Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Understanding Asean education: Singapore

The Nation - August 4, 2014

WHEN ASEAN was established in August 1967 in Bangkok, one of its aims was to help each other with training and research facilities in the educational, professional, technical and administrative spheres.

The vital element to enhance competitiveness in Asean is the effectiveness and efficiency of education systems in this region. As Thais, apart from understanding our national education system, we must also understand the national education of each Asean country, both in how they differ and how the region can be interconnected via education. 

Therefore, lessons learned and experiences from each country can empower and strengthen Asean education policies. Nonetheless, there is no report available that compare or summarise such issues, in particular "national education" policies of each country. Indeed, there is no unified resource or information that one can access to get such respective understanding.

I would like to take this opportunity to recap each Asean country's "national education" stance, such as the purposes, the key issues, the principles, the challenges, the frameworks, the approaches and so on, in correlating to Thai national education.

I aim to write this series as a recapitulation and review from the past to present. This may help scholars rethink seriously on Thai national education policies and reform. 

National education must be a national mission to enhance nationwide happiness.

We will start with Singapore. The Singaporean government emphasises its national education as "part of a holistic education and aims to develop national cohesion, cultivate the instinct for survival as a nation and instill in their students, confidence in their nation's future".

Since 1997, Singapore's Ministry of Education has set out two approaches in cultivation of national instincts among pupils, as excerpts from their national education website show:

1. To develop an awareness of facts, |circumstances and opportunities facing Singapore in order for them to be able to make decisions for their future with conviction and realism.

2. To develop a sense of emotional belonging and commitment to the community and nation, namely engaging heart and minds. The objective is to develop national cohesion, instinct for survival and confidence in the future by fostering a sense of identity, pride and self-respect as Singaporeans; by knowing the Singapore story; by understanding Singapore's unique challenges, constraints and vulnerabilities and by instilling core values of the way of life and the will to prevail.

In 2007, Singapore's education minstry refined that national mission "to strengthen the sense of belonging by engendering ownership to both teachers and students to fit students' different age, maturity and interests". The key framework is engaging students in "Head, Heart and Hands" which is recommended by the committee on national education with the following |concepts:

1. "Head", students should be actively involved in their own learning; beyond knowing, they should think through issues and arrive at a deeper understanding of the challenges facing Singapore and what it means to be Singaporean. 

2. "Heart", students should connect emotionally with the Singapore story; their love for the nation should be the outcome of their appreciating Singapore and having a deeper sense of belonging.

3. "Hands", students should have opportunities to give back to society, and realise that everyone has a part to contribute to and create Singapore's future, and, where possible, to lead in different fields of society.

"National education messages" must align with the "national mission":

1. Singapore is our homeland; this is where we belong. We treasure our heritage and take pride in shaping our own unique way of life.

2. We must preserve racial and religious harmony. We value our diversity and are determined to stay a united people. 

3. We must uphold meritocracy and incorruptibility. We provide opportunities for all, according to their ability and effort.

4. No one owes Singapore a living. We find our own way to survive and prosper, turning challenge into opportunity.

5. We must ourselves defend Singapore. We are proud to defend Singapore ourselves; no one else is responsible for our security and well-being.

6. We have confidence in our future. United, determined and well-prepared, we have what it takes to build a bright future for ourselves, and to progress together as one nation.

In conclusion, this policy is educational enhancement and aims to develop and empower their citizens. Additionally, the Singaporean government has seeded these messages into its Teacher Education and National Curriculum. However, there is no emphasis on Asean direction. 


Learning scientist, Computer Engineering Department
King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi

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