“Nation before community and society above self.” This is one of Singapore’s shared national values, which schools have been trying to inculcate in our students. We unpack the concept of values education and what this means for schools.
A new Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) framework was introduced at the 2011 MOE Work Plan Seminar by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.
“We must put values and character development at the core of our education system,” he declared. He went on to identify three types of values – personal values, moral values, and values of citizenship – which underpin character development.
Character Education in Context
What has character got to do with values?
Character consists of an interlocked set of values that guides our conduct. Thus, character education is esentially the same as values education, says Dr Jasmine Sim, who has studied its implementation in Singapore.
– Jasmine Sim, Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Academic Group
In the past, Singapore’s efforts at character education tended to focus on the nation. It has played an important role in Singapore’s nation-building since 1959, stated in various forms such as Social Studies, Civics and Moral Education, and National Education.
In contrast, character education today focuses on the individual. “The focus is on foregrounding the person – character – and that character is influenced by a set of values,” explains Jasmine.
In the words of our Education Minister, “Character development makes these values come alive.”
The institution of the CCE framework represents a new phase in our educational development – one of a student-centric, values-driven education.The focus has shifted from the nation to the individual – the student.
Character Education and Citizenship
Jasmine contends that character education without considering citizenship is inadequate. While values and character are by their very nature personal, citizenship is a very public concept.
She describes a person who is not concerned about the community as “someone who is always a child and has not attained puberty”. This person is self-centred and does not want to play a part in the public sphere.
Citizenship is the bridge between the individual and the community, between the private character and the public life. “To emphasize character and values only is so private,” she says.”You cannot be a citizen unto yourself.”
Thus, the goal of CCE is not to develop values for its own sake. “It’s to guide your actions as a person for the common good of the community, so that you use your values for the service of the community.”
Developing Good Values
Jasmine believes that CCE is of immense importance, especially in our increasingly global context. We are confronted with so many choices every day, and the choices we make as individuals have repercussions on the community we live in.
“We act according to our values,” says Jasmine, “therefore it is important that we develop ‘good values’.”
– Jasmine on the goal of character education
“While we need to help shape our students’ values, we also need to recognize that values cannot merely be imposed. “There needs to be a lot more dialogue,” says Jasmine, especially since CCE is a contested issue. What values do we teach? Whose values?
“What we are trying to do is highly problematic – we are trying to shape another person in the way he should think and see and believe. That is a huge responsibility and we shouldn’t just do it unquestioningly,” cautions Jasmine.
CCE involves giving students a choice. How a person chooses to act is based on the values he holds. “So whether you want to be a good or bad person, it’s a choice. CCE is about helping students want to be.”
“It’s also allowing them to make those choices,” she adds, “helping them to make choices that are defensible, informed, and don’t just serve their own interests but also to think about the larger community.”
Teaching Character in Schools
One way to help our students make good choices – and choose good values – is to expose them to rich learning experiences and help them to reflect on the choices they make.
“It’s about learning experiences. We must plan for those experiences; plan for the activities to enact those experiences for our students. It’s through their experiences that they will understand and perhaps imbibe those values.”
Jasmine believes that it is important to involve our learners in co-constructing meanings in the CCE curriculum. Classroom instruction and climate can be enhanced so as to improve students’ confidence to participate more actively.
“In doing so, we are also teaching them citizenship – that their views count and they are valued as part of the community.”
“When we think about CCE, it’s more than just transmitting a body of knowledge. You have to apply it, and application comes with deep understanding,” Jasmine stresses. “It has to be a lived experience – how you live in the school, how you live as a person, how you live out your values in the public domain.”