Keeping up with the changing demands of society

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Education is defined as a process of teaching, training and learning, to develop skills and improve knowledge, especially in schools (Oxford, 2010). Since the dawn of human civilization, countless intellects have made attempts to answer one particular question - "What exactly are the purposes of education?" Overtime, it became apparent to 'Homo Sapiens' that if these purposes are not defined, then education would have no real importance or significance in society. Some purposes of education do not change according to time, while others do. However, the root purpose of education remains unchanged -keeping up with the ever-changing demands of society.

Education has the fixed functions of unifying and perpetuating a society; it also has the dynamic purposes of making viable the constant renewal and growth of the institutions and culture of a society. The modern child goes undergoes education in order to learn some skills that keep society functioning (Universal, 1970). When these demands of the society are met, people would begin to recognize the values of education, making it an asset for further advancement. Hence, teaching, training and learning becomes an important process in a person's life as he integrates into society.

After the root purpose of education has been identified, the other 'sub-purposes' like the development of personal intellect and moral character, economic advancement and political aspects comes into the picture (Kang, 2006). In the modern era, the society is beginning to pay more attention to these 'sub-purposes' as the root purpose is already being considered as common knowledge.

Purpose of Education: Civics &Moral Development of Society

Commenting on the importance of moral and municipal intrinsic worth in education, Confucius said, 'To love benevolence, ingenuity, trustworthiness in word, frankness, courage and rigid strength, without first loving learning is liable to lead to stupidity, deviation from the right path, destructive behavior, bigotry, insubordination and indiscipline respectively' (Analects, 17.8).

Contrary to popular beliefs, education is more than just about the understanding of concepts taught by educators or acquiring superior skills needed to advance in a knowledge-based society. PM Lee once said there are things, other than grades that we can achieve in school (Lee, 2004). A holistic education, in both academic and non-academic aspects, is important in upholding Singapore's society. Ideally, Moral Education should impart values such as abiding laws and regulations; a sense of social responsibility; respect for others, their rights and self-worth; forbearance and camaraderie, among many others. (Rwantabagu, 2010). It is about educating the students about the 'proper', 'correct' and socially accepted behavior before they become full-fledged adults - it is a process of dragging students out of their 'frog-in-the well' mentality; they are gaining exposure, wisdom and life experiences - with the use of Civics & Moral Education (CME).

Figure 1

Source: Ministry of Education (MOE), 2007

Based on Figure 1, Singapore's Civics & Moral Education (CME) aims at the development of sets of values, whereby, students are expected to be able to distinguish between 'right' and 'wrong', truly understand the meaning and implications on why a certain action is wrong or right and make morally wise decisions; and are responsible for their own actions. The planning of the CME Curriculum is designed to cater to a globalized Singapore where a knowledge-based economy is on the rise.

However, despite MOE's attempts to create a 'flawless' CME, the responses received had been far from encouraging. Students tend to pay less attention to Moral Education for two main reasons - they are forced to take the 'subject' and it will not affect their overall grades. Form tutors usually rush through the CME lessons and use the remaining time to discuss concepts for their own lessons (experienced by the writer) and CME Classes are usually less engaging - discussing some moral values from books or through worksheets. If the current CME curriculum continues, students will only deal with problems systematically, in accordance to values discussed in classes; without truly understanding the rationale behind the thinking process involved before decision making and committing the actual action.

CME's flaws are caused by two factors. Teachers are not equipped with the necessary skills and resources to conduct engaging CME classes, resulting in student's lack of interest. Furthermore, there is also not enough emphasize is being placed on CME - only one or two lessons per week. Both students and teachers have to realize that a scholar with no moral values is a tyrant in making

Teachers themselves have to see the importance of moral education in order to teach the 'subject' with passion and cultivate students' personal character. According to the Self-determination theory (SDT) of human motivation and personality (Deci & Ryan, 2002), if all three human needs for independence, competence and relatedness are fulfilled, one will experience optimal personal growth and functioning (Wang, 2008). Educators should apply this theory to advance students' cognitive development and understand how motivation can be instilled in them. In order to improve the situation, teachers and students can also provide constructive feedback to MOE's curriculum planning committee in order to suggest engaging ways for students to cultivate good moral values while having fun. Schools can also collaborate with parents in students' CME by encouraging continual cultivation of moral values outside curriculum hours with the supervision and guidance from respective parents. Mutual partnership between society, schools (especially students and teachers) and families should be the direction that CME should be heading towards. A society enriched with good moral values will then lay a strong foundation for economic advancement opportunities.

Purpose: Economic Advancement of Society through Education

Mankind took almost 1750 years from the beginning of civilization to double the technological knowledge. By 1900, this is 150 years later, technological knowledge doubled yet again. It took half a century (1900 - 1950) for the next doubling; the next doubling in a decade (1950 - 1960) and today, man's knowledge of the Universe has quadrupled during each of the past three decades (Sundararajan, 1995). The turning point of this technological improvement in humanity is the discovery of the stream usage which brought about the Industrial Revolution.

Without technological knowledge being discovered and built originally through education (as most of the researchers and inventors are educated by some form of formal education), society will not be able to advance economically at the same amazing rate that society has been experiencing. In addition, the ancient ideology of equating highly educated people as having a bright future still remains in modern society. Figures 2.1 and 2.2 (shown below) relate education level, employment and income level in America. Both figures show a similar trend that as a person advances in his educational level, his corresponding income increases and his employment opportunity increases. Predictably, the situation in Singapore is no exception.

Fig 2.1

Note: Data are based on 2009 annual averages for persons age 25 and above and salaries are for full-time United States employees. Taken from:

Fig 2.2

(Source: and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States)

Professor Neo Boon Siong, (former Director of the Asia Competitiveness Institute at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in NUS) explained that the main social policy is to create jobs. Employment is associated with education as higher education enables anyone, not considering his present situation to move up within society (Sonny, 2009).

Singapore's institutions teach and train their students with fundamental skills like writing, reading and speaking in at least two known language. Content knowledge in the various disciplines (from History to Economics) can be acquired by the students as a way to build up facts and information in their mind. As one progress further up in the education ladder, they will probably be taught a repertoire of advanced skills such as, analysis, assessment and application of knowledge and effective social communication. Students are also being developed morally. Hence, students will be literate and equipped with the necessary 'life-skills' skills, moral values and essential knowledge in their preparation for their eventual entrance into society. As a result, they will be expected to understand the existing problems in his society and try to come up with amicable solutions; by make use of his 'text-book' knowledge and apply them in reality. As technology advances in Singapore, more foreign investors would build their business units in the country, leading to more employment which would lead to a better quality of life. Due to global-shift, Singapore have been undergoing 'postindustrial transition', shifting the industries towards the tertiary, 'more specialized' quaternary and 'highly specialized & advanced' quinary sectors. These sectors usually require an educated workforce which is capable of providing services, involving specialized knowledge, technical skills, communication, or administrative competence (Fellmann, 2010). The presence of skilled and talented workers with diverse abilities plays a critical role in propelling Singapore's quest in overcoming the challenges of a knowledge-based economy. This amplifies the importance of education and its purpose in the economic progress of Singapore.

Although Singapore is a "First world oasis in a Third world region" (Kluver & Weber, 2003), its workforce should never stop learning. Dr. Goh Keng Swee famously declared that Singapore will perish if there is no economic growth. Students should be informed about the economic consequences on Singapore if knowledge remains stagnant and this mentality should be strongly emphasized in the education system.

As such, the Ministry of Education (Singapore) implemented educational approaches like "Teach Less, Learn More" (TLLM) in order to train students with a holistic education, training them in an innovative way and equipping them with important skills to survive in a globalized world (Tan, 2007). In a knowledge economy, 'Ability Driven Education' aims to equip and prepare learners to overcome the challenges, by taking into account their individual skills and talents, and develop their potentials [Charlene Tan, 2005, 6(4), 446-453)]. Creativity and innovation are main fuels of a knowledge-based economy; therefore Singapore students are expected to create novel knowledge from the ones that they have already learnt (Ng Eng Hen, 2002). Based on the TLLM approach, teachers began to teach lesser content knowledge and students are expected to explore and 'discover' certain knowledge through their own research.

However, being exam-orientated, most parents, students and teachers believe that scoring good grades is needed to advance further in education progress and eventually excel in society - which means that a 'paper chase' for academic recognition in society is inevitable. It resulted in most students being provided with tuition in order to reinforce their learning.

According to the Singapore Department of Statistics, about $820 million were spent on private tuition in 2008, up from $470 million spent in 1998 (HARSHA, 2010). During the annual major exam period (from Sep - November) schools ranging from Primary to the Junior Colleges offer extra 'after school' sessions - consultations, night study with teachers and 'mock' examination paper for its students (Jane & Leow, 2010).

Currently, TLLM failed in achieving its main goal of developing a creative and thinking generation of students. In other words, the education policies are seen as 'killing' instead of developing a student's creativity as they still rely on tuition (a practice of spoon-feeding of knowledge by tutors) instead of doing their own research. Teachers continue to give tuitions on a frequent basis as they fear that students may not be able to cope with their increasingly demanding curriculum. Furthermore, students have to adapt good studying habits. It is also not feasible for students to study hard only when the major examinations are approaching or what the Chinese say, 'Hugging the Buddha's leg at the eleventh hour". Students must be constantly preparing and upgrading themselves way before the examinations; they will be able to better develop genuine interest in the various fields of studies and the desired outcome of 'life-long' learning can be achieved even after the student's graduation.

In preparation for a knowledge-based economy, students and teachers must interpret the purpose of TLLM in a similar and correct direction. Singapore teachers should assume a greater role and responsibility than ever before and they themselves have to constantly upgrade themselves with new skills and to be receptive to new knowledge. Besides that, teachers have to take initiative to build a trusted bond with students and use their pedagogical skills in educating the different groups of students; engaging them in their learning journey and developing students' self interest for further pursue of knowledge. Self-reflection by students and teachers can aid in having a more constructive curriculum, ensuring that learning and teaching objectives are met.

The society has to support and facilitate the development of teachers and students - by providing funds for certain school projects like various education perspective courses catered for teachers and students in order to elevate their prospects in TLLM. Ultimately, it is not just a simple matter of education's economic impacts, but also of inspiring confidence in students, parents, and teachers-society-that the educational approach has begun to function (STEFANOS, 1981).


In a knowledge-based economy, equally important intellectual, moral, physical and social aspects of one's full potential can be achieved (Chen, 2000). Singapore's education system must be designed to ensure students question, justify their personal actions and reason out why law is enforced in society. Students should be given informed choice in adapting good behaviors; not merely following the culture passed down from old generation. Knowledge will continue to be accumulated, and this will definitely lead to society's dynamic changes in direction.

Society should never remain stagnant because the future is always surrounded by uncertainties. As society continues to evolve, the educational purposes must constantly be revamped in order to keep up with the increasing demands of its surroundings and remain relevant to society in the 21st century and beyond.

(2150 Words)