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Mediacorp and SPH Media's Interview with Minister for Education Mr Chan Chun Sing on 25 February 2024

Published Date: 25 February 2024 08:00 PM

News Speeches

Question 1: Minister, thank you so much for spending Sunday with us. So, there have been reactions from the ground with regards to the Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) lesson. Broadly, people have been asking as to what would be the desired outcomes that the MOE has set for itself when planning for such lessons, which involve topics as difficult as this Israel-Hamas conflict, and this is tailored more towards the students in schools you know, at different levels, (when) even us as adults find it so difficult to understand the complexity of the situation.

Minister Chan Chun Sing:

  1. So maybe I'll share a bit of the background of why we do this and how we do it. And then what are some of the challenges that we face and how we intend to overcome some of these challenges. In recent days, some parents have expressed concerns with the discussion of the Israel-Hamas conflict during CCE lessons. Some have asked why it is done. Some also asked how it is done. Others have asked if it has been done fairly.
  2. This is indeed a complex conflict with a long history, involving race, religion, politics, and geopolitics. It goes back years, decades, if not centuries. Every time the conflict is reignited, many lives are lost, and there is great suffering among the people, on all sides. This time, the magnitude of the lives lost, and the mounting casualty count has impacted all of us even more and harder. With new media, all of us are confronted daily with images of the suffering, especially of the people in Gaza at this point in time.
  3. Many Singaporeans are affected and feel deeply for the victims of the conflict. It pains us, including our young, who feel for humanity. All of us, we hope and pray for peace. Not just a temporary ceasefire, or the end of the conflict only, but a long-term solution: A two-state solution where Palestinians and Israelis can live in peace. This is not easy, to say the least. Many have tried and failed, but what other choice is there?
  4. This is why Singapore has joined many countries in the UN to support calls for a ceasefire and humanitarian support to the victims, and support calls for a long-term two-state solution, no matter how hard it is to achieve it. This has now become even harder than before, as more views have hardened. But there are also renewed efforts by the international community, and Singapore will do whatever we can to help bring this about. So, this is the background of why we are teaching this.
  5. Our people are impacted, not just the Malay-Muslim and Jewish communities as well. Many, including our young, ask: Why is this happening? What can we do?
  6. We have also seen some people being affected emotionally. Thankfully, Singaporeans have largely shown restraint and mutual respect on this matter. Our community and religious leaders have taken the lead to guide our community and collective responses. A good example is our Mufti and Chief Rabbi, and we are thankful for leaders like them.
  7. Though this conflict may be geographically further away, we work very hard to not let this divide us, nor allow it to fragment our social fabric and hard-earned harmony.
  8. We have seen examples of people, including younger ones, getting into heated conversations. We have seen a lot of unverified information, images, and misinformation being circulated on social media, stirring strong emotions. We also have people telling us what we should or should not teach our children on this issue. So, we have to be very careful not to let the seeds of hatred and distrust be planted in our younger generations.
  9. We must understand Singapore's vulnerabilities and interests, and work hard to preserve our cohesion, mutual tolerance and acceptance, and find ways to preserve our multi-racial and multi-religious harmony.
  10. As Singaporeans, we deeply appreciate our diverse backgrounds and how we came to be, but we must not let ourselves be divided because of our differences. Upon our diversity, we can build a common future with shared values. And this must be our goal, and education must contribute towards this. This is why we want to create a safe environment for our students to understand issues happening in the world around them.
  11. For the sake of our social fabric and our children's development, our Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) lessons aim to achieve four things for our students.
  12. First, to understand their own emotions and empathise with others. Second, to reflect how we can safeguard our cohesion and harmony in a multiracial society. Third, to learn to verify information sources before sharing them responsibly. And fourth, to appreciate the diversity of views and conduct conversations sensitively and respectfully.
  13. Now having said that, I'm sure you'll agree with me that this is certainly not easily done or achieved. But should we then not even try, for our students? Do we let them grapple with external influences on their own? Should we risk letting them be misguided by biased sources on social media?
  14. This is why at MOE, we discussed at length since the outbreak of latest round of the conflict last October. How to guide our students, and what materials to curate for different students to help them understand in age-appropriate ways.
  15. We curated the materials with the help of other agencies like MFA. Our first tranche of materials was updated till December 2023, and we will continue to update these materials as events unfold. This is the nature of the CCE education. We also discussed it with the professional educators – principals, CCE teachers – on how to do this for students at different levels. Both myself and Dr Maliki have had sessions with educators to carefully discuss how to do this. School leaders in turn helped to prepare and select teachers to teach the material and facilitate the discussions.
  16. All of us – teachers and principals – acknowledge the challenges and risks involved. I must credit our educators for the conviction and courage to do this well, despite the challenges, for the sake of our children and our people. To help our children understand complex issues happening around the world today, including other issues like the Russian-Ukraine War.
  17. We also recognise that it is hard to do this consistently across the entire school system. Hence, MOE works closely with schools to develop their capabilities, according to their needs. For CCE lessons, MOE provides differentiated materials for different levels, according to their needs.
  18. Teachers are given additional resources for background information where necessary. Now just to put this into context and to give an example, for younger students, having understood that a conflict has happened, the focus is on how we deal with our emotions and how we can empathise with the feelings of others, including those who do not share their same views.
  19. Now, to be clear, the CCE class is not intended to be a history lesson. Neither is it an exercise to apportion blame to one party or another. As for another example, for older students, we encourage them to verify the information they receive, read from diverse sources, appreciate the diversity of views respectfully before coming to their own conclusions.
  20. Some may have only seen part of the material and come to the wrong conclusion – that the CCE lesson is meant to cast one side as good and another side as evil. But that's precisely what we are trying to avoid. The purpose of education is not to spread anger and hatred. It is to inculcate knowledge, understanding and empathy for all human beings, regardless of race or creed.
  21. And for all students, we hope the conversations will help them to focus their energies on constructive and respectful dialogues, and most importantly, to give them a sense of agency to take positive actions like contributing to humanitarian aid.
  22. At this point, I would really like to thank our principals and teachers for carrying out their duties professionally. They too have personal feelings and convictions about issues. But they do not impose their personal views on our students. As professionals, they are committed to guide our children to the best of their abilities to understand the importance of upholding our social harmony, verifying information as a life-skill, and appreciating diverse perspectives respectfully.
  23. I understand the concerns that parents have on this matter. Like all of you, we are also parents and together with MOE, we want to do the best for our students.
  24. We will continue to update the CCE lesson materials, based on new developments and information. We will also evolve our teaching methods, taking in feedback from stakeholders.
  25. So, I would encourage everyone to join us in giving our principals and teachers your trust and support. Work with our teachers as partners in education, and give our teachers the assurance that we have confidence in their professionalism.

Question 2: Just to follow up, you mentioned that the syllabus would be updated with new materials. Can we check how long this process will take, and in the meantime what will happen to the current syllabus?

Minister: So, we update the curriculum in tranches because as we speak, new developments are happening. So, this is the curriculum itself, this is how we update it regularly, so you can expect tranches every two to three months, depending on the new developments. But besides the curriculum itself, as we gather more experiences conducting these classes for different groups of students, our educators will also evolve the methods which they can use to engage their classes, because different students have different backgrounds and different needs. These are the things that will continue to evolve.

Question 3: What steps are MOE taking to better equip teachers for such subjects? Since they are at the forefront of this.


  1. This is a very important and interesting conversation point I have with my teachers and principals before we embarked on this journey. I asked them "Are you confident in doing this given the challenges?" And they have been very upfront with me that indeed they understand the challenges, but they also understand the importance of why we are doing this and why we need to do this for our younger children for the reasons I have mentioned.
  2. So, one of the very important things is that we need to equip our teachers well. We need to give them the materials to support them. We also need to give them the experiences to conduct the lessons well. That is why even before they conduct the lessons, conversations and discussions in the classrooms, we discuss it internally amongst ourselves. That in itself, if you like, is a session for us to understand what the challenges are in communicating this amongst ourselves. That is why Dr Maliki and myself have had discussions with them. That is the first level.
  3. Now, after that, we cascade it to the school where the school leaders together with their staff will also have their discussions on how they can conduct this in the context of their schools. This is also where the MOE Character and Citizenship Education Branch will also support them where necessary to configure the teams to do this. Because we can't do this alone, we need teams of people to do this before finally we do it progressively with the students. So, there is a manner in which the info is cascaded, the information shared, and the experiences gained and built upon as we continue to roll out the curriculum. This is usually how CCE lessons are conducted because CCE lesson is a live subject. It is not like perhaps Mathematics or Science which are more static in the nature of the material.

Question 4: It is made more challenging in this particular topic because this is evolving and it is evolving so fast. You mentioned you are updating your curriculum materials in tranches in two to three months, so you are always playing catch-up with the development. And secondly, the parents and the society at large, particularly parents who have young kids in school, they are emotionally invested in this topic, and that makes it doubly hard to successfully carry this out.


  1. Our CCE curriculum and teaching do not depend on it being a running commentary because we are not teaching history or current affairs. But we want to extract from the situation what is the news that our students should be aware of.
  2. To give an example, for the primary school students, they know that the conflict has started. They may not be aware of the latest happening yesterday, but they need to wrestle with the emotions. And that set of emotions may not be contingent on what happened yesterday. Likewise with the older students, we encourage them as a habit, to verify their facts, read from multiple sources to get a broader appreciation of the issues. These are again not contingent on the day-to-day happenings.
  3. One of the things we really want our students to appreciate is the diversity of perspectives out there. Because within our multi-racial society, we have the Malay-Muslim community, the Jewish community, Christians, Buddhists. We have old and young people. People from different backgrounds. And one of the important lessons, is how do we appreciate the diversity of perspectives and conduct conversations respectfully with one another. This goes beyond the daily occurrences, whether is it the Russia-Ukraine conflict, or the Israel-Hamas conflict. For every issue, there is a diversity of perspective, especially when our people are so connected to the world with the Internet. These are higher order lessons, the higher order abilities that we want our students to master - learning how to appreciate diversity respectfully, learning how to verify information, learning how to deal with our own emotions, learning how to preserve our social cohesion, amid the challenges.
  4. So, we may have the question, why are the slides not covering this aspect? Because it may not be necessary to cover all that because this is not a history lesson. It is to extract from the various things that happened and ask ourselves "What can we do?" We must be very clear what we want to achieve.

Question 5: I just want to clarify this point on the update of the materials. Besides going through fresh and new developments, will this new update also include going beyond the fixed timeframe of 7 October to 22 December to give the context to this conflict?

Minister: In fact, that part has already been done. You may have seen one slide that states the events that have happened since 7 October. There are also slides that recount the complex and violent history behind this conflict for the teachers' reference. There are also materials that go even further back to encourage the older students to read and understand this conflict in detail. So, that is already what is provided. Some people may have mischaracterised it and say that we only present from 7 October and beyond. Our position is very clear. This is a conflict with a long history, many things have happened. It is the more recent things that we have to update, for the reasons you have mentioned.

Question 6: How would you address the concerns of teachers who feel conflicted that this is against their personal beliefs?


  1. Indeed, this is also a conversation topic that has come up in our own internal sessions. We understand that different teachers may have their individual concerns and this is not just about the Malay Muslim community. It can also apply to the Jewish community, the Christian communities, or any other people of different faiths, or from different backgrounds.
  2. Our school leaders will therefore systematically facilitate the process by forming teams who are able to deliver the lessons. We make it a point to make sure that we help the schools to form the teams to deliver it as a team rather than as individuals.

Question 7: Would MOE consider an opt-out option for parents who do not feel comfortable letting their children participate in this CCE lesson?

Minister: I think we have to go back to what's the purpose of the CCE lessons. As I mentioned, the CCE lessons are not meant to be a history lesson, nor is it meant to ascribe who is right or wrong at which period of history. As mentioned, we are trying to promote mutual understanding and social harmony. I think we want all our students to be able to appreciate this. If we approach it from this perspective, then we can understand the importance of inculcating such values to our students. It is not issue-specific; it is not conflict-specific. It is a set of values of how we work together with people from diverse backgrounds to promote our social harmony and cohesion, how we work together to verify facts, how we work together such that at the end of the day, even if we hold different perspectives, we can have a respectful conversation. So, I really want to emphasise that it is not just about this particular issue. These skill sets that we hope to inculcate through our CCE lesson will not change. The issue may change, but the basic values and perspective that we hope our students in a multi-racial, multi-religious society, I think that remains the goal.

Question 8: From the onset, MOE, your senior staff, do realise the challenge that you face in picking this topic for CCE. Looking at the adverse reactions from the public generally, it will be something that, would you say you expected some reactions from the ground, and what would you say be some of the learning points that you have seen from the inception and till the delivery of the CCE lessons?


  1. Whether is it this issue or even the Russian-Ukraine conflict, whenever it comes to CCE, we fully expect that there will be issues that will elicit different reactions from different people. It can be a manner of degree, it can be in different ways. So I think we are mentally prepared for this. During our own internal discussions with our principals and teachers – they too have their own personal beliefs and convictions – but I think what we have come together and agreed upon is that we also share a common objective to build a shared ethos of how we respond as Singaporeans to not just this conflict, but to possibly other issues with a sense of solidarity, of how we can come together and focus on what is common amongst us rather than to let our differences divide us. To build upon that diversity, and then grow something beautiful, something common for all of us.
  2. Then, maybe implicit in your question is also: What about timing? We also discussed this in detail. Should we put this off, and hold off discussing this until much later? But if we do that, we will also encounter other challenges because there is never a time whereby history stops evolving, and is a convenient time for us to do this. But on the other hand, people in Singapore, including our children, are being bombarded with all this information and all these challenges as we speak. So the longer we delay this, there are also implications.
  3. So that's why we have to be frank – we understand the challenges, we will do our best to mitigate the challenges as a team. We are under no illusion that the challenges can be easily overcome. We understand the mission – we will keep evolving our materials and our teaching, in order to engage different groups of students. This is something that is really not easy to do. I must give credit to my educators for being firm in their conviction to understand the larger need of why we need to do this, notwithstanding the challenges and their own personal convictions on some issues, and to stand together as a professional body to help guide our children in this very difficult environment.

Malay Soundbite

Ada pihak, terutama ibu bapa yang rasa kurang senang dengan cara kelas CCE membincangkan isu rumit ini. Ia kerana isu ini mempunyai sejarah yang panjang melibatkan kaum, agama, politik dan juga geopolitik. Saya faham perasaan mereka dan hargai maklum balas yang diterima. Setiap kali konflik ini berlaku, saya pasti kita semua di Singapura juga terjejas apabila melihat penderitaan, nyawa yang terkorban dan kemusnahan yang berlaku.

Kelas CCE bertujuan untuk sediakan ruang yang selamat untuk para murid fahami isu rumit ini.

Kita ada empat tujuan untuk CCE. Pertama, bantu murid fahami emosi mereka dan bersikap empathy terhadap orang lain. Kedua, pelihara perpaduan dan keharmonian Singapura. Ketiga, semak sumber infomasi dan berkongsi secara bertanggungjawab. Keempat, fahami dan hormati pelbagai perspektif berbeza.

MOE akan teliti cara untuk tingkatkan cara pengajaran untuk para murid. Saya amat hargai guru dan semua ketua sekolah yang mainkan peranan penting dalam membimbing pelajar kita.

Tujuan utama pendidikan adalah untuk memupuk ilmu, pemahaman dan empati terhadap semua, tanpa mengira kaum dan agama. Pendidikan tidak seharusnya sebarkan kemarahan dan kebencian. Kita harus berjaga-jaga agar generasi muda kita tidak rasa benci dan saling tidak percaya antara satu sama lain akibat konflik ini.