Opening Address by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education, at the 1st NIE-MOE Character and Citizenship Education Conference on Tuesday, 8 November 2011, 9.00am at Nanyang Technological University Auditorium

Mrs Tan Ching Yee
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education

Ms Ho Peng
Director-General of Education

Professor Lee Sing Kong
Director, National Institute of Education

Distinguished guests

Principals, Vice Principals

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning.

I am pleased to join you at this inaugural Character and Citizenship Education Conference, jointly organized by the National Institute of Education and the Ministry of Education. I welcome all participants from schools, and to our international delegates, welcome to Singapore.

I am heartened by the strong support of parents, teachers and students on our values-driven, student-centric education. Many have written to the press and to us to express their support and share good suggestions. Many Members of Parliament have also spoken in Parliament to support our effort.

There is a consensus that this direction towards values-driven, student-centric education is timely and critical. Quite rightly, many parents and educators are also asking: “What are our desired outcomes?”, “What is our approach towards implementation?” and “How soon will we see results?” These are important questions. Our professionals in MOE have been working hard on these issues. Allow me to briefly share our thoughts on these this morning.

Desired Outcomes

The theme of this conference: Active and Concerned Citizens, Building Character for Community encapsulates succinctly our purpose: to nurture the values, competencies and dispositions in our pupils to enable them to become good persons [character] and responsible citizens [contributing to society].

To make these concrete, we have to translate this high level statement to clear outcomes of education. There are four outcomes relating to character building. Character building starts from “knowing thyself” — building self-awareness and self management, to enable the individual to achieve his or her full potential. Building on this, to “knowing others” — to be socially aware and to interact well with others, and nurture positive relationships. In dealing with others, we need to focus on “doing the right things” — to apply moral reasoning and take responsibility in decision making, and have the integrity to stand by our values. Finally, in the face of individual, community or national challenges, individuals need to demonstrate resilience.

This emphasis on character building is part of our effort in the holistic development of our pupils. While we continue to help our pupils acquire knowledge and skills, the best that our pupils can acquire is self-confidence, determination, resilience, a sense of responsibility and the ability to work with others. These are the qualities and dispositions that will equip them to succeed for life.

As for citizenship education, there are also four outcomes. Firstly, our pupils should grow up to be loyal citizens, with a strong sense of belonging to Singapore and a strong sense of national identity, committed to the well-being, defence and security of our nation. Secondly, they should show care and concern for others, and be willing to contribute actively to improve the lives of others. Thirdly, in our multi-racial society, our pupils need to be socio-culturally sensitive and do their part to promote social cohesion and harmony. Finally, our pupils must have the ability to reflect on and respond to community, national and global issues, and to make informed and responsible decisions.

Citizenship education engenders in pupils an appreciation of our history and heritage while providing them with opportunities to understand the Singapore society today and their role as active citizens. For a young country like Singapore, citizenship education is instrumental for pupils to remain rooted to Singapore. National Education will be an integral part of CCE, to help our pupils appreciate the fundamentals that enable our nation to succeed.

Underpinning these outcomes are our core values of Responsibility, Resilience, Respect, Integrity, Care and Harmony. These values provide the foundation for our CCE.

The 5-P Approach

Stating the desired outcomes is the easy part. Translating these into effective teaching and learning is our major challenge. I would go as far as to say that CCE will be the most difficult ‘subject’ for us to teach well. Unlike academic subjects where we can set tests to assess understanding and application of concepts, we cannot simply set a test for values. We can have proxy measures, but ultimately, it is how well these values are internalised. Dedicating specific periods in our timetable for CCE is important, but teachable moments crop up in various contexts, in and outside of the classrooms. We need skilful teachers to make dedicated periods lively and meaningful, and to catch these teachable moments.

More fundamentally, schools cannot do it alone. Parents play the critical role, and the influence of peers, mass media, social media and the broader society are significant, if not more significant than what we do in schools.

Our approach towards CCE must take into account all these realities and challenges. I commend our specialists at HQ, in consultation with our school leaders and teachers, for coming up with a CCE Toolkit which is now available on Edumall 2.0, and schools can download it from today. This Toolkit sets out an approach for effective implementation. It features the 5Ps of CCE: Purpose, Pupil, ExPerience, Professional Development and Partnerships.

Purpose: The first P, purpose, is a crucial first step. Having a clear purpose which is shared by every member of the school enables the school to align and integrate the programmes relating to academic, co-curricula, student guidance, social-emotional learning, pastoral care, staff development, service learning and national education into a coherent whole. It allows us to build a common vocabulary, promote collaboration and build the right school culture. In short, it has to be a ‘whole-school’ approach, not sporadic or episodic programmes.

Pupil: The second P is Pupil. Ultimately, what we do must create an impact on our pupils. As part of this pupil-centric approach, schools need to study the profile of their pupils, understand their challenges and their expectations and create a positive teacher-pupil relationship. What this means in practice is that as our schools have different profiles of pupils, and even different profiles within each school, there has to be sufficient flexibility for our schools to customise their programmes. We need both a common core of national programmes and a variety of school-based initiatives.

ExPerience: The third P is ExPerience. To quote Ryan and Bohlin, “Where does Character fit into the curriculum? The simple answer is this: everywhere”. CCE is not a stand-alone subject, but rather it has to be integrated with academic, CCA, service learning and other school activities. In this way, CCE is lived authentically as part of the school experience of our students. We cannot go about teaching CCE in a didactic way. It has to be experienced deeply and internalised by our students. We can do this by infusing CCE into our activities in a meaningful way so that it does not become a dry, stand-alone subject or a series of activities.

Professional Development: The fourth P is Professional Development. Teachers are critical in our renewed emphasis on CCE. Our teachers must have the belief and passion to instil the right values, social and emotional competencies, as well as dispositions of citizenship in our pupils. I encourage all teachers, key personnel overseeing CCE and school leaders to explore formal and informal platforms to develop yourselves in this area. This could take the form of Professional Learning Teams, reading of relevant literature, or online forums on student engagement. MOE will also provide support for teachers in the form of professional development and training to deliver the new CCE curriculum.

Partnership: The fifth P is Partnership. Home-School-Community partnership is important for all aspects of education, and of utmost importance in CCE. The home is a child’s first school and the parent or caregiver is a child’s first teacher. Parents are the ones who inculcate character and values in their children from a young age. When a child starts schooling, parents and teachers need to work hand in hand to reinforce the values taught, both at home and in school. In this way, the same message is sent and pupils know clearly what is expected of them.

The old adage ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is as relevant in our modern society as it was in the rural past. Community groups are an important part of our effort. I thank our partners, including the Singapore Kindness Movement, the National Youth Council, the National Heritage Board, OnePeople.sg and others who are joining us at the conference as partners. Our COMPASS (Community and Parents in Support of Schools) will work closely with all to align our efforts.

Apart from setting out the approach, the CCE Toolkit provides templates, checklists, guiding questions and self-assessment tools. I am pleased that many of our schools are already doing CCE in innovative and engaging ways.

Good Stories

The Good Stories segment of the Toolkit highlights these practices. For example,

  • De La Salle and Fairfield Methodist School (Primary) have interesting programmes to map the profiles of students and to tailor appropriate programmes.
  • North View Primary School started a programme for students to experience the daily challenges of disabled persons, to help them develop empathy and to encourage them to take action to assist the disabled.
  • Si Ling Secondary School has an Outdoor Education Curriculum where students build confidence and self discipline through team building activities, high rope elements, rock climbing and abseiling.
  • Pasir Ris Primary has a Values Inculcation programme, as well as a Sing Singapore event to help students appreciate the Singapore Story.
  • Bendemeer Secondary has a series of programmes with a goal of eventually having each student take the lead in NE, while Kranji Secondary works closely with other government agencies on environmental protection.
  • Cedar Girls’ Home-School Link, Anglican High’s Partners Day, and Tampines Primary’s School Family Education and Alumni@TPS are all examples of partnership with parents, and grassroots organisations.

These are just some examples of the good work that our schools are doing to develop character and citizenship. We are proud of their hard work. These examples also show that we are not starting from scratch.

I hope these examples, and many more will serve as a stimulus for our educators as you explore how best to do this in your schools. This spirit of continual sharing and learning is the way forward in improving our overall system.

To support our schools in this journey, we have set up the CCE Branch in HQ. This branch will be working on a responsive CCE Syllabus with learning objectives and teaching materials that are explicitly linked to pupils’ life and school events as experienced over the course of the year at each level. The branch will also provide regular and updated teaching and learning materials for CCE that relate to pupils’ current experiences and environment. To equip schools, middle managers and teachers, there will be consultation and service-delivery support to guide schools in co-constructing meaningful school-based CCE.

Staying the Course

As we embark on this journey, we must constantly evaluate and ask if we are on the right course. It will be useful, though to remember the saying that it takes ten years to grow a tree and a hundred years to develop an individual.

One of my colleagues recently drew my attention to a vivid example of how bamboo trees grow. If you are planting a bamboo tree you have to, of course, choose the correct spot, get the soil ready, and water and fertilise it regularly. But nothing happens in the first few weeks. Indeed, even after a year of watering, nothing happens. Actually, nothing happens even after four years! The fact is that the bamboo tree remains underground during the first four years and then shoots up to a height of 24 to 27 metres in the fifth year! Unseen, deep underneath, the roots are taking shape and the tree is growing.

Growing a bamboo tree is akin to our effort in building our children’s character and nurturing them to become responsible citizens - it is a process. Indeed, a lot of hard work is needed. Nothing is going to change overnight. I understand that every school has a myriad of competing demands but we need to persevere and dedicate time and effort to character and citizenship education. We have to keep working on it, even if we do not see visible results immediately. Let us keep the vision of CCE alive as we persevere, day-in, day-out.

Role of the CCE Conference

This inaugural conference is an important start to set directions for CCE and bring together like-minded educators to learn, network and share best practices with one another. It will be held once every two years. We thank the NIE for collaborating with MOE in organizing this conference. I strongly encourage all of us to seize the opportunity to learn from the keynote, plenary and concurrent sessions. I am very heartened that this conference features a wide range of speakers — from the academics to the practitioners. There is so much expertise available on character and citizenship, which will certainly provide insights, perspectives and practical ideas for our educators in their CCE journey with our children.

I wish you a meaningful and enriching conference ahead. Thank you.