Singapore schools and purpose of education in society

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Education is defined as the process of acquiring skills, gaining knowledge and instilling positive values (Oak, 2009). There are many different purposes of education for different individuals as well as societies; however, in this essay I will only discuss the aims of education in a society. Since the past, education has been regarded as the main solution to the numerous challenges that society encounters, be it economic growth, the morality of the people, national identity and pride or the cohesion between the citizens (A.H.Halsey, Lauder, Brown, & Wells, 1997). As a result, education has been heavily emphasized in most societies and has been reformed over the years to cater to the needs of the societies. While education fulfils its' purposes in benefitting the society in the various aspects, the implications of these purposes on the students and teachers, be it negative or positive, are often not the same as that of the society. Thus, in the following discussion, I will elaborate more about some of the purposes of education in Singapore as well as the effects that these purposes have on the students and teachers.

Education for Singapore's economy

One of the main purposes of education in Singapore is to promote the economic growth of the nation. With rapid technological advancements and globalisation, Singapore has restructured the education system so as to equip the citizens with the appropriate skills and knowledge to sustain the knowledge-based and technology-driven economy (Gopinathan, 2001). Tertiary institutes such as the Polytechnics and Universities are set up so as provide relevant education to young Singaporeans to meet the changing needs of the economy. In addition, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has introduced a framework that will promote the development of students in Singapore to cater to the needs of the 21st century. Skills like cross-cultural understanding, resilience and creativity are included in the education programme so as to better prepare Singaporeans for future challenges (MOE, About Us: Ministry of Education Singapore, 2010). With the education system promising to equip students with essential skills and knowledge to remain competitive globally, young Singaporeans will be considered as potential employees to the many jobs that require high level of skills and knowledge. Through this high level of employability, young Singaporeans will then be able to boost the economy of Singapore.

Studies have shown that higher education is one of the more important factors in influencing career achievement (Levine & F.Levine, 1996). With the necessary qualifications and capabilities, students in Singapore will generally be ensured a better career prospect and thus a better standard of living in the future.

However, it is crucial to note that in Singapore, there are those who are less academically inclined and thus enroled into vocational training institutes such as the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). As the society aims for better economic status through higher education, these students are often viewed as less capable and are being prejudiced against by the society. However, to enable these students to upgrade themselves, they are allowed to pursue higher education in polytechnics if they qualify and thus they are not restricted to vocational education only. In addition, MOE has introduced features such as "Hands on, Minds on and Hearts on" in which students in ITE are made relevant, competent and adaptable to life-long learning in today's global economy (Seng, 2008) .Thus, it is not a lost case for students enrolled in vocational training institutes.

As the curriculum changes to adapt to the changing economy, teachers are expected to play totally different roles and acquire new skills that may be difficult to grasp. Take problem-based learning for example. Students are now expected to do self-directed learning whereby they are required to acquire more knowledge through exploration and collaboration with one another. This may be undesirable for teachers who cannot take on the role of a team player with the students in the problem solving team (Tion & Aun, 2001). However, to minimise the effects of this problem, the government has come up with an in-service professional development program to allow teachers to upgrade themselves constantly so as to meet up with the future expecatations of them. In addition, Subject Chapters and Professional Focus Group, an academy set up by master teachers, also allowed experienced teachers to mentor beginning teachers so as to enable them to teach effectively (MOE, About Us: Ministry of Education of Singapore, 2010). Although it is difficult for teachers to deal with the rising demand of education as a result of economic changes but external aids have been provided to ensure that they are able to meet the expectation of the society.

Since the economy has changed into one that is knowledge-based, the new system for generating wealth is no longer based on muscles but knowledge and brains (George, 2006). Thus education is necessary for economic growth despite the various implications that come along with it. What is important is that the government is constantly implementing fresh ideas to minise the impact of these negativities so as to better the lives of the teachers and students.

Moral education in Singapore

Since independence, Singapore government has been heavily dependent on education to inculcate values and beliefs into the individuals so as to cultivate a civilised society as a whole. Since 1992, Civics and Moral Education (CME) has been implemented by the MOE in an attempt to instill moral values and beliefs into the students of Singapore. In order to ensure that the students are realising the importance of the CME programme, tests and group works are conducted for the CME syllabus. In addition, to reinforce that CME lessons are to be taken seriously by the pupils and teachers in schools, school heads are held responsible and accountable to the MOE for the way how CME is conducted in the schools (AI, 1998). Another programme installed by the MOE to cultivate civilised citizens with positive values and beliefs is the Sexuality Education (SEd) programme. Through this programme, students are taught to consider consequences of sexual activities, to respect each other as sexual beings as well as to develop healhty and beneficial relationship with one another (MOE, About Us: Ministry of Education of Singapore, 2009). With all these programs installed in the curriculum, it is apparent that the government hopes to create moral and civilised citizens through education. However, the implications of this "moral and value" education has remained arguable throughout the years.

While it is true that moral education will help to sensitise the students, it is also important to note that discussion on moral issues is not easy for a normal classroom teacher who is not qualified to handle such discussion. If the lessons are not handled well and thorough enough, teachers will be accused of indoctrinating their own values and beliefs into the students (Wringe, 1998). It is thus very inconvenient for teachers to correct the students' beliefs on arguable issues such as homosexuality.

National Education(NE) in Singapore

Another aim of education in multi-cultural Singapore is to develop and instill a shared sense of nationhood among the citizens. In the 1990s, the government seeked to introduce national identity and ideologies such as "Shared Values" and "racial and religious harmony" to the public so as to create a shared sense of belonging among the different races. Social Studies has also been implemented in 1997 so as to promote national unity, create instincts for survival and instill confidence in Singapore's future (Ho, 2009). However in recent years, PM Goh Chok Tong highlighted an imminent problem of the younger generation being ignorant of Singapore's past and heritage. Through the new curriculum of National Education (NE), the government hopes to promote national cohesion and instill the set of values and attitudes that make the students uniquely Singaporeans (MOE, About Us: Ministry of Education of Singapore, 2008). There is also an impetus for new National Education to be enforced into the curriculum of the education system as young Singaporeans have become more mobile through globalisation (Nexus, 2010). Thus, NE is no longer confined to bringing the different races together but also to forge a strong sense of belonging in young Singaporeans so as to ensure that they remain rooted to Singapore in today's inter-connected world.

Education to integrate individuals into society

Lastly, education also serves the purpose of integrating different individuals from different backgrounds into one society. According to John Dewey, it is necessary for schools to help in the social progress of the students. Students should be taught to work together towards a common aim, in a common attitude and spirit, with mutual understanding, respect and cooperation (W.Jackson & Philip, 1990). Through the use of activities such as Co-curriculum activities (CCAs) and service learning, students get to interact and work together with one another towards a common aim.