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Character Award Introduced by MOE in Singapore

Awarding students for their Character: A boon and a bane, all at the same time

Trying to ‘up’ the level of character of students in a school has always been a business only amongst the administrative and teaching staff simply because most students do not allow the importance of character development sink in beyond the morning assembly speeches. Yet, with a newly introduced award straightforwardly-named, the Character Award, it seems like students have a greater stake in working towards developing positive character traits since (come on, let’s not be shy about it) there’s money up for grabs now.

Flaws, are there any?

To be perfectly honest, when we first heard about this (let’s be plain from the beginning, shall we?) all-elusive award, we were apprehensive. How can individuals belonging to a ministry evaluate the students that pass through under their

Character Award Introduced by MOE in Singapore

Character Award Introduced by MOE in Singapore

eyes so fleetingly to see if they have positive character? It does not take a rocket scientist to highlight the possible loopholes in deciding who should be nominated, and eventually choose, the awardees. Positive traits are easy to identify since they can be witnessed. However, going beneath the skin – beneath the actions and words, how can one ever know an individual enough to judge that that one person has a character ‘positive-er’ than any other individual? Is there a set list of criteria an individual has to fulfill? Is it even possible for every individual to be evaluated based on just one set of criteria? Are we, in trying to move the focus away from academic achievements, making a ‘syllabus’ we have to cover for the students in terms of character? Are the ones evaluating the students (we presume they will be mostly the teaching staff) able to glean a comprehensive picture of each and every child in the school to decide who is most deserving of the award?

For the sake of examining this issue further, let’s assume there is little or no room for errors in the deciding process. Sure, perhaps us as humans have that common set of understanding plus the teachers have a list of criteria such as level of civic literacy, social awareness, global awareness, information and communication skills etc, they will now go ahead and choose students that fulfill the criteria most. Let us, again, assume that all students are all willing and able to express themselves sufficiently such that their teachers will be able to understand in a manner where they can pass judgments, which are fair and informed. Eventually a list of awardees was chosen and the awards were given out.

The Aftermath

Eventually, a selected number of students received the award and depending on their level of study, their cash reward was different but a fairly substantial amount for the student. What then, happens to the rest of the students who did not get to receive the award? While there is a positive connotation to the award and its recipients, the those who did not ‘qualify’ for the award, it would thus seem like their positive traits, and hence, their characters, were not outstanding enough to be award.

The resultant effect could go both ways: the students who received the award really feel motivated to work towards developing more positive traits so as to (hopefully) positively impact the ones around them, or their from-now-on-skewed motivation would be to receive that certificate, which comes conveniently with a sum of cash reward. As for the larger majority that did not receive the award, the ones with the most honest form of positive character will continue to strive towards building their inner core. Or, if they got discouraged due to the lack of recognition, they will probably be less inclined to doing their best in terms of class contribution (which happens to be one of the framework of the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) character development framework.

What we really think:

There is a definite need for an outlet of praise and encouragement for the students who are mostly growing up in a privileged environment than the previous generation(s) (and this is a fact many never fail to repeat to them again, and again), even though the process of growing up, self-discovery and character-building has, fortunately or unfortunately, gotten easier. However, while there is that need, the move to implement a Character Award does not seem to tackle the lack of supply. At the heart of the matter, while the name, the certificates and the monetary rewards do encourage, what children and growing teens these days need are verbal affirmation of their choices made daily which are right and positive, not a conclusive recognition of what they have ‘achieved’ on the ‘checklist’ – no matter how arbitrary, inconsistent and relative, in the past academic year.

At the end of the day, though, we do need to applaud the Ministry of its efforts to shift the focus away from mere academic and co-curricular achievements to the more important ‘heartware’. Yet, it is an effort the Ministry cannot accomplish alone. Perhaps, if the entire nation’s mindset does change into one that is more nurture-driven (for the lack of a better term) from it’s results-driven mentality, the students will be better encouraged than the Character Award introduced in 2012.

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