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Character Development in Schools

Last year, the Ministry of Education introduced “Values in Action”, a program inculcating values and leadership through community involvement among students. Many schools followed suit. The Temasek Polytechnic, for example, introduced Youthmax, a curriculum targeting at youth between 14 to 18 years old. The changes in education have been focusing on character development, as opposed to academic learning. Mr Heng Swee Keat, the minister of education, speaking at the 6th Character and Leadership Education Forum, also emphasized the importance of character education and the determination of the Ministry to push through the re-structuring of the curriculum. The education reform is well under way in Singapore.

There are two aims of character development: inculcating soft skills and imparting values. We need to inculcate soft skills because the global competition in the talent pool is rising, and soft skills such as communication ability and leadership quality are essential to the success of our graduates. As Singapore is a small nation, its economic survival and prosperity depend on how well it performs in the export market, how attractive is the labor force to foreign investment and how adaptable Singaporeans are to the constant changes in the external environment. CCA is a critical place for character development. The programs such as the National Leadership Forum expose students to teamwork opportunities to hone their ability to follow through and to lead. Students grow through such immersive learning and we will be producing generations of students who not only excel in academics, but also their dealing with people that is a more critical factor for success in workplace.

Besides inculcating soft skills, we also need to impart values. In this respect, the character development protects and strengthens the values that are under the threat of erosion by the forces of globalization and commercialism. The community service program involves thousands of students every year, teaching them the importance of service. The To Think Family campaign educates students the importance of family, something the young students tend to take for

Character Development in Schools

Character Development in Schools

granted. The spirit of service and the filial piety have been increasingly challenged by the economic pressures of survival. For those who are fully committed to making money, volunteerism a wasteful distraction, and spending time with family members may also become a burden instead of an enjoyment. The undesirable consequence of the erosion of values have been seen in a variety of social problems, such as the abandonment of the elderly. It has been generally recognized that Singapore has grown too fast, and some necessary slowdown in economic growth for other social goods has been called for. The greater emphasis on character education is a policy in response to the rising needs of the society for citizens with values, in addition to citizens with skills and knowledge.

While we are restructuring the education system, there are a few reminders that we need to keep in mind to ensure that the character development scheme is done in the best interest of students. While introducing new measures, we need to take this opportunity to improve on some of the existing deficiency in the system so as to make sure the same problem does not get carried forward in the new system. For example, the incentives in the present system do not provide sufficient motivation for students. The CIP points granted by    schools are based on the number of hours completed by students. In a secondary school, the maximum hours required to secure full points for community service is 100 hours spread over four years. Once the limit is reached, the momentum of doing community service drops sharply. The willingness to serve has been undermined by the desire to fulfill a requirement, sometimes with much complaint. This problem has to be addressed in the reformed system, otherwise the effectiveness of new ideas, however desirable in theory, will be compromised in practice. One way to get out of the problem of skewed incentive could be to introduce a complementary scheme that evaluates community service programs based on quality, not duration. Teachers in charge of the student development in schools can categorize different community service in terms of their impact to the society based on a variety of criteria, such as the the number of students involved, the extent of outreach and so on. A comprehensive evaluation scheme can be implemented, and CCA points are rewarded according to the ‘impact factor’ to encourage students to participate in quality activities.

Aristotle once said,’the future of the empire depends on the education of youth.’ If we want Singapore to have a bright future, we must offer competitive education to our youth. The competitiveness of an education does not only lie with economic benefits; it is also seen in its inculcation of soft skills and values. What we want is not only successful engineers, bankers or artists. But rather, we want to have Singaporeans who can succeed in both work and play, in family as well as in business.

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