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What is education? A common definition of education will be that it is "the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life" (Dictionary.com). In other words, education is the act of gaining knowledge and skills, and developing the ability to analyze and make proper decisions so as to be prepared to take on the challenges of life and the uncertain future, be it just to make a living or to pursue dreams and ambitions.
"The supposed purpose of education, as marketed by the education industry, is career advancement, higher pay, and empowering a college graduate's job search. [However, this should be considered only as] the current personal importance of education" (BFuniv.com, 2010, para. 2) and the result of being educated - for the selfish benefits of the individual instead of the society - instead of being the purpose of education. The purpose of education, or of being educated, is more than that. In the past, the purpose of education is to pass on social, cultural and moral values, traditions and religions, and skills to the next generation (Kendall, D., Murray, J. & Linden, R., 2004) to ensure the survival of the culture and future generation. Today, education is still widely viewed as a mean to impart knowledge and skills, and to help people develop the ability to make the 'correct' choices and decisions. However, as stated in Confucianism, "in order to be truly educated, one must first and foremost be able to learn extensively, enquire accurately, reflect carefully, distinguish clearly and last but not less, practice earnestly" (Yao, 2001, p. 212). From this, the purpose of the education can easily be concluded as to create morally upright, knowledgeable, analytical and action-initiative citizens and leaders who are able to contribute to the different aspects - social, economical and political - of a society.
The first aspect of the purpose of education is to instill knowledge in the learners. There are two different kinds of knowledge, the scientific knowledge and the history and cultural knowledge. Scientific knowledge consists of facts and information that are acquired through long tedious process of testing and reviewing before it is accepted and acknowledged by the society (BusinessDictionary.com). History and cultural knowledge, on the other hand, are records of past events and ideas that are gained from past experiences (Hoerr, 2007, para. 1). One can only be considered as knowledgeable when one has the combined understanding and awareness of both scientific and history and cultural knowledge. However, equipped with only knowledge, it is not enough for an individual, even only as a follower, to contribute much to the society.
Equipped with knowledge, the next aspect of the purpose of education is to nurture these knowledgeable individual to be analytical people. Education does not desire the production of a generation of people whose brain are so packed with only knowledge and the sole ability to memorize and regurgitate facts. With the ability to analyze every piece of knowledge gained from books or experiences and learn from it, one need not have fear when faced with problems and challenges in life as they can be overcome through careful analysis, followed by suitable applications of knowledge and skills. Individuals who are successfully equipped with these two aspects of the purpose of education will be able to think out of the box and contribute to the society economically or even politically.
With the rise of countries like China and India who have an abundance of cheap labour, Singapore can no longer compete effectively in the labour-intensive manufacturing market. As quoted by Alvin Toffler (1990), "The most important economic development of our lifetime has been the rise of a new system for creating wealth, based on longer on muscle but on mind." (p. 9). To ensure its survival, Singapore shifted its focus to working towards a knowledge-based society which calls for creative and critical thinking skills. The change from a labour-intensive industry to a service-driven market affects "the demand for education, the uses put to education, and the demands made on education for tailoring the workforce to those demands." (Riddell, 1996, p. 1363). In other words, this change calls for more independent learning, creativity and innovations. Hence, the "Teach Less, Learn More"1 scheme (TLLM) that is started in 2006 under the "Thinking School, Learning Nation"2 (TSLN) vision is implemented in the Singapore education system to fulfill the first two aspects of the purpose of education.
"Teach Less, Learn More" is about teaching better to engage the learners and prepare them for life, rather than teaching more for tests and examinations (MOE). It builds on the foundation laid in place under the TSLN vision and the spirit of Innovation and Enterprise3 (I&E). The relationship between TSLN, I&E and TLLM can be seen in the Figure 1 (taken from MOE website) below.
Figure : Chart showing the relationship between TSLN, I&E and TLLM
Figure 1: Chart showing the relationship between TSLN, I&E and TLLM
TLLM aims to help learners broadened their scope of knowledge, other than the ones needed to score well in tests and examinations, and also encourage learners to be analytical as it is no longer about memorizing and regurgitating facts and data.
While I&E also encourages learners to be analytic, its main aim is to promote the willingness to try new and untested routes without fear of failure and produces leaders who are prepared "to be flexible, to multitask, to take responsibility and to inspire teams and organizations to take leaps of innovation" (MOE). As quoted by Riddell, he believes that the most important skill that education can inculcate in the learner is flexibility (1996). This leads to the third aspects of the purpose of education which is to cultivate leadership, initiative and flexibility in the individual. This is to ensure that there will always be a group of leaders that is willing to take the first step out and lead the rest of the society towards success in the uncertain future by being flexible and open to new untested ideas when travelling the road to victory.
These three aspects of the purpose of education will of course have several implications on the teachers and students in Singapore. Teachers have to be innovative in teaching so as to make sure that learning was meaningful and enjoyable to the students (Ho, 2009) and effectively encourage self-directed learning in all students. This means that there should be less dependence on drill, practice and rote learning (MOE). Thus, the role of a teacher should be that of a mentor, facilitator and model instead of being someone who only do "teacher talk" and lecturing (MOE). Teachers are also required to be prepared in curriculum development, research and pedagogical skills by attending workshops on curriculum development and various pedagogies, and with the establishment of the Research Activist Scheme, teachers can learn more on research methodologies (Ho, 2009). All these preparation and learning is to ensure that teachers are able to recognize and cater better to students' unique and differing learning needs.
For the students, they will no longer to be spoon-fed by the teachers. This calls for self-directed and self-motivated learning which is in tune with the Desired Outcomes of Education. Students now have to take up the mantle of being "a self-directed learner who takes responsibility for his own learning, who questions, reflects and perseveres in the pursuit of learning" (MOE) and "an active contributor who is able to work effectively in teams, exercises initiative, takes calculated risks, is innovative and strives for excellence" (MOE). Furthermore, as syllabuses will be trimmed, students will have more time and energy to focus on core knowledge and skills (MOE) or even to widen their scope of knowledge. Students will also be required to know how to apply their knowledge to solve or overcome the problems and challenges presented to them. Merely memorizing and regurgitating knowledge will not be enough to score well. An example of this Problem-Based Learning will be the Project Work4 introduced into the Junior College syllabus to encourage knowledge analysis and applications.
The above three aspects of education may successfully mold a generation of globally competitive citizens much sought after by the global market but it does not automatically ensure that these capable people would not use their intelligence to create trouble for the society or even just abandon their homeland to pursuit a high-flying career. As Teo said, "Of what use is the education system if it produces smart crooks or selfish individualists who feel no obligation to society, or loyalty to nation? Education must imbue the next generation with the right value system. Through values education, we must develop future citizens with upright character who can contribute to their community. We must also inculcate in our young a deep sense of bonding to the nation, so that they will be prepared to stay and fight in times of adversity." (1998).
This leads us to the last and most important aspect of the purpose of education which is to create morally upright individuals that is devoted to serving and contributing to their country. As values are a set of social norms that guides the actions of an individual and the society, values education is thus used as a mean to instill a sense of morality in the learners. "Values â€¦ are either innate or acquired. Innate values are [the] inborn divine virtues such as love, peace, happiness, mercy and compassion as well as the positive moral qualities such as respect, humility, tolerance, responsibility, cooperation, honesty and simplicity. Acquired values are those external values adopted at [one's] 'place of birth' or 'place of growth' and are influenced by the â€¦ environment." (Reddy). Hence, values education consists of character education, which builds on the innate values, and the national education, which can be considered as a part of the acquired values as it is influenced by the government of the country.
Character education ensures that the individual will abide by the law and protect the peace and harmony of the society through "social and emotional learning, moral reasoning/cognitive development, life skills education, health education; violence prevention, critical thinking, ethical reasoning, and conflict resolution and mediation" (Lickona, 1998). The well-being of the society and the health and benefits of the other individuals will be made certain.
National education seeks to inculcate national loyalty and a sense of belongingness in the learners. This is vital in the economic and social development of a society as the survival of a country depends heavily on the contributions of its citizens - be it working to keep one's country ahead of others in the global market or being the next educator to the future generations.
In Singapore context, values education takes the form of the curriculum subject Civics and Moral Education5 (CME), National Education6 (NE) initiatives (2008) and Social Studies7. Especially at the edge of the 21st century and with the spread of globalization, students are more likely to exhibits traits like materialism and unhealthy consumerism which may have "severe economic repercussions in the future" for a resource-limited small country like Singapore (2008). The job of the teacher in this case would be to instill a sense of thriftiness in these students and at the same time. During these lessons, instead of merely preaching about good governance, teachers should allow the students to identify the pros and cons of certain policies like the implementation of the Central Provident Fund7 (CPF) or the Electronic Road Pricing8 (ERP) and get them to see the need for these policies in the perspective of the government so as to "[foster] social cohesion and rootedness to" Singapore. Moreover, instead of merely droning on and on about the moral issues and values that arises in Singapore's society, teachers can attempt to interest the students by getting them to think critically about these issues and draw up possible solutions. To successfully engage students in values education, teachers themselves should play an active role in imparting the values to the students and not use the NE or "CME classroom period[s] â€¦ for revision of other academic subjects" (2008).
Students should not study Social Studies for the sake of scoring well in the "compulsory and examinable subject". Values should be learn and taken away to be applied in the later part of their life when they step into the society of virtues and vices.
In conclusion, in order for a country or society to flourish, it is crucial that the educational policies implemented by the country leaders must be in line with the purpose of education. This is especially significant when a nation wants to prepare and equip its citizens with the necessary tools to combat the challenges of globalization. Education in the 21st century will be "flexible, creative, challenging, and complex" as it addresses the many issues that will arise from the rapid evolution of the world (21st Century Schools, 2008, para. 3) but there should also be a greater emphasis of values education so as to counteract any undesirable traits that are bound to show up in the whirlwind of seemingly impossible changes. The future of Singapore rests in the hands of its future citizens; hence the education of today's youth must not be taken lightly.