5 years later, what has become of MOE’s character and citizenship education?

By Michael Han

Back in 2014, our schools implemented what is called “character and citizenship education” (CCE). It was implemented in 2014. Education Minister Ong said that “the aim is for children to develop a sense of identity and values from the time they are young so that these guide their relationships with their families, peers and community.”

Under the present syllabus, it is understood that primary school pupils get one to 1.5 hours of CCE lessons a week. During these sessions, they discuss values, good habits and how these could be applied to their lives. They participate in activities such as role playing, group work, storytelling, reflecting on past moments or journal writing.

Now, let’s get this off our chest: no one here should have any illusions that one or two hours a week of CCE is going to build resilience in our child to meet the adversity and emotional turmoil they will face in the world out there. But it is nevertheless a step in the right direction.

Judith Rodin, author of “The resilience dividend” defines it as “the capacity of any entity – an individual, a community, an organization, or a natural system – to prepare for disruptions, to recover from shocks and stresses, and to adapt and grow from a disruptive experience.”

This is a flowingly eloquent definition, but in a nation where the overwhelmingly 70% fears failure (to the extent that it paralyses them due to excessive competitions and comparisons), how do you build within them (or even us as parents) resilience that is able to fail gracefully?

Undeniably, our kids take failing seriously, too seriously. The last thing they want others (or their peers and parents) to know is how weak they are, how vulnerable they can be, and how they face such struggles that they often cry for help in silence.

Honestly, I don’t exactly know how our kids have come to this point, but in a society that is based on merit, competition and inequality, you can rest assured that our child is always rushing to catch up with the child in front of him, and the child in front is himself rushing to catch up with the one in front, and so on.

There is often little or no time to reflect about life, talk about how they really feel, and admit to others that they are just not fast enough, smart enough or good enough. They dare not discuss their vulnerabilities in the open because to demonstrate weakness is a symptom of failure, that they will therefore be looked down upon by others in double-quick time.

Joanna Koh-Hoe, a psychology graduate and social science practitioner, wrote, “We live in a nation with a strong emphasis on academic and intellectual achievements. What about instilling emotional competency in students to cope with the stresses of such an environment?”

Joanna also reminded us that “parents must be the first line of defence against youth suicide”. She said that we parents play a vital role in strengthening our child’s mental and emotional resilience, even from birth.

How true.

One rabbi said: “Parents are powerful. The worst mistake they can make is to underestimate their influence.”

And as a parent, I feel strongly that reaffirming the message that one failure does not their worth make is the all-important key towards building their confidence, character and capacity to not just be robust, but enduringly resilient. What is robust like the pyramid can be destroyed in one earthquake, but what is resilient like the Japanese people of Fukushima can be beaten down after a tsunami strike, but they stand up even wiser and stronger thereafter, and with time.

Let me end with what a long-time teacher Jonathon Shea said about overcoming failure, taken from the book “The Gift of Failure” by Jessica Lahey: “Students recover. People do it all the time. And failure helps them learn about themselves. First, they learn that people want them to be okay. Second, they learn that they can overcome a problem, but that work and attention are more important than genius or perfection. Students need to fail, but this is when they learn to succeed.”

That is the only way our children (and us) can fail gracefully.

This was reproduced with permission from editors of TR Emeritus.


Dear Kid, Be F!@$ing Selfish.

A message to parents with schoolchildren, from a student.

Love is patient and kind... not demanding and nagging.