Values Education in Singapore - Tensions and Suggestions
By Fearfully Opinionated on 02 Jun 2008 11:00 PM
Haloscan Comments Closed

"Values Education" refers to any explicit attempt to impart values to students in the formal education system. In the Singapore context, this mainly takes the form of the curriculum subject "Civics and Moral Education" (CME) as well as National Education (NE) initiatives. This article attempts to discuss some challenges faced by and tensions within the system, and to provide some suggestions on how to address such issues.

Values Education and MOE

The subject syllabuses for CME can be found here. Information on NE can be found on its official website. Upon examination it is easy to see a significant overlap in both CME and NE; both are designed with the very pragmatist motivations of the nation achieving social cohesion and economic success.

CME in particular, has been criticized as "citizenship training" rather than authentic moral education. Chew (1998) writes that:

"Whether the units are on marriage, responsible parenthood, civil defence, national campaigns or responding to global issues, the thrust of the written curriculum is to impart the knowledge, skills and attitudes considered as pertinent for good citizenship in Singapore."
As such, it is not a stretch to say that the primary objective of CME is to foster social cohesion much more than for students to learn and discover about elements such as morality, truth, justice, mercy.

Unlike CME, NE is not a classroom curriculum subject, but an overarching theme across the education experience for the student. As part of NE, schools celebrated important historical events such as Total Defense Day (the day Singapore fell to the Japanese), Racial Harmony Day (the 1964 racial riots) and National Day. International Friendship Day is also celebrated to commemorate the good relationship Singapore has with its neighbours. NE is also to be infused into the academic curriculum, with nation-building messages built into not just academic subjects like CME, History and Social Studies, but also in subjects such as Mathematics and the Sciences.

Tensions and Challenges

Where is the moral education?
It is possible to describe values education in Singapore as "nation-centric" (benefiting the nation as the ultimate purpose) rather than "student-centric" (benefiting the student as the ultimate purpose). Many has argued that anything other than a student-centric approach cannot be considered as education. However, it appears that such is not the view of policy makers within MOE, and it begets a larger question: is our education system as a whole even student-centric in the first place?

A closer examination will reveal that a very pragmatist philosophy permeates the whole of the education system from the top down. Education serves to drive the "knowledge economy" more than for education's sake, and in the same fashion, moral education (in the guise of CME) serves the greater good of "social cohesion" rather than for moral education's sake. This might not be an issue if it does not compromise on the content and quality of the education experience for the student, but for many (Tan & Chew, 2004), this is certainly the case for values education in Singapore.

CME and NE not taken seriously at the school level
Yet another manifestation of how the pragmatist culture permeates down to the school level is how schools and students are primarily occupied with measurable indicators of success such as school rankings and academic grades. In a highly competitive exam-orientated culture, CME and NE, being non-examinable, often take a backseat to examinable subjects in the minds of both school management and students. It is not a rare occurrence to find the CME classroom period used for revision of other academic subjects.

Teachers are found to care very little about CME. Chew (1998) notes that teachers are "disturbing non-critical" towards the contentious content of CME, and are seen as "implementers, not critics of the mandated programme". It is also suggested that teachers only pay "lip service" in teaching CME rather than taking it seriously. This is significant as teachers are mediators between the lesson and the students. If teachers cannot take the lesson seriously, it is hard to expect students, who will follow the role model of the teachers, to take them seriously as well.

MOE seems to be aware of this problem, and highlights that "NE must be instilled in the teachers and principals first" before they can impart it to students. How MOE can successfully achieve this is a challenge it will have to face, especially now that the teaching workforce is getting younger, more globalized and less inclined to buy into nationalistic messages.

Conflicting Messages
Despite social cohesion being the main rationale behind NE, Tan (2008) notes that "the tension between social inequalities and social cohesion permeates the underlying framework of NE." At the post-secondary level, there are different messages for students who are at the ITEs, Polytechnics or at Junior College. ITE students are to "understand that they would be helping themselves, their families and Singapore by working hard"; Polytechnic students are to learn that "the country's continued survival and prosperity will depend on the quality of their efforts"; and JC students are to be aware that "they can shape their own future" as well appreciate "the demands and complexities of leadership" as future leaders. This division among the various post-secondary education institutions clearly reflects a stratified view of society, and it is hard to reconcile this with the message of social cohesion and that there is "a stake for everyone, opportunities for all" that NE tries to bring across.

In order to prepare students for a more globalized economy, there has been a call to introduce a greater amount of critical thinking into the education system (Tan & Gopinathan, 2000). Initiatives such as Thinking Schools Learning Nation (TSLN) have been launched to reflect this change in ideology of education. Yet, against such a backdrop NE sticks out like a sore thumb. Students are to unquestionably accept given truths in NE, and are not encouraged to discuss controversial elements (Tan & Chew, 2004). There is already a perception among both teachers and students that NE is "nothing but propaganda", and it does not help to make claims like "NE must develop thinking" while at the same time not allow students to practice critical thinking by disagreeing with certain elements of NE.


It is easy, especially for those of us who have gone through the system and been disillusioned with NE, to be critical but the truth remains that there are very good reasons for fostering social cohesion and rootedness to the country. That people are becoming increasingly materialistic and consumerist may be a global phenomenon, but being a small country with limited resources, this problem is extra serious for Singapore. If the young generation does not feel rooted to the nation, there may be severe economic repercussions in the future. The government does not have an easy job, in fighting against the trend of an increasingly individualistic global culture and trying to inculcate "values", something that seems archaic by contrast. I would like to suggest that in the 21st century where access to information has become so different for the student, values education must take a new form. Traditional methods of getting students to unquestioningly accept values from authority simply will not work anymore, however sophisticated the form.

Allow for more Critical Thinking
The push for critical thinking in education and NE need not necessarily oppose each other. Students may be encouraged to think critically about national issues and values. But this can only be fruitful if they are given sufficient space and freedom to do so. Allow students to openly question policies, and let them genuinely consider arguments for and against. Instead of protecting students from anti-establishment views on the Internet, expose them to it and let them critically evaluate them. Is there a price to pay for doing this? Perhaps a percentage of students may adopt anti-establishment views themselves. But the benefit of this is that all students have the opportunity to argue and think critically about national issues. This is not just pedagogically desirable, but by allowing them to voice their views we are subtly increasing the stake students have in their own nation. Students are less likely to be apathetic and disinterested in political issues, a common complaint by the government.

Depoliticize Education
In this age of Information Technology, alternative views are easily accessible and people are more individualistic than ever. As a result, it is hard for both teachers and students to take anything resembling propaganda seriously. The key to improving this situation is not to provide extrinsic motivation by making NE examinable, or including it in school rankings and awards. This shifts the focus away from the subject matter, and only serves to make it more contrived and farcical.

NE has to be more objective and less pro-official. When presenting the history of Singapore, it is not historically or pedagogically appropriate to leave out significant but non-PAP figures such as David Marshall (Tan & Chew, 2004). It also means that it has to present controversies as controversies. Instead of purely lauding Singapore's unique democracy, issues should be presented with arguments for and against controversial aspects of our democracy such as Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) and GRCs.

When it comes to moral education, a holistic account of moral reasoning should be presented to students, and not just a pragmatist approach to it. No doubt discussion about citizenship responsibility falls within the purview of moral education, but citizenship responsibility alone does not equate moral education.

Conclusion: An apparent paradox

Under the desired outcomes of education, secondary school students should have "moral integrity" and "have care and concern for others". From MOE's approach to moral education, it appears that "moral integrity" and "care and concern for others" is not to be appreciated for it's own sake, but for its instrumental usefulness in building social cohesion. Similarly, secondary school students should "know and believe in Singapore", of which it is assumed that it would be apparent to the student that this "belief in Singapore" is of intrinsic value, i.e. it is good to know and believe in Singapore period, no questions asked. But this same "belief in Singapore" is only of extrinsic value to MOE policy makers, as it is yet another instrument for social cohesion. There are some double standards going on here. As long as such double standards continue to exist within the teaching of values education in Singapore, tensions will likely continue to be prevalent because there will always be some lack of coherence between conception and implementation.

To bridge this coherence gap, I have in essence argued for values education to take a more student-centric approach, rather than the current nation-centric focus. This is not a minor tweaking of the present system, but a major philosophical departure from the current approach. Should MOE really adopt such a radical change, it will not come without political costs. But my argument is not that values education should be student-centric because it ought to be so. While pragmatist approaches to values education may have worked in the past, they cannot work now in this new age of Information Technology where students are more individualistic, have easy access to alternative points of view, and need to develop critical thinking skills more than ever. So perhaps here is a paradox: the most pragmatic approach to values education may be to "de-pragmaticizie" it. Perhaps in this day and age, only an authentically presented values education can produce the desired results of a closer link between the hearts of students to the state of the nation.

Chew Oon, Joy (1998). Civics and moral education in Singapore: Lessons for citizenship education? Journal of Moral Education, Vol 27 (4).

Han, Christine. (2000). "National Education and 'Active Citizenship': Implications
for Citizenship and Citizenship Education in Singapore" Asia Pacific Journal of Education. Vol 20 (1) pg. 63-72

Kerr, David (1999). "Citizenship education in the curriculum: an international review". The School Field.

Koh, Aaron (2002). Towards a critical pedagogy: creating 'Thinking Schools' in Singapore. Journal of Curriculum Studies, Vol 34 (3), pp. 255-264

Koh, James & Chua, Dominic. (2008). Sexuality Education and 'Thinking Schools, Learning Nation'. In J. Tan & P. T. Ng (Eds.), Thinking Schools, Learning Nation: Contemporary Issues and Challenges (chapter 12). Singapore: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Ng, Pak Tee. (2008). Going Forward: Sketches on the Drawing Board. In J. Tan & P. T. Ng (Eds.), Thinking Schools, Learning Nation: Contemporary Issues and Challenges (chapter 17. Singapore: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Sim, Jasmine Boon-Yee & Print, Murray (2005). "Citizenship Education and Social Studies in Singapore: A National Agenda". International Journal of Citizenship and Teacher Education. Vol 1 (1) pg.58-73

Tan, Charlene. (2008). Tensions in an Ability-Driven Education. In J. Tan & P. T. Ng (Eds.), Thinking Schools, Learning Nation: Contemporary Issues and Challenges (chapter 2). Singapore: Pearson Prentice Hall

Tan, Jason and Gopinathan, S (2000). Education Reform in Singapore: Towards Greater Creativity and Innovation? NIRA Review.

Tan, Jason. (2008). Whither National Education? In J. Tan & P. T. Ng (Eds.), Thinking Schools, Learning Nation: Contemporary Issues and Challenges (chapter 7). Singapore: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Tan, Tai Wei and Chew Lee Chin (2004). Moral and citizenship education as statecraft in Singapore: a curriculum critique. Journal of Moral Education, Vol 33 (4), pp. 597 - 606

Ministry of Education National Education Website

Ministry of Education Homepage

Comments (40)

Notice: Each writer on Singapore Angle is in control over the comment threads associated with his own posts, to edit or delete individual comments, or to close the thread as he pleases.

I have in essence argued for values education to take a more student-centric approach, rather than the current nation-centric focus (emphasis mine).

Sounds good, but what does this mean in practice?


Don't forget about the social studies curriculum in secondary schools too. Its chapter on "Good Governance" is quite politicised.

I'm intrigued by the tensions you've pointed to between such things as pragmatism and 'for its own sake', words and deeds, society/polity and individual. Is there a comparative perspective to other countries that could offer any lessons for Singapore?

Also reminded of how Religious Knowledge was introduced in 1984 and then junked in 1989. At least they knew when to give up back then. Interesting (if slightly oblique) account in the 'Confucianism Abandoned' chapter in Chua Beng Huat's Communitarian Ideology and Democracy in Singapore.

Overall I am quite sceptical about the value of value education; it aims to nurture a citizen but citizenship itself is being devalued by policies that react to and, in turn, acquiesce/accelerate/entrench globalization. I'm not sure about anyone else but, speaking just for myself, I respond more strongly to incentives and disincentives rather than didactic homilies.

Dear all,

Thanks for the comments. Nobody welcome me back?


More student centric approach = allow for critical thinking + depoliticize values education. In a nutshell.


I haven't seen the social studies curriculum. But I don't think anybody is under the pretense that social studies is a "pure" academic discipline. I believe it was conceived mainly for nation building purposes (and nobody is denying this). Any other countries have "social studies" in their curriculum?


Good points. A comparative study on moral education systems across countries can be found at the Kerr paper (link given in references), although that study was a little dated (before the implementation of NE). What I personally thought was something Singapore could learn from western counterparts: was to have more equipping rather than impartation (to prepare for citizenship). This applies both to the equipping of macro skills (critical thinking, moral reasoning) as well skills like financial literacy, a good understanding of our CPF and tax systems and other "life skills" which would be useful for them to function as an individual in society.

I will look up the Chua Beng Huat account. I understand that Religious studies was abandoned mainly because it ended up promoting segregation among racial/religious lines which worked against social cohesion rather than towards it. I don't think it was because policy makers found them distasteful. The fact that moral education is still taught primarily in Mother Tongue in Primary schools today is part of that legacy that those policies left behind.

So do you think the globalized modern classroom has no place for any form of values education at all?


Very interesting summary of the CME and NE in Singapore's educational system. Some additional points to add.

1) Other countries have their version of social studies. In fact, the Americans called it social studies as well, although it's an integration of American history and geography. Really strong national values imparted in their curriculum and to point, have really yet to hear people calling it a 'propaganda' vehicle but feel free to correct me on that part.

2) I think we definitely would need values education, especially in light of the increasingly smaller world we are living in now. To take on a more utilitarian view, I am sure we wouldn't want to see a bunch of materialistic and 'me' generation running our country in 20 years time. But as you rightly pointed out, what kind of values get transmitted across when teachers hijacked the CME lessons for other academic subjects?

3) And the last, but quite interesting topic to take on was, how to make social studies, or NE, more relevant to students? Again, no hard proof here but the reason why they make SS a compulsory and examinable subject was that students can take NE seriously. I am sure we all know how that turn out. The kids know the Sri Lankan conflict in out but they don't learn from it.


I stand corrected. "Social Studies" is also found in Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Germany, Netherlands, Korea, Switzerland and USA. Italy and Sweden has "Social Sciences", while Hungary has "People and Society". [Source: Kerr, 1999]

Also according to the Kerr study, Japan, Korea and Sweden are similar to Singapore for having specific explicit values articulated in the curricula. However, in Sweden such "values education" is not part of the core curriculum there, and there is no separate CME subject, values are "integrated" as part of their History, Geography and Social Studies.

So in that sense, many other countries use Social Studies in a similar fashion to Singapore.

It is perhaps not surprising that Japan and Korea are two countries that have a similar approach to values education as Singapore. I personally think that it has got something to do with "Asian" conceptions of the relationship between individual and society, which is how values education in these 3 countries are so different from western counterparts. One problem faced by Singapore, other than globalization, is that Singapore does not quite have as rich a history or cultural heritage as Japan or Korea.


Hi FO,

Welcome back and finally see a post from you. Actually, a successful implementation of national education is to ensure that the citizens know their rights and the backbone that forms their country. I thought the US system is good, and most Americans knows their constitution and the amendments pretty well. I was told that they were made to debate it, and discuss it. At least for a first thing, Singaporeans should learn to read our own constitution first.


It's not so much that I feel that values education has no place in the classroom but that values education as a separate class/subject is an exercise in futility. For a start, most of its messages would be flatly contradicted by the behaviours and structures encountered by students in the school itself, at home, in the media and in wider society (e.g. individual achievement is more important than social contribution i.e. 'meritocracy').

A more holistic approach like the Swedish example you cite may be more effective. Values education is something that has to be lived, experienced, imbibed rather than just force fed in the classroom. It's a bit like mother tongue language education, if I don't actually need to use it in real life, I'll just prolly everything 'ktksbai return to sender' after I walk out of the classroom and sometimes even before then. Of course, it could be that I am just incorrigible.


Thanks. While I don't disagree with you, I would like to note that the studying of statues and rights is a very "western" approach unlikely to be receptive by Asian educationists. It kind of has the "what my nation/society can do for me" slant, whereas Asians like to teach "what I can do for my nation/society" instead. A more Confucian ethic if you will.


I apologize; it appears that I have misinterpreted what you wrote. Certainly you are not incorrigible. MOE actually understands that "values need to be caught not taught" and have made the CME curriculum rather sophisticated pedagogically. Revisions to NE over the years also reflect this trend, although will claim that it still isn't subtle enough.


More student centric approach = allow for critical thinking + depoliticize values education.

Frankly, this answer doesn't quite help. The problem with education policies is not that the intentions and/or spirit is wrong. The problem is with implementation.

For all that you have said, do you have a concrete proposal on how we can allow for critical thinking? IMHO, there are teachers in the system who cannot think critically. How then to expect them to be able to teach the students to think critically? :-P

For all the "Teach Less Learn More", you have irate parents writing to the Forum Page today(!) to complain that the system seems to encourage tuition. :-)


I am arguing that the values education curriculum, as it is currently constructed, is flawed in the sense that it cannot possibly be implemented in a way that fulfills its objectives. I think changes in curriculum can help rectify that. Maybe I'm wrong.

Actually I'm in the process of writing another article about critical thinking in the education system. In a nutshell, these are my suggestions on how to improve in that area: Allow students to question and debate issues relevant to them, especially social and political controversies. Cut the workload of students. Ease the workload of teachers perhaps by hiring more teachers to do the same job. Find ways to reduce work-related stress of teachers.

Parents are a very interesting factor when it comes to education policy and curriculum design. Does what parents desire necessarily align with what MOE deems desirable? As for the forum letter, I may be wrong but this case strikes me as rather untypical. It is certainly the first time I heard of teachers actually encouraging students to go for private tuition.


Actually I can subscribe to Ringisei's view that 'Values education' is something that has to be lived, experienced, imbibed rather than just force fed in the classroom.

When 'Values education' is simply represented in the form of a compendium(The CME/Social Studies Textbook), the student may find the subject-matter to be rather dead and inert.

Through education, the student should be able to recognise the important role of Morality as an individual initiative and as a social initiative. To propagate certain values to the students through the use of authoritative power or through mediums such as education can allow our nation to achieve social cohesion. However it will be a cohesion which never attempts to embrace the whole population, except in so far as the Authority compelled outward loyalty.


I think changes in curriculum can help rectify that.

Respectfully, the KTM doesn't agree with you. Not that the KTM thinks that the present curriculum is good or that it cannot be improved, but you just take a good look around.

The crux of the issue lies with the teachers. If a teacher is any good, you can throw anything at him/her and it will be fine. If the teacher cannot make it, no amount of curriculum change will fix the problem.

And finally, the teaching of moral values in school is quite problematic. It's probably okay to teach students not to steal and cheat and murder, but if you want to go into the gray areas of homosexuality or religion, then it becomes a political problem. My view: the education system simply needs to teach the people to think for themselves and the problem will take care of itself.

Instead of protecting students from anti-establishment views on the Internet, expose them to it and let them critically evaluate them. Is there a price to pay for doing this?

Do you know the problem with this suggestion? The KTM would venture to guess that a majority of teachers don't know how to critique or evaluate these so-called anti-estab views. If they cannot refute these views then they scared they get hauled up for "promoting disaffection for the Govt". :-) Does it mean that the anti-estab views are correct? Maybe one of these days we should do an experiment. ;-P

Does the KTM has a solution? Nope. Sorry. :-) Talk is cheap.

Parents? They are a real nuisance. All try to be smart and try to tell the teachers what they should be doing, but truthfully, when the KTM reads the Forum letters, it's quite clear to him that these parents are completely clueless, not to mention over-protective. Would be good if they shut up and leave the professionals (teachers) to do their jobs. Not every teacher will do it perfectly, but the KTM is quite certain that many of them do try their best.

ringisei [TypeKey Profile Page]:


No need to apologize; my first comment wasn't a model of clarity.

Also, I second KTM's suggestion that it will be really interesting and useful to see a concrete proposal or two about how critical thinking can be taught/conducted in the classroom - looking forward to your next piece!

FO, first of all, a fascinating article.

I am more or less skeptical of any form of value education, because ultimately it reflects the elite's agenda in transporting a certain set of authentic (authentic in the case means unchanging, immutable, and generally cast in a positive light) values to a group of people that are pretty dynamic/pluralistic innately. I am much more skeptical and think it is quite difficult for "education" to be a transparent and given thing, that something can actually be done for its intrinsic value.

In addition, the idea of morality or virtue is also not a transparent thing. If one is to teach public virtues, where does such virtues reside? Is it a form of hereditary virtue that resides in a certain class like JC students (like Ogra Sorai's 18th century Japanese political philosophy favoring towards the samurai?) Is a exercise of innate virtues of Singaporeans from our birth where we just need to splash the proverbial water on the lower stream of the rive to return to our source (like Mencius)? Is it a sum of private virtues that make up public interests (therefore a promulgation of pure Swiss like democracy in the ideas of Montesquieu and other Western Enlightenment thinkers)?

I wonder if your assumption that a "right" set of authentic values would actually create rootedness in Singapore. What needs to be taught is not more value education I argue, but to take a critical approach towards understanding our history, geography and literature. But being critical is really not enough I think because I think it might eventually lead to a black and white analysis. What is also needed (idealistically) is perhaps a sense of critical distance from the subject matter? In other wards, when we take a critical approach towards ethics, power, history, geography and the sciences, can we also examine why the nature of our criticism towards them? Can we also put ourselves in the shoes of different participants in a particular event/idea/system/race/gender/class? Being interested in our interest might be the key to even move education beyond a student-centric approach. Society, be in Singapore or otherwise, is not just about the students lah!


Oh very interesting discussion. We need so road directions. Heard a big space ship was supposed to pick us all up to go for a trip. Heard it too late, as work has had the better of us these past few months.

Can someone pls kindly direct us all to the latest Brotherhood bus terminal. Will really consider this a life saver.

Many thanks

Lazy Susan


KTM /Watne& et all

Agree with the need for critical or lateral thinking skills. However, would like to criticse the assumption used the chattering liberalese class on the values education.

The issue to me as you rightly pointed out belongs to majority establishment is that their sets of values is correct. When criticising or disagreeing liberal values ideas totally in the West, the conservative students are basically penalised for such ideas ranging from light demerits to extreme demerits depending on the teachers/lecturers and how students present it and vice versa here.

The basic assumption of liberals is all progress is good, whilst in a nutshell, the conservatives assumption would look at the pragmatic outcomes and some progress may not be progress but rather decay or retrogression.


Apologies on the mistyping of salutation to WAyne


"The basic assumption of liberals is all progress is good, whilst in a nutshell, the conservatives assumption would look at the pragmatic outcomes and some progress may not be progress but rather decay or retrogression."

This is most regrettable. Someone intelligent like Loy Huichen should have stepped in to tension this debate to keep it true to its course. As it is, you will all go around in ever decreasing circles. Firstly, lets debunk a few myths. Does Liberalism connote all progress is good. No is the short answer. Never did. Never will either. Don't believe me go and read up everything from John Rawls to Stuart Mills. You will not find even one reference to this formulation. What liberals do say however is this; individual rights need to be protected against the majority opinion. So this is really the key that allows you understand the difference between liberalism and conservationism. Its really only about one issue; methodology and not philosophy. If you look very carefully both liberals and conservatives seldom dispute what is 'good,' where they try to kill each other turns on how to deliver the 'good.' So you must always keep this at the back of your head, both camps are really trying to get to the same place. There is no mystery there. Now if you stretch this logic a bit then the whole discussion goes to another area i.e where does the right of the state begin and end? It also encroaches on the rights of the individual i.e how much autonomy should he be accorded? So ultimately, it's not even a political or philosophical question as much as it remains a mechanical question i.e what is the best way to produce a given unit of good under a given set of circumstances? Here if you take the whole idea of "values education," the first thing that the liberal will wallop is this is a form of indoctrination i.e state should not dabble in mind control, but the conservatives will say no, it's merely a means of facilitating an informed and educated opinion on issues i.e values education = instructional + directional = higher good. Now if you think abt it both camps have to be wrong, because any factory manager can tell you, if liberals are really serious about making progress. Then they should not devote their energies to defending individual rights against majority opinion. If you want to know how effective that strategy really is you have no better example than to look at Yawning Bread. The sum total of his head way stands at zero. Conservatives would no doubt give primacy to the whole idea of the communal aim. They will argue no end, the state must have equity in personal development as the nexus between citizenry and state is too compelling a case to deny; so they will busy themselves drawing 38th parallels on all types of social issues from abortion, sexual orientation to whatever. But understand this! This is the key that ties everything in; where both camps fuck up is when none of them really address the issue of how they should go about changing either individual or collective opinion.

So if you really consider this whole issue of 'value education' ; this has nothing to do with the state and even less to do with crafting any system; this just underscores the overwhelming importance of intellect and scholarship; if you cannot think it through, then you are as good as finished; neither camp will avail you to beacon out the murk; both sides will just pull you by the nose and tell you to go forward, reverse till you even have to put up your hand for urination breaks; doesn't even matter whether it's Alex Au or government of the day; both are equally bankrupt when it comes to offering solutions here; both equally so preoccupied with rights and wrongs all adding up to the sum of rain dancing amounting to a big fat zero; And amid the tempest, who pins down what really works under a given set of circumstance to produce good? See the problem. At the end of the day, in the final analysis, it has to come down to the individual. I think in this day and age, it makes more sense to inoculate people from lies by empowering them with knowledge and the power to think independently. Rather than trying to protect, shield and even insulate them from the big bad world - that has to be the ultimate and most efficient way in this globalized age. And all the factory managers said, "Amen."

Darkness 2008

Great Article FO!

Reminds me of my old SS and CME teachers back in Primary and Secondary School. My primary school teacher was a ex-UN peacekeeper and he would call us to copy down whatever was on the board and be over the work and then start to talk about his good 'ol days in the corp and also started critical dialouges on what was discussed in the text. The same was with my secondary school teacher (cept for the peacekeeper part). So I agree that teachers are integral to not only our academic but also moral education (however, in the end, moral education lies with parents IMO).

Which brings me to my second point, how cohesive is our society really? Having to stand-by a barrage of do's and do-not's being constantly rammed down our throats on matters of race, religon and ..etc since we were children. Does that mean that when the message stops, we'll all break out into facist groups? Hard to say since I've unfortunately witnessed children (who are small enough to get free bus rides on SBS) grouping themselves ethnically and cursing(and flicking) other groups of equally devided ethnic children (i should have taken a video of this).

As a young man who has just finished NS, fresh are the memories where warrants bundle us with half-facts and most often or not whole-lies during NE classes where everyone would just laugh when he's out of earshot.

Therefore I really wonder if it is still wise to continuously shove prescribed values down our gullets as any person knows that any semi-intelligent person will soon resent that especially in the tumultous period that is teenhood.

The real danger right now (or I guess is already present) is that the next generation, rather than being fed the way to think, just don't care. Batting their eyelids and continue on to their next fling and materialistic goals.

If you're still reading this, thanks and sorry if my whole message feels disjointed and such. I'm not good at typing rants.


Hahahaha. Why am I here?

bc of this:

"The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open" - Gunter Grass. Are Singaporeans satisfied with the state of Internet regulation as existing? If not, what changes do we wish to see and how can a bottom-up desire for reform translate into policy review? Can Singapore afford the political and social costs of free speech? Is there a contradiction between wanting freedom for political speech and controls over social speech? Is technology really in the driver's seat? Are governments powerless in the face of a global Internet? Organised by the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information - NTU, the event will be held on 21 June 2008, 2-5 pm in URA Centre, Maxwell Road, Function Hall, Level 5. The admission is free and RSVP is required. The speakers for the event will be Mr Arun Mahizhnan, Deputy Director, Institute of Policy Studies and presentations made by members of the Bloggers' Group for Internet Deregulation and chaired by Asst Prof Cherian George, Wee Kim Wee School, NTU.
To register (RSVP), please send an empty email to : You will get an email response asking you to confirm your request."

My advise is boycott it. I will fight you tooth and nail on this and the pleasure will be mine.

Darkness 2008


You "have in essence argued for values education to take a more student-centric approach, rather than the current nation-centric focus".

However, how do you justify using the nation's money for fulfillment of the individual (i.e. 'student-centric' education)? What tangible rewards does it have for the nation? What tangible incentives are there for the current government to change its way of doing things?

Just because 'critical thinking' is always good for the individual doesn't mean that its always good for the current government... especially if 'critical thinking' involves anti-government sentiments, which, of course, is always bad for the nation, isn't it?

After all, don't we want to be 'one people, one nation, one Singapore'? Don't we want values spoon-fed and force-fed to us, to ensure conformity and uniformity, aka One-ness? Supposing that 'critical thinking' encourages diversity of views, by suggesting that we think critically, are you suggesting that we sacrifice our One-ness? Would you then, be suggesting that we tear apart the social fabric that our forefathers had so painstakingly sewn together?

I wish the Singapore education system is different... but I don't think 'arguments' are enough to spur the government into action. We'd probably need a Cost-Benefit Analysis, complete with monetary estimates of the values of 'critical thinking', 'patriotism', 'morality' and 'dissent'... two of which I'd value too much to value. Hur.

hua wei:


I don't have much to say. I am looking for Darkness of the Brotherhood. I am sorry to speak out of point to the main thread, but we are really at our wits end as to how to best touch base with them. Can someone please help us to tell him, we would like to conduct a face to face interview with him.

We know there are some of you out there who are clearly brotherhood yourself e.g inspir3d, Singapore daily and perhaps even a few others. So do help as this is very important for the well being of our country.

We are prepared to pay a finder's fee. We have been trying to establish contact with them, but all their channels seems to be off-line.

Do help us. Many Thanks and do have a very nice day.

Best Regards

Hua Wei


You are spouting nonsense. Why do you think that "critical thinking" is not welcomed by the establishment?

What we have today is a lot of people who think they can think spouting a lot of crap. If the system teaches people to think properly then it is actually better for the establishment.


"We know there are some of you out there who are clearly brotherhood yourself e.g inspir3d, Singapore daily and perhaps even a few others..."

Coming to think of it and this is definitely some mental sudoku. When the Intelligent Sg was around there used to be this red eye moniker in the side ticker bar. If I am not wrong its a symbol of an eye. With WOS, it used to be a round crystal ball against a kind of eye. With Dotseng, its a real human eye of a girl wearing red frames. And what about "Dotty," isn't that another word for a circle. Now you have the Sing Sg that spots a black circle and the guy who runs it is called "G" which happens to be coincidentally someone who is supposed to be super important in the bro-hood. Ian Tim also used to spot a red circle in his website. All the sites that a sympathetic to bro-hood coming to think of it used to be called Leibstand Sites another word for the circle. The circle in ancient times symbolized brotherhood. The Knights of the round table. It symbolized wisdom, the alternate Horus, the all knowing and seeing eye. The well of wisdom.

The Circle Will Never Be Broken. I better stop here or I will probably get kicked out.


"Do you know the problem with this suggestion? The KTM would venture to guess that a majority of teachers don't know how to critique or evaluate these so-called anti-estab views. If they cannot refute these views then they scared they get hauled up for "promoting disaffection for the Govt". :-) Does it mean that the anti-estab views are correct? Maybe one of these days we should do an experiment. ;-P"

I suspect a lot of teachers don't even know these anti-estab views exist. :)



"The crux of the issue lies with the teachers. If a teacher is any good, you can throw anything at him/her and it will be fine. If the teacher cannot make it, no amount of curriculum change will fix the problem."

I would like to share my experience as a beginning teacher. A beginning teacher is given around 25 periods in his first year. Some unlucky ones can get as many as 30 periods. 25 periods would equate to at least 3 classes or even more. (I teach English - about 7 periods a week.) That means being in charge of at least 120 students, assuming 40 students per class. Aside from having to plan lessons, he has to mark 120 assignments daily, unless he didn't assign work. That itself would be a problem, because parents would complain and the teacher may be percieved as slacking which will affect his work review.

Aside from teaching, the teacher has a form class and is in charge of a CCA. He has to call parents of absent/misbehaving students after school. He has to deal with complaints regarding his form class from other teachers. He also has to communicate with coaches or trainers of his CCA or do admin stuff like hire buses etc for CCA events.

On top of that, teachers are also in a committee, such as Discipline Committee, Concert Committee etc. Some, like Discipline, will require time everyday (check on students' behaviour etc) whereas others, like Concert, will only require time during National Day concert, Racial Harmony Day concert etc.

In addition, teachers are expected to conduct professional sharing - a session in which they share pedagogy methods. Different schools do it differently but in my school we have to prepare a 5-20 min presentation, with powerpoint and evidence of teaching methods etc.

A school days typically lasts till 2. On days with CCA, the teacher has to stay back and make sure things are going well, till as late as 6.30. Once a week, there is staff meeting, which can be 2-3 hours. Given the rosiest scenario - only one CCA day and one staff meeting - the teacher has 3 afternoons to do all the work mentioned earlier. Assuming preparation for lessons take 1 hour (extremely unlikely for beginning teachers) and marking takes 3 hours (1 hour for a class), the teacher will be very happy if he can knock off at 6 pm every day. That's 11 hours after he started work in the morning. During exam time, the teacher has to set exam papers - this can easily take up a few hours. When O Levels come up in Term 3, teachers get sent to be invigilators, time-keepers, oral examiners etc.

Oh, I forgot to add - teachers are also expected to go for courses and workshops to upgrade themselves. These are usually conducted in blocks of 3 hours in the afternoons.

Now that I've typed out everything and read it through, it sounds a little like a rant, and maybe it is so, but a lot of people think that a teacher's job is so easy. I sometimes wonder too, whether - is it really just the workload that is too much, or is it because I'm not good enough to handle the workload?? - and of course I prefer to think the former. The latter would (and possibly did) send me into depression and I rather live life believing that I am good enough than not. In a system where there is no standardization and little or no resources and no sympathy from results-oriented parents and principals, I believe all teachers are just doing the best they can. Moreover, no teacher teaches CME exclusively. It's usually given to fill up the quota of periods in our timetable. We are trained to teach English/Maths etc, and I personally have no idea how to go about teaching CME.

So, I think to make teachers 'the crux of the issue' isn't very fair. No matter how good a teacher may be (and what is meant by good anyway) the amount of work is still going to drown him.

Just my two cents' worth.

shang thian huat:

Hi there,

I really like your article - especially about inculcating critical thinking in education.

I am a Singaporean teacher studying (post-grad) in UK. Having experienced both the traditional approach and student-centric approach of education. I have been thinking about how to reconcile this tension in the teaching (by teachers) and learning (by students) of values.

Can I get contact you in person to discuss and exchange some thoughts? My aim is to clarify some thinking and hope to transfer it into practical applications (e.g. either through a paper or my own teaching in schools).

I can be contacted:

Thank you very much,


Your post is a rant and quite irrelevant to the discussion at hand. What have your long working hours got anything to do with the curriculum?

Aside from having to plan lessons, he has to mark 120 assignments daily, unless he didn't assign work. That itself would be a problem, because parents would complain and the teacher may be percieved as slacking which will affect his work review.

What seems to be the problem here is that you are more worried about your work review than doing your job right. Teaching is a calling, not a job.

You need to do what needs to be done to help the students learn. If you dun need to give so much homework, don't; if you need to give more, you give. Simple as that.

In any case hor, MANY people work equally long, if not longer, hours than you. This is Singapore hor. If you are not happy, you will probably have to migrate to Australia or Europe.

Frankly, from what you have written, the KTM thinks you are not cut out for teaching and you may wish to consider a change of career.


Can you please contact me at fearfullyopinionated [at] gmail [dot] com? I would like to have a personal conversation with you. =)

And don't worry about KTM. He's actually a very nice guy. =)



I am a researcher who is working on some search protocal alog and part of my Phd thesis requires me to look at flux pattern behavior among blog users.

I notice this idea of whether education deliverables are either more student-centric or focus, rather than nation-centric or orientated is settled. There is an inexhaustible supply of commentary on this area that does a very good job to provide both prime and secon data.

However, the reflection in the SG net does not correspond to this reality. I wonder why?

I would really like to talk to someone who has deeper knowledge in this area. Is there any way for me to contact Mr Darkness or whoever is representing him. As I find their model of delivery very unusual. I dont ever believe, I have seen it before except only once in HK. They could be the same people.

I was asked to go to this site called singapore daily, but I have been having problems accessing the site. I have tried to reset my computer settings to no avail. I really hope someone here can help me. Many Thanks. Ciao.


Bird of Prey:

Darkness does not give free interviews. That's well known. The going rate is USD$30.00 per minute. if it exceeds more than 4 hours. The first 45 min is free and you even get a free brotherhood mug and a T-shirt.

For the ST, this figure is X 10, no mug, no T-shirt, unless you happen to be Sumiko.

However, I just want to tell you we can settle for bicycle components and accesories as well; they seem to be very flexible; if you are not familiar in this area. I can help you for a fee.

If you want to know more contact me, as usual I expect my 10% finders fee. Give your questions here along with pay pal and we will do the rest. I assure you. Delivery is guaranteed!

I am the bird of prey. You can ask anyone, I am kosher. Remember always; anything else would just be an admirable sentiment.

Bird of Prey


Dear Piper,

Contrary to what you think, alot of teachers do know what anti-establishment views are, and many teachers do teach it. That's what showing the students 'the other side of the coin' is about. But it's very easy for outsiders to talk about teachers upholding the status teachers we need to set the example of being open to views and opinions and that means that even if disagree with the textbook we teach it and try to counteract it by showing students information outside of the text. That is real teaching...many here seem to think that shooting down the social studies textbook and going on about how dictatorial the government is how to go about it, but that makes you no different from the teacher who upholds every single assumption in the text.


Are you a teacher to speak so idealistically about not worrying about your work review? If you are, hats off to you my friend. Very few people can work without some form of incentive or reward, but most of us are not built that way. Whether the reward is in seeing your kids become better people or in getting a nice bonus in the end, there is still always something that you work for. And as for people working longer hours than teachers, that doesn't happen unless you're lawyers or doctors. And they make about 3x the amount teachers do. A normal teacher works an average of 14 hours a day, and you expect all of us to do it for the sake of the calling?

Remember hor, this is Singapore. People all only want money leh, how to survive if you got head in the air ;)


Very few people can work without some form of incentive or reward, but most of us are not built that way.

Frankly, the KTM agrees with you. :-P But you know what, idealism is actually quite important for teachers if they hope to be effective. :-)

And as for people working longer hours than teachers, that doesn't happen unless you're lawyers or doctors. And they make about 3x the amount teachers do. A normal teacher works an average of 14 hours a day, and you expect all of us to do it for the sake of the calling?

The brutal truth is that MANY people who are not doctors or lawyers also work obscene hours in Singapore. Doctors actually have a pretty good deal considering they cannot take their work home with them. :-)

Remember hor, this is Singapore. People all only want money leh, how to survive if you got head in the air.

Actually, this is not entirely true. There are quite a number of young idealistic youth. Problem with them is that they haven't quite been taught to think properly and many seem to think that by being anti-establishment they prove they have both guts and brains.

many here seem to think that shooting down the social studies textbook and going on about how dictatorial the government is how to go about it, but that makes you no different from the teacher who upholds every single assumption in the text.

Agree. Somehow it has been lost on the people that it's not about being pro- or anti-establishment, but in being able to understand and critique matters objectively. Much too much hubris in the young these days in my opinion - but perhaps that's the defining characteristic of the young and it's not a matter of now.

The greatest challenge moving forward is for the education system to do some realignment and for people to figure out how to train people to think as the quality of the teachers drops (Someone recently told the KTM that the quality of the teachers recruited into the system has been steadily dropping given the political pressures to increase the Education Service to 30,000 teachers). My view is that it is myopic to increase the number of teachers .


hey Fearfully Opinionated,

i find your views very relevant and very insightful. while looking through your references,i notice one of your sources is "Moral and citizenship education as statecraft in Singapore: a curriculum critique" from Journal of Moral education.
I have been looking for this article very long as i wish to use it as one of my references for my academic paper, which is also addresses the issue of education here but just could not find it anywhere?
Would you mind sharing where did you get the source from. it would be even better if you have a softcopy of it!
hope you would be able to lend me a helping hand.
thanks alot(:


can you contact me via email? Thanks.



Me: A teacher for nearly 2 years, loves teaching, loathes the long hours and exhaustion from handling kids all day.

I agree that CME / NE lesson plans and activities do mainly focus on delivering the Ministry's official stand on values the students are supposed to 'nurture'. And yes, this lacks the development of critical thinking skills that teachers and students should be engaging in.

My friend (a non-teacher) advises me that my teens are too young to be able to accept grey areas of issues, and that firm values of the 'right' nature should be inculcated.

I disagree and I'm unable to do that, personally. I love preparing for my CME lesson (I only teach my form class), because I get to research on songs and articles that pertain to the human issues that we discuss. And it is always a discussion. Since I also teach my class English, it is easy for me to adopt the same rules on discussion: *We agree to disagree* as per learning about argumentative essays. I believe that my teens naturally KNOW the 'official values' as they are (upbringing, parents' beliefs, etc), so we go onto exploring our own different opinions and why that is so. There is no resolution/conclusion - how can there be about values and beliefs?

My idealistic wish is simply for students to know that such varied and alternative views exist - even amongst their class - and that we are exploring it out in the open and ok with doing so. Example: If you're disgusted about homosexuality, go ahead! How can we not be, in the traditional society we're brought up in? But please let us discuss the issue from all points of view, and still always respect people who think differently, and treat all with such respect.

Sadly, my CME lessons are not usually met with much enthusiasm or much of a roaring success. The ingrained perception of CME is perhaps too negative for students to think so otherwise. But at least I hope to broaden their perceptions just a little bit, each time.

That's it!

Hi Fearfully Opinionated,

I am a Vietnamese student going to college in the US now. But I've been through 10 years of education in Vietnam. I'm not saying the the educational systems are identical in Vietnam and Singapore, but through friends who study in Singapore, I know that there are some similarities.

I can see why you are saying the education is state-centric instead of student-centric. On the other hand, students are becoming more and more individual-centric, expecting the education system to serve their interests, not the state's. This is where tensions stem from, because both sides want to act on their own interests.

How would you think we would allow more critical thinking and depoliticize the education when the government is still trying to control the system, and doesn't really encourage free speech? I'm not saying that students cannot develop critical thinking in this environment, because I'm a firm believer that with the Internet and other media, students are in fact becoming more and more critical, especially critical to the educational system itself. I'm just curious how do you picture the exercise of critical thinking in schools?


i am new to this site and i find it really amazing!
i'd like to say we should shoot for comprehensive sexUALITY education. Sex, reproductive organs, the sex act are part of a larger picture of the fact that we are sexual beings. How many of us live and walk around with neuroses over our sexuality? I think we can put it in the curriculum and also have fun ways to discuss the subject with our kids...we can talk about it biologically, through the framework of major religions, anecdotally with stories, and use multimedia.
the thing is we must help our kids find that they can land on several possible platforms and not just have some info thrown at them (which hallo they already know) which can be easily rationalised/forgotten to suit the moment.

okee this my take. thank you.


What's so special about singapore's educations?

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2201 words | Categories: Education

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