The purpose of education and society

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Man cannot be divorced from the society that he lives in, besides developing skills for the economic survival of the society, education is important towards citizenship, the morals and values of the society.

The economy of the society

Viewing the trends and recurrent ideas of the society's leaders in education, we're able to see how the financial wellbeing of the society has largely been a part of the purpose of education over the years.

In 1965, Singapore had to separate from Malaysia. It was a developing country with little natural resources, and hence the aim of education at that point was to generate a workforce required for survival. "The overriding priority of the Singapore government in 1965 was to find the quickest and most effective way to develop an industrialized economy [8"]. The workforce needed to ensure survival.

Dr Goh Keng Swee, Singapore's first Education Minister mentioned that education is "to ensure that citizens are well equipped for the functions they have to perform in society"[11]. As Singapore progressed towards and efficiency and sustainability, one of the key indicators of the success of education is how prepared the students are to enter the economic society. "Beyond these international assessment tests, experts concerned with the competitiveness of economies have given Singapore schools top marks."[12] "Singapore's education system…was ranked first …in terms of the ability to meet the needs of a competitive economy"[12]. And even now while as we move into the future, current education minister Dr Ng Eng Hen lays out the aim for higher education, "to create a robust tertiary sector with various models that are sustainable and characterised by high-quality graduates." [4]

The economy of the society is essential for its survival. It is necessary for the society to survive financially. Man has to satisfy his basic needs before he can pursue greater knowledge. The economic survival of the country depends on educating the young to rise up and take up the financial burden their parents have carried. In a way, as the economy is dependent on education, so is education dependent on the economy.

The moral values of society

Ancient philosophers such as Socrates and Confucius have both advocated that "a well-educated person or gentleman was known as kaloskagathos, literally the noble and good person, the Chinese counterpart was jun zi, or son of the prince or gentleman." [6] Moral values have been part of education from ancient times to the present society.

Moral and cultural values have always been an integral part of the purpose of education in Singapore, as it learns from past experiences through riots such as in"21 July 1964: Rioting broke out on the eve of the planned massive celebrations for Prophet Muhammad's birthday."[5]

From such incidents, Singapore gained important insight on the need of for moral and national education. Many educational policies in Singapore were aimed to "Strengthen national identity, values and social cohesion and, in the process, sustain Singapore's society regardless of race, language or religion." [10].

Without a stable and safe climate brought out by morals and values, a society will only go into decline. A stable society is needed for development and progress.


How does education fulfil its purpose? Through its content, the way its taught, the people being taught, and the educators.

CME and National education

As Singapore becomes a more developed society, and wanting to attract foreign talents, which are highly mobile and of diverse background, we need to appreciate the importance of National Education as Singapore opens herself to a host of external influences.

"National integration through a national education system was seen as the key condition for economic survival. To attain these national objectives, "the Government rightly recognized the necessity to provide every child with at least 6 years of education from the age of six - without discrimination of race, language, sex, wealth or status."[8] Despite the bilingual policy mentioned earlier, where by cohesion is brought about by a common language.

Civics and moral education remains part of the curriculum from Primary to Pre-University levels. In the primary to secondary levels, students are inculcated with moral values such as "respect, responsibility, integrity, care, resilience and harmony," [13] in their developing years these values help to scaffold an intrinsically 'good' person in society. In their maturing years, in pre-university, there is a shift in the curriculum towards "Our Growth and development. Our Families and Community. People who inspire Change. Singapore Our Future" [14] these lessons and ideologies help to bring up generation after generation of Singaporeans with basic values, and have the interests of society at heart.

Through subjects such as social studies, students are exposed to the values and cultures of other races, and the repercussions of the lack of understanding in other countries.

The bilingualism policy plays a role in national education, aiding cultural preservation by bridging the gap between the past and present. It links the students back to the traditional values through textbooks and cultural activities held in schools.

English as a common language and bilingualism

When Singapore gained independence after separating from Malaysia in 1965,, "it was crucial for the Government to enforce the use of a main language of instruction (in this case, the English language) throughout the education system and structure."[2] Bilingualism was introduced into Singapore in its early stages to provide a means of common instruction to the different races in Singapore.

This provided a common ground where students from different races and languages could communicate with each other, resulting in greater efficiency, where there was a means whereby citizens of different races could communicate with each other through a common medium. Elsewhere in the world, as Hong Kong returned under the sovereignty of the PRC, "some argued that students should spend more time learning about China and studying Putonghua" (Morris 1995)[2] providing a common language between the reunited entities. The strategy of having a common language as a medium of instruction in schools, gave society a common medium to carry out financial transactions efficiently.

Being a multi-racial society, learning of the other languages has also put it in good stead when Singapore spreads it regional and global economic wings. As our current educational minister aptly puts it, "bilingual policy has also enabled us to plug into the rest of the world."[3] Whilst some may view it as a political move by the Singapore government, the result is that Singapore has been able to capitalise the huge emerging China markets because of the advantages of the Chinese language, "the economic resurgence of China is also used … … to persuade more Singapore students to learn Mandarin" [2] Besides China, Singapore also has access to trade with India and many other countries, where the retention of the various mother tongues provided a bridge to their economies.

Besides financial transactions, Singapore has been able to have mutually beneficial trades in knowledge. "Our Institutes of Higher Learning have been able to form linkages with ease, not only with other institutions in English speaking countries"[3] such mutual exchanges have allowed us to progress at a much faster pace as compared to self-discovery.


Students would be able to access a much broader library of knowledge with exchange programmes with institutes of learning in other nations, even though they have a greater workload through the learning of two languages rather than just one, and having to learn about the different cultures in a multinational society, and contrasts with other countries through case studies. This would also result in a harmonious and cohesive society where there is lower crime rates and rioting for the future, attracting multinational corporations and companies to be attracted to Singapore to set up their regional headqarters, creating jobs and boosting the economy of the nation

Educationalists would face a heavier workload in preparation for these civics and moral classes, and they often face uninterested students who feel that the class is a waste of time and pay little or no attention during those classes. With the increasing 'westernisation' of Singapore, the mother tongues are being viewed as less important as English, and educators of students who don't appreciate the subject being taught and feel it's alright to do badly, would be discouraged, and might even lose their passion for teaching altogether.


Scholars have described the future society as that of a "'learning economy' where the success of individuals, firms, regions and countries will reflect, more than anything else their ability to learn." [7]. for a society to succeed, it has to make sense of the ever-changing landscape of the world, and impart skills required for the uncertain future.

In problem based learning, the students are given case studies where they possess "prior knowledge, assumptions and experiences and these are critical in helping students make sense of any new information."[9] This educates the students in critical skills of application, after equipping them with the necessary knowledge to ensure that they are able to carry out the project. PBL builds up the students' ability to apply knowledge to the given cases and generate solutions. Through the format that it is carried out in, the students also gain the necessary skills of communication, leadership and group work. All these are essential skills for the future 'learning economy'.

Implications of new educational tools

Students would educate other students when they present their findings and any learning points which they gain. Whilst the educators become facilitators of their learning , such peer educating would have greater impact on the students when they digest the knowledge and present it in a way that they can understand easily. Of course the problem of free loading might arise, and this is where the group leaders have to rise to the occasion and prevent the problem

Educators, on the other hand have to constantly oversee the progress of the groups, and pointing them in the right direction. However, less homework does not mean less work for the educators, they have to be able to access the students through rubrics which provide vague information on grading, and it would be their job to refine and to standardize the assessments. Educators would gain skills in managing the different project groups, and at the same time be able to impart these skills to the students. Of course, the educators have to go through more training to be able to facilitate the lessons. All these would add to their professional development.

The future

With the advancement of technology, globalization, and society, no longer can we stagnate at old educational policies. We must move forward to meet the needs of the future society

The future calls for skills of the future, where mathematical computational skills and scientific formulae take a backseat while interpersonal skills such as presentation, communication and leadership skills take precedence, achieved through PBL. We have to educate the future generation to ensure society's survival as an economic society, and retain its values.

The right direction?


Greater autonomy should be given to educators to decide the direction of their teaching, we need happy educators! "The three things that make most people happy are purpose, power and relationships."[13] educators need to have a sense of purpose set by themselves (power), and to form positive relationships with their students. It is important for educators to have the specific idea of what they are teaching, and they want to teach it. Educators would also be able to seek out the individual abilities of the students, and use it to educate. Rather than the current way set by the organization, cramping the educators 'style' and sense of purpose.

Public engagement

Like Isaac Newton, to see 'further', educators have to stand on the shoulders of 'giants'

Educators may not be the movers and shakers of the financial world, knowing the exact needs but they need to educate students to fit perfectly into the economic society.

As educators, how do we do this?

We have to turn to the public and private sector with exchanges between the public, government bodies and educators..

Whilst the professionals may give precious insight to raise the currency of education, the government also has to be present to ensure that the other needs of society such as its morals and values are not compromised. At the same time educators have to be present, being the subject matter expert on education to form new methodologies, and explore areas to bring out the best in each and every child.


Even though the purpose of education in the context of Singapore would remain the same, to prepare for the future financially whilst retaining our intrinsic values, we need to alter the way the purpose of education is set. Through more autonomy given to educators, and greater involvement of the public, we would be able to meet the utilitarian aim of education of surviving in the future.

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