Instilling Values by Winning Hearts

Instilling Values by Winning Hearts

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Media Type

Is it ever right to tell lies?

Professor Lee Wing On, Dean of Education Research at the National Institute of Education (NIE), would pose this question to trainee teachers during one of his lectures. He would further ask, "So when you teach your students moral education, will you also tell them it is all right to tell lies at times?"

Amidst the reflective silence that ensues, Prof Lee would gently say, "How we truly teach values every day is through our attitudes, behaviour, the way we guide and talk to our students - rather than what we say." This principle is the bedrock of what Prof Lee, who is also an advisor to MOE's Character & Citizenship Education Curriculum Development Steering Committee, has been teaching in values education for over 20 years.

Embracing different values

Prof Lee started the first values education programme at the master's degree level when he was teaching at the University of Hong Kong in the 1990s. According to him, values are a matter of personal choice which emanates from within and which is beyond rationality and objectivity. He recalls an incident when he was involved in a heated debate with a student who had different beliefs. The student lost the argument but said, "Sir, I cannot win the debate as I cannot compete with the knowledge you have. Still, I do not believe what you believe. May I?"

This parting shot led Prof Lee on a journey from being what he describes as a "powerful, knowledgeable, out-to-convince teacher, to a soul-searching one". He elaborates on that incident, "Though I had won the battle of words, I didn't win his heart. I realised then that I should not pursue the peripheral, or whether students agree with me. I should guide students to explore their inner being, where success means that the students strive to become better persons through an attitude of inquiry and self-reflection."

As a parent himself, Prof Lee empathises with the challenge faced by parents to instill values, rather than forcing them upon their children. Parents and teachers, he says, share similar attributes, in that their life experiences have shaped the value systems which they are deeply invested in. This leads to the tendency of wanting the young to emulate these same values. "It hurts our hearts when our children make the opposite choice and it brings about conflict," Prof Lee observes. "I had reflected on that as a teacher, to respect my students' choices - so I strive to do the same as a father and give enough space for my son. How do I let go, and how do I appreciate that he may have his reasons and that they may be the right choices after all?"

This cherished value of respecting differences also resonates on a national scale. Because of his involvement in running universities, the positioning of universities is something that continues to fascinate Prof Lee. "When I scan the first page of many universities' websites, I look for key words. The more successful the universities are, the more likely you are to spot the common key words of diversity and inclusiveness." Prof Lee emphasises, "To prepare ourselves for the 21st century, we have to prepare for diversity as we become more cosmopolitan."

Building shared values and social cohesion

Indeed, preparing students and citizens for the 21st century is one of the aims of MOE's Character & Citizenship Education curriculum. As the President for the World Council of Comparative Education Societies, Prof Lee has amassed a wealth of experience and studied citizenship education extensively in countries such as Australia, United Kingdom and China.

As Singapore schools gear up to provide students with more opportunities to develop their character, Prof Lee foresees "better and more coherent programmes aligned to the school's mission and vision". Co-curriculum Activities (CCAs) and the Physical Education curriculum already provide rich environments for character education, and he anticipates that they will receive greater emphasis in schools. He is also heartened by other programmes that are already in place, such as service learning and the integration of drama into the English curriculum to develop greater confidence, which accentuate character development and socio-emotional learning. "Focusing on the psychological well-being of the individuals will be the exciting part of CCE development. It resonates with 21st-century skills, and pays attention to personal values," Prof Lee notes.

On building a shared future, Prof Lee notes, "The first step is to acknowledge that it is natural for people to have diverse values. When Singapore started as a nation, the whole country adopted the notion of unity in diversity with the overarching thread of respect. With respect, only then we can talk about how we can convert our own values into common values." He further explains, "Because of respect, and because we have to interact, the common area of shared values will continue to evolve. Only then can society become more cohesive and achieve solidarity."

To those who think that they have the ready answer as to what the correct values are, Prof Lee offers his take. "My excitement about teaching character and citizenship education is that there are no definite answers. It is a continuing dialogue on values, an inviting process where we all work together to plot a better future and a better society."

© 2011 Ministry of Education, Singapore

Source: MOE's