National Education (NE) was introduced to Singapore Schools in 1997 to develop national cohesion, cultivate the instinct for survival as a nation and instil in our students, confidence in our nation's future. It also emphasises on cultivating a sense of belonging and emotional rootedness to Singapore. Many programmes such as Community Involvement Programme (CIP) and Learning Journeys were designed to help schools achieve such objectives and the responsibility of executing these programmes falls on the teachers. As a beginning teacher, newly introduced into the profession, challenges are faced in the attempt to implement such initiatives.
In my opinion, one major challenge that I would encounter is designing activities that infuses a sense of relevancy in our students - letting them understand that national cohesion is a result of the continuous efforts of every Singaporean, and they are a part of the equation. These students were born in the era of political and economical stability, where majority grew up in environments meeting their needs and fulfilling most of their wants. Hence, they have the tendency to take their security and well-being for granted, making them unable to apprehend the struggles faced by Singapore in maintaining the current success and stability and the need for NE.
For example, most schools in Singapore commemorate core event, Racial Harmony Day through the showcasing of the diversified ethnic costumes and playing of ethnic games to enable their students' in-depth cultural knowledge of their peers. Yet, a majority of them treat the remembrance of the day as an opportunity for an interesting concert and a half-day school, and few truly understanding the underlying rationale behind the activities, let alone instil a sense of relevancy. Amidst the current racial harmonious atmosphere between different racial groups, students are unable to conceptualise the idea of racial riots, its' impact on Singapore and the importance of racial harmony in a society. They view information relayed through these events as irrelevant and doubt the possibility of the recurrence of such incidents in the current Singapore.
It is of a common understanding that the six NE messages would always remain as words on paper unless teachers inculcate them into students in an engaging manner. Thus, as a beginning teacher with no prior experience in the inculcation of NE messages, I feel that the task of designing engaging, fun and relevant activities would be tremendous, with myself having inadequate knowledge of the activity ideas that students are receptive to. Instilling a sense of relevancy in students would be a huge challenge as it is not an easy task to change students' deeply-rooted thinking from "the responsibility of maintaining national cohesion fall only on the adults and government" to the thinking that "national cohesion is the responsibility of everyone, including students". Students should be taught that social cohesion occurs because each and everyone put in effort and play our part in contributing to the well-being of the country. The issue is relevant to both adults and students.
From my personal observation, almost all Singapore Schools repeat the same NE programmes for their students every year, differing only at the activities to be completed at individual levels. As such, students were bored of it, and older students especially, expressed cynicism, and were unresponsive to the programmes. Hence, I feel that the second challenge that I would face as a beginning teacher in the attempt to execute the initiatives is arousing students' interest in the participation of NE-related activities.
Unlike the traditional subjects that we were taught to teach in the teaching institute, NE is not simply another subject where students learn by conventional teaching methods. In fact, students understand the concepts in NE better when the activities are engaging, fun and capture their attention. Although students reflected that programmes designed by the school's NE committee were mundane, beginning teachers, including myself, are unable to design and implement new ideas in place of old ones, with existing NE frameworks in schools. On the contrary, I would be expected to follow the guidelines and deliver a similar NE lesson. As a beginning teacher with limited teaching experience and pedagogies skills, I would lack the ability in transform these guidelines into engaging and interesting lessons on par as that of the experienced teachers.
Most experienced teachers are able to deliver interesting NE lessons, transforming the repetitive, dull lesson into engaging sharing lessons while abiding by the guidelines. They reflected on their past teaching experiences, gathered feedback from previous batches of students, and modified their teaching pedagogy accordingly to appeal to students' interest. Thus, students' interests in NE activities are aroused and they participate actively in it. On the other hand, beginning teachers enter classrooms today with high expectations of ourselves and of our students. Our teaching method would be influenced by individual background and various teaching theories. However, the lack of experience in the teaching field would affect the quality of the lesson delivery as I would be unable to adapt to students' needs. In addition, I would tend to avoid deviating from the framework to design newer, more exciting lessons as I fear for mishandling the balance between fun and content. After all, the purpose of the NE lesson would be defeated if there is more fun than content.
To conclude, the objectives of NE could be attained through appropriate programmes and it is thus extremely important to inculcate a sense of relevancy in our students and to arouse their interest in NE activities. When faced with challenges in the attempt to implement the policies, beginning teachers should observe, persevere and seek for assistance to overcome them. Through these challenges, we would grow to become better educators and in turn, provide the greatest benefits to the students.