Speech by Minister for Education Mr Ong Ye Kung at the National Kindness Awards Ceremony, at D'marquee @ Downtown East

Published Date: 08 November 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

1. I am happy to join you today at the National Kindness Awards ceremony, which recognises our students' efforts in making our schools a kinder and more gracious place.

Singa Through the Years

2. This year, being Singapore's Bicentennial year, puts us in a reflective mood. In this spirit, I got quite curious about the origin of Singa, and decided to find out more about this mythical Singapore creature.

3. Singa was introduced almost 40 years ago in 1982, as the mascot of the Singapore Courtesy Campaign. The then-Ministry of Culture also considered using a human character or the Merlion, but in the end landed on a friendly lion cub with four limbs. I think one of the considerations was that kindness is fundamental to what makes us Singaporean, and hence the choice of the lion, and the name Singa.

4. Over the years, just as any growing nation or child, Singa has been through his fair share of ups and downs, which also reflected the state of kindness in Singapore. Since 1982, inconsiderate acts such as public littering and spitting have come down. But others persisted, or even got worse. In 2013, Singa publicly resigned as the mascot of the Singapore Kindness Movement, citing difficulty in facing an increasingly angry public. It turned out that Singa did this to just urge Singaporeans to lead by example in their daily lives, to create a more gracious society.

5. I hope Singa will continue working for Singapore. He is barely 40 years old, and a long way from retirement. Regardless of his employment status, Singa and our common desire for a kinder society must continue to stay with us, for many more years to come.

Kindness Is All Around Us

6. What is the status of kindness in Singapore? My assessment is that it is neither going through a Renaissance, nor is it in the Dark Ages. We find many evidences of this in our daily lives, and in the media.

7. Last month, I read in the papers that Mr Chalmers Chin used his car to physically block a taxi that was driving erratically on the PIE, because the taxi driver had fallen unconscious at the wheel. Mr Chin's instinct was to stop the car from spiraling further out of control, and keep other road users and the passengers of the taxi from danger. Mr Chin is not professionally-trained to deal with emergencies. He is an education consultant, and a father of a five-month old child. But in that moment, he acted instinctively, and chose to put others before himself. It is a great act of kindness and selflessness.

8. There was also the incident of two missing primary school girls. The father of one of the girls turned to social media to appeal for help, and was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from total strangers. Eventually, with the help of the public, he found the girls, who had decided to leave home to go on an adventure.

9. I am sure all of us encounter and witness many kind acts – big and small – in the community. Students helping old folks carry their groceries up the stairs; people giving up seats on public transport to pregnant women and the elderly; volunteers helping to distribute food to the lower-income or giving free tuition to children from disadvantaged homes; bus drivers who wait for rushing commuters. In the universities, philanthropists and graduates who have done well regularly donate to their alma mater to help lower-income students with their school fees.

10. Unfortunately, we are also constantly reminded of unkind and ungracious acts. High-rise littering continues to be a problem because of a minority of inconsiderate residents. Some patrons of hawker centres leave the table in a mess and argue that this is to provide employment opportunities for cleaners. In the earlier example of the missing primary school students, someone even circulated a rumor that the students were running away from PSLE, when they were actually P5 students and not taking the PSLE. We have seen how the well-off behave badly towards service staff and workers.

11. But on the whole, I believe that kind people far outnumber unkind ones, but the latter, although in the minority, is so much easier to notice and for their stories to go viral. One thing is for sure - graciousness and unkind acts cannot be artificially differentiated between the old and young, the affluent and lower-income, or first world and third world. They co-exist across all segments of our society.

12. It is the job of the Kindness Movement to call out the good acts, and encourage more Singaporeans to emulate them. Sustain the cycle of positive reinforcement. Let people know that being kind and gracious makes other people happier, and is in fact a key to our own happiness.

Character and Citizenship Education

13. Age does matter in one aspect of promoting kindness, which is that if we can educate children when they are young on the importance of kindness, those values stand a good chance of staying with them throughout life. Hence, MOE has been doing its part to teach these values in school, by always placing character development of our students at the heart of our education system. Our educators spend a lot of effort to continuously refine and improve Character and Citizenship Education – or CCE – to make it more engaging, more relatable, and more effective.

14. The CCE curriculum is grounded on important core values that serve as the inner compass that guides students' behavior. These include respect, responsibility, resilience, integrity, care, and harmony – which are the foundation for a kind society. It is also designed to give students opportunities to put these values into action, because values are best acquired when applied in everyday life.

15. MOE is conducting a comprehensive review of the CCE curriculum, with a view to place even greater emphasis on moral education, at the lower primary level. We want children, even from a young age, to develop a sense of their identity – that is, who they are, and what values they stand for. These values will in turn guide the relationships that they have with their families, peers, teachers, and the community that they live in. With solid grounding, they will be more ready to make life choices, such as their educational pathways, careers, the kind of person they want to be, and things they wish to achieve in life.

16. Although our school teachers will do their best to provide students with a safe learning environment and set good examples for them to emulate, as many educators say, values are caught and not taught. Family comes before school, and all of us, especially parents, have a big role to play in imparting the right values to our children.

Conclusion - Friend of Singa Projects

17. The Friend of Singa Project is a good initiative, to give recognition to students who have exhibited kindness to others, and to inspire others to follow their lead. This year, a total of 137 schools and more than 1,000 students will be receiving the Friend of Singa award. The projects span a wide range of issues, showing us that kindness can – and should – be exhibited towards everyone and in all areas of our lives. Awards such as these are important in catching people doing right and doing good.

18. For example, in St. Anthony's Canossian Secondary School, students designed a project to better understand the roles and challenges of the support staff of the school, and to appreciate them for their efforts. In the process, the students learned to be more responsible, such as taking ownership of shared spaces and cleaning up after themselves, to ease the workload of the support staff.

19. To all the student participants and teachers – thank you and well done on your projects! I am certain that your commitment to building a more gracious community will not end here, and I look forward to the many more inspiring examples that you will set for those around you. Together, we can make Singapore better. By the time you grow up, maybe Singa can truly retire because it lives in all of us.

20. Thank you.

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