If there was a contradiction of terms, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat must have missed it. At the unveiling of a "character development" toolkit, Heng said that character-building is a long-term process. MOE introduced an ethics syllabus in 1959, civics and moral education in 1992 and 1994, and national education in 2007 (recommendations on NE made by Committee of Supply per Mr Lui Tuck Yew, Minister of State (Education)), just 4 years ago. Note the intervals are getting shorter and shorter. Maybe the latest guidelines for Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) will have an even shorter shelf-life.
One principal at a SAP school in the West made a lasting impression on parents and guardians some time back during an occasion of the announcement of the PSLE results. She asked the pupils assembled in the school hall to stand up, to turn around, and face the moms and dads seated at the back. Take a bow, she told the kids, for without their patient love and nurturing, that day in school would not have been possible.
On the wall of that hall, the school had painted in large characters the values it aimed to impart to the young minds:
礼 (li) - courtesy
义 (yi) - righteousness
廉 (lian) - integrity
耻 (chi) - sense of shame
忠 (zhong) - loyalty
孝 (xiao) - filial piety
仁 (ren) - humanity
爱 (ai) - love
A committee member of the St Joseph's Institution Old Boys' Association commenting on the new MOE initiative said that teachers must be prepared to venture out of their comfort zone. Really? Is it hazardous duty to teach, amongst others, righteousness, integrity or a sense of shame?
Shame - 耻 (chi) - is not just about exposing the navel line, as in the Abercrombie & Fitch ad. It's about the shame of setting a bad example, of lying to the people you pledged to serve, of hiding behind manipulated data, while enriching oneself by ripping off taxpayers. It's moral hazard pure and simple, and teachers should not be afraid to call a spade a spade.