values can always be taught and learnt, and that everyone processes experiences in a similar fashion. Especially within universities, things – even community service, which supposedly yields direct benefits even if the volunteer is deeply disinterested – shouldn’t be made compulsory. Provide the opportunities, and grant students the space and freedom of choice.
Because it is the student – not the school administration, or a “representative” union / council – who knows himself or herself best.