Managing Diversities
Change the Way We Conduct Citizenship Education

I am part of a team of students and teachers currently working with Riverside Secondary School on their Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) programme.

A year ago, we surveyed 100 students from secondary schools, polytechnics and junior colleges on the CCE programme and found the following:

  • 75% felt the programmes were necessary but require improvements
  • 79% attributed their lack of civic participation to time constraints
  • 41% faced difficulty understanding the rationale behind their involvement, as a result of little facilitation of introspection
  • 47% felt the programmes were not in line with their personal passions

The CCE programme is taught in primary, secondary schools and Junior Colleges, and aims to help students learn the necessary personal, moral and citizenship values, so that they can be responsible to their families and nation. Programmes under CCE include co-curricular activities, community service initiatives, civic and moral education classes and the Applied Learning Programme, which encourages students to “connect the dots” across subject disciplines and to practise their knowledge and skills, through courses such as computing and drama.

Schools can enhance their CCE efforts. At the SG100 Compass “Think Future” Policy Forum held in July 2016 by the Association of Public Affairs from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), several peers and I, aged between 18 and 25, came up with some suggestions for what schools can do.

Evaluating students

First, they can consider changing how they evaluate students on their level of social responsibility. Currently, each secondary school student is awarded grades in five areas: Leadership, Enrichment, Achievement, Participation and Service. These grades are included in students’ applications to tertiary institutions.

We suggest having a portfolio-based assessment for the Service component — where students are evaluated qualitatively through written observations, learning points, visual discovery and periodic contact meetings with teachers. Instead of grades, teachers should give students an overall evaluation based on aptitude, demonstration of positive changes in attitude and the impact and nature of their community service projects.

By removing grade-based assessments, students’ fear of failure will be reduced, as there is no “passing mark”, encouraging them to initiate their own projects. This has its benefits and is in line with CCE’s aims. A study by psychologist Dr Cronje with student from the University of South Africa showed that inquisitive and contemplative volunteerism promotes self-awareness and a sense of achievement. Furthermore, giving students’ freedom to pursue their own projects gives teachers a better insight to their students’ aspirations and depth of knowledge.

Games, simulation and activities

Second, schools can use games to deliver the CCE curriculum, giving students space to experiment with ideas and projects. Traditional teaching methods may be dry and contrived, and abstract concepts of ethics and responsibility can be difficult for students to comprehend. Games, simulation and activities can simplify these ideas to teach values such as fairness, cooperation and justice, amongst others. In participating in these activities with their peers, students can learn important lessons about the world and better understand their responsibilities as citizens.

For instance, forum and verbatim theatre has been used in Australia to help students understand issues such as bullying and drug abuse. Experiential excursions to Dialogue in the Dark or human library initiatives, whereby real people are “loaned” to readers to teach them life lessons, can also help build students’ empathy by putting them in similar real-world processes or systems.

Attachment opportunities

Third, students can be given attachment opportunities to non-profit groups and grassroots organisations within their constituency. This will give them the chance to engage in conventional volunteering stints and also work on issues that are important to Singapore, such as eldercare, early childhood development and community health. Teachers can connect students to the relevant groups who may need help from students, or who would be willing to fund some of their innovative ideas. This will provide some grounding for students to pursue their passion in these areas as they grow up.
Ultimately, we want citizens whose public involvement is authentic, proactive and consistent. Existing programmes can be refined to ensure that young Singaporeans get a head start in knowing about the key issues that affect them and their community, caring about common values, social responsibility and doing what they need to be concerned citizens.

Fig. 1  The framework of an ideal citizen as defined by our team

Clarence Ong graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic in 2016 and is currently serving his National Service. His Think Future Policy Team includes students from polytechnics, junior colleges, and universities, as well as teachers from the National Institute of Education.

The Think Future Forum Report, released by the Association of Public Affairs, collected the recommendations put forth by Singaporean youths at SG100 Compass Think Future Policy Forum.

Top photo from Ministry of Education, Singapore Facebook page

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