Trisha Reloaded

Dedicated to Trisha, as always. Dedicated also to L, my source of inspiration, and the reason why I choose to see the bright side of teaching.

Monday, April 30, 2007

National Ed vs Moral Ed

A friend I had dinner with last night asked about the 2 months inactivity in my blog.

Frankly, I was surprised, and dismayed too, to realise I had let things slip for so long. The usual workload is the chief culprit, but the other reason, I suspect, is a sense of tiredness and a creeping despondency over the state of things around me. I don't know what to blog, and if blogging about anything makes a difference at all.

My teaching is fine, I'm still happy doing it. But the environment in which I have to work in, is beginning to feed my cynicism over whether there's anything motivating, inspirational or optimistic I can still impart to my students.

I'm not talking about my school environment. I'm talking about the larger society, where the ministerial salary hikes, the political strutting of people puffed up with a sense of their own self-importance, the denigration of other countries and their leaders as 'ordinary' and hence not as unique as our own, have invaded my thoughts in the last month. All these self-justification and materialistic reductionism, run counter to the many values I espouse and want to impart to my students.

"I don't know how to infuse National Education (NE) in my lessons anymore," I told a friend recently. "I can't explain, with much conviction, many things our leaders are doing. I don't know what to say when students ask me why our government is the highest paid in the world, or why we need to have 2 casinos."

"Forget about NE!" he replied. "Don't you think it's more urgent that we infuse Moral Education now?"

It really got me thinking. I think my friend is right. We're living in a nation that's moving alarmingly towards the worship of mammon and elitism. I think if our young ones grow up thinking it is alright to sacrifice basic virtues for economic reasons, then we've lost our soul.

Perhaps it is out of necessity now that we infuse Moral Education in our lessons, rather than relegate it to a 30 minute lesson every week, and often sacrificed to do revision for other subjects near exam time. Instead of requiring that teachers hammer hard all the NE messages into our students' heads, it is more crucial that they hear more about values from us, values that are getting harder to see practised in real life by the adults around them. After all, if the fundamental values of integrity, honesty, compassion and humility are passed on successfully to our kids, there won't be a need to do NE anymore. They'll know why we need to love and serve the country.


At 8:52 PM, Blogger Ensui said...

I agree. A person needs to have morals before he can love his country. We have reports of kids raping girls, and kids kicking a guy's head like a football. Even in a drowning accident, a girl felt that her dead classmate deserved it.

Are these signs that our society is deteriorating?

At 10:10 PM, Anonymous joy said...

Thank you for the post, Trisha. My family and I were talking about NE just the other day. There was this time when a teacher admitted to my niece's class that she thought NE was a waste of time, but she had no choice but to teach it. There are many teachers who use NE lesson slots to teach their own subjects on the sly too.

Moral Education sounds like a good idea, but would it work? I don't know how one could teach morals convincingly without reference to religion at all. "Do not unto others what you don't want them to do to you" is a decent minimum standard (and it may well be the only secular way of teaching morals), but surely we do not want our kids' morals to be based just on reciprocity?

Morals are a tricky area, but i guess it's still worth a shot.

Glad you're blogging again! Take care. =)

At 11:11 PM, Blogger Ned Stark said...

Heh, NE is often incomplete. They only teach the side of the story where PAP is always the hero and the others are either misguided idealists or dangerous insurgents. Of course today it gets even better. How many members of the younger generation actually know who Toh Chin Chye, Rajaratnam and Goh Keng Swee are? Nowadays the idea is that the success of the country is solely the result of one man, Lee Kuan Yew. Even his compatriots are slowly being forgotten as time goes by.

At 12:05 AM, Blogger yanjie said...

I agree with the need for moral values.....but who is to decide what is moral? I think opening a can of worms is easier to deal with than that.

At 12:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

capitalistic education is about making a living. moral education is about making a life. the world, unfortunately, has favored the former for obvious reasons. hence, you have more CREATIVITY injected into capitalistic education and making it much tougher to imbue the latter.

we need to find people who can envision a better model than the current one.

At 12:24 AM, Anonymous gullaber said...

The garmen will frame you or fix you up before they allow you to open the 'can of worms'. They prefer that you enjoy fishing with the worms they have been supplying you.

At 1:04 AM, Anonymous bodoh class said...

our idea of moral education is more along the line of 'supplying condoms' than 'abstinence'. with abstinence, there is no rubber production and profits if you know what i mean? some may even argue that camping around 'moral education' will equally bring you 'death'!

think about it.

At 2:21 AM, Blogger family man said...

MP Denise Phua, Sylvia Lim (WP) and Thio Li Ann said about the same issues. How do you get people with the moral fibre to stand up for Singapore - either as volunteers in voluntary organisations, or political leaders to make Singapore a better place? Nowadays, I will ask them - how much $? That i feel is the work of MM Lee alone - which I think is really a sad state of affairs in Singapore. Will my sons stay in Singapore and fight? How much will they get paid?

At 4:05 AM, Anonymous Germs said...

Glad that u're back.

I have absolutely no idea what NE is (maybe becoz i was never nationally educated?). It sounds suspiciously like propaganda to me. If it is abt knowing our roots, don't we use to call that History lessons?

I'll second that part abt Moral Education (tho i am unsure whether that can be imparted at all... at least the part abt being human).

I'm in a dilemma: sometimes i am disgusted with the lack of moral/human aspects abt life in SG & on the other hand, i'll proudly announced that i'm from (the well-to-do) SG when i'm asked.

At 6:05 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Dear Trisha,
I've been very concerned with the direction our country is heading towards.
I've got a chance to meet up with a cabinet minister this month, and I'd like to bring some of these concerns to him.
Would like to communicate via e-mail with you to understand more of your concerns, and also to voice them... if you agree.
I can be reached at paulcbc "at"
You can also visit my blog at to get a sense of who I am...

Sincerely Yours
Paul Chan

At 9:09 PM, Blogger Lai CF said...

From The Economist, March 17th 2007

Across the world, approaches to teaching children about their nation’s past are hotly contested – especially t times of wider debate on national identity.

If the past is a foreign country, the version that used to be taught in Irish schools had a simple landscape. For 750 years after the first invasion by an English king, Ireland suffered oppression. Then at Easter 1916, her brave sons rose against the tyrant; their leaders were shot but their cause prevailed, and Ireland (or 26 of her 32 countries) lived ever after.

Awkward episodes, like the conflict between rival Irish nationalist groups in 1922-23, were airbrushed away. “The civil war was just an embarrassment, it was hardly mentioned,” says Jimmy Joyce, who went to school in Dublin in the 1950s.

These days, Irish history lessons are more sophisticated. They deal happily with facts that have no place in a plain tale of heroes and tyrants.
Why the change?

First, because in the 1980s, some people in Ireland became uneasy about the fact that a crude view of their national history was fuelling a conflict in the north of Ireland.

Then came a fall in the influence of the Catholic Church, whose authority had rested on a deft fusion between religion and patriotism.

Also at work was an even broader shift: A state that was rich, confident and cosmopolitan saw less need to drum simple ideas into its youth, especially if those ideas risked encouraging violence.

[size=18][color=blue][i]As countries all over the world argue over [b]“what to tell our children” about their collective past, many will look to Ireland rather enviously. Its seamless transition from a nationalist view of History to an open-minded one is an exception.[/i][/color]


A history curriculum is often a telling sign of how a nation and its elites see themselves: A victims of colonialism or practitioners (either repentant of defiant) of imperial power.

Many states still see history teaching, and the inculcation of foundation myths, as a strategic imperative; others see it as an exercise in teaching children to think for themselves. And the experience of several countries suggests that, whatever educators and politicians might want, there is a limit to how far history lessons can diverge in their tone from society as a whole.

For example, Australia’s curricula are controlled by the states, not from Canberra. Mr. Howard’s bid to promote a patriotic view of history meets strong resistance.

A school in Sydney with more than 40 ethnic groups:
“It’s simply not possible to present one story to them, and nor do we. We canvass all the terms for white settlement; colonialism, invasion and genocide. Are all views valid? Yes. What’s the problem with that? If the prime minister wants a single narrative instead, then speaking as someone who’s taught history for 42 years he’ll have an absolute fight on his hands.”

A Head of history at a school in Sydney grew up as a Chinese child in the White Australia of the 1950s.
“When you have only one side of the story, immigrants, women and aborigines aren’t going to have an investment in it.”

Australia is a country where a relatively gentle (by world standards) effort to reimpose a sort of ideology looks destined to fail.

Russia, in contrast, is a country where the general principle of a toughly enforced ideology, and a national foundation story, still seems natural to many people, including the country’s elite.

Because tends and ideas rake time to trickle down from the elite tot eh classroom, Russian schools are still quite liberal places.
But they are bracing for a change. As one liberal history teacher frets: “In a year’s time we will be obliged to explain the meaning of the new holiday to first-year pupils.” And part of the meaning is that chaos – be it in the Yeltsin era or prior to 1612 – is a greater evil than toughly enforced order.

In South Africa, where white rule collapsed at the same time as communism did, the authorities seem to have done a better job at forging a new national story and avoiding the trap of replacing one rigid ideology with another.

[b]“The main message of the new school curriculum is inclusion and reconciliation. We teach pupils to handle primary sources, like oral history and documents, instead of spoon-feeding them on textbooks.”[/b]

[size=18][color=red]And Singapore must do it to reconciliate with our past, our relations with our neighbours, and to face up to Malay-Chinese relationships throughout the past centuries.[/color][/size]

A hard argument over history is under way in places like south-eastern Europe; this battle pits [b]OLD ELITES[/b] that see teaching history as a strategic issue against [b]NEWER ONES THAT HOPE FOR AN OPENING OF MINDS.[/b]

In modern Turkey, classrooms have always been seen as a battleground for young hearts. Every day, children start the day by chanting:
[b]I am a Turk,
I am honest,
I am industrious”[/b]

[color=blue][i][Sound familiar isn’t it in our OLD ELITES perennial mantra “You must work hard and cannot relax even for an instant, and cannot make even ONE MISTAKE, ELSE SINGAPORE WILL PERISH FOREVER!!!][/i][/color]

And woe betides the tiny tot who stumbles because Turkish is not his main tongue.

Secondary schools get regular visits from army officers who try to instill “national-security awareness”.

[color=blue][i][Again sound familiar isn’t it in our OLD ELITES perennial mantra “TOTAL DEFENCE, CIVIL DEFENCE EXCERCISES, NATIONAL SERVICE, and cannot make even ONE MISTAKE, ELSE SINGAPORE WILL PERISH FOREVER!!!][/i][/color]

In such a climate, it is inevitable that “history is considered a sensitive matter, to be managed by the state,” says Taner Akcam, a Turkish-born historian, whose frank views on the fate of Ottoman Armenians in 1915 have exposed him to harassment by Turkish nationalists, even in America where he now lives.

Where Ireland’s religious nationalism is in retreat (because the Catholic church has lost influence), Greek’s Orthodox leaders are putting up a harder fight to preserve the nationalist spirit.

Meanwhile some Greeks retort that 11 or 12 is too young to go looking for facts.

[b]“At university, the goal of historical research is the discovery of truth.

But in primary schools history teaching has an entirely different aim – to form historical consciousness and social identity!”[/b]

Therefore, the danger lies in Singapore Educational System, fully in control by a single political party that does not allow its citizenry to “think...”..Never mind what you say, we know what is best for you…”..and nurturing its Young from PAP Nurseries, PAP Kindergartens and right to primary schools to National Service.

Believing in that Greek:
[b] “But in primary schools history teaching has an entirely different aim – to form historical consciousness and social identity!”[/b]

And since the age of 5-years old, our toddlers are indoctrinated with SINGAPORE HISTORY, PAP STYLE, which broods no “interferences from Alternative and Diverse Views”, till they “graduated” from National Service in their early-20s.

Can’t Singapore be like Ireland, South Africa and Australia?
Believing in: [b]… THAT HOPE FOR AN OPENING OF MINDS.[/b]
[b]Also at work was an even broader shift: A state that was rich, confident and cosmopolitan saw less need to drum simple ideas into its youth, especially if those ideas risked encouraging violence.

As countries all over the world argue over [b]“what to tell our children” about their collective past, many will look to Ireland rather enviously. Its seamless transition from a nationalist view of History to an open-minded one is an exception.[/b]

We are rich, confident and cosmopolitan, and grow up? Surely time for Nanny to cut its apron strings and let us Singaporeans to run into the wilderness, to play, to graze out knees, to fall down, bloody our noses, to pick ourselves up and to make a life on our own?

Or we are no better than modern Turks, whose daily mantra is:

[color=blue]In modern Singapore, classrooms have always been seen as a battleground for young hearts. Every day, children start the day by chanting:

[size=18][b]I am a Singaporean,
I am honest,
I am industrious,
I live in an extraordinary city-state,
That cannot afford even one mistake,
Else Singapore will perish forever.”[/b][/color][/size]

well..trisha, you are welcomed to psot at where I am. I don't have any blogspot.

Lai CF

At 6:09 PM, Anonymous lkh said...

Yours, food for thought and a dilemma for teacher. Try healthy food pyramid. Moral at the top, country above money?.

At 1:11 AM, Anonymous passerby said...

I share your concern. However, you can't change the world but you can change yourself.

Give what you know and believe is good for your students. You may not be able to 'save' or influence all of them, but if you can do that to just one of them, you have done a great thing.

So cheer up! Perhaps you may want to take a look at how you may contribute towards organization such as the one found at


At 8:00 PM, Anonymous lkh said...

On second thought, top of pyramid is a race between Country and Morals. Money definitely below. Any further delib..? Majority people or emminent grp to decide? Sigh.

At 9:44 AM, Blogger -_-? said...

Wasn't Moral Ed. part of the syllabus in Primary School before? At least that is what I remember. I wonder if they still have it now. If I remember anything about moral education, most of it came from my parents and the general school system, hardly from textbooks or constructed school lessons. Morals are pretty intangible things, not like hard facts or formulae. I think they can be transmitted through observation and experience rather than hearsay.

At 8:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd chanced upon your blog browsing around teaching, and I'm glad to see such eloquent warm words at a time when Sg teachers are being lambasted in the media for being , in general, not very good 'role models'.

I hope all is well in your life juggling family, work and self :)

It was interesting reading little details in the life of a teacher.


Post a Comment

<< Home