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Chan Chun Sing: MOE lessons on Israel-Hamas conflict not meant to be history classes, nor to assign blame

Education Minister addresses parental concerns on CCE lessons, saying they help students process emotions, reflect on cohesion

Singapore Education Minister Chan Chun Sing responds to concerns over CCE lessons on Israel-Hamas conflict.
Singapore Education Minister Chan Chun Sing responds to concerns over CCE lessons on Israel-Hamas conflict. (PHOTO: Chan Chun Sing/Facebook and Google Street Maps)

SINGAPORE — Amid parental concerns, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing has clarified the purpose of the Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) lessons regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict. He said that these lessons are not about assigning blame or serving as history lessons, but aim to assist students in processing their emotions and understanding the issue.

Regarding the consideration of an opt-out option for parents who are uncomfortable with their children participating in such lessons, Chan emphasised the importance of understanding the purpose behind these lessons.

"The CCE lessons are not meant to be a history lesson, nor is it meant to ascribe who is right or wrong at which period of history. We are trying to promote mutual understanding and social harmony. I think we want all our students to be able to appreciate this," the minister said in an interview with SPH Media and Medicorp on Sunday (25 February).

Chan added that these values are not specific to any particular issue or conflict, but are important in Singapore's multiracial and multi-religious society.

He stressed the importance of addressing the Israel-Hamas conflict in Singapore, due to the country's social fabric and the abundance of information available on the topic. He commended educators for their professionalism, while acknowledging their personal feelings and convictions about the issue, but had not imposed them on students.

Minister addresses concerns over CCE content

The minister's remarks come amid concerns from some parents regarding the content of CCE materials. They had expressed dissatisfaction on social media platforms, allegedly accusing the education ministry of choosing sides.

Chan said that the education ministry had foreseen the challenges of dealing with such a complex topic. "Whether it is this issue or the Russia-Ukraine conflict, whenever it comes to CCE, we fully expect that there will be issues that will elicit different reactions from different people. I think we are mentally prepared for this," he said.

He noted that whenever the education ministry collaborated with principals and teachers, they all agreed that the common objective is to build a shared ethos of how we respond as Singaporeans.

Chan added that leaving students to navigate issues on the Israel-Hamas conflict alone could expose them to external influences or, worse, be misguided by biased sources on social media. He noted that students and Singaporeans have already been inundated with unverified information and misinformation online which have stirred emotions and sparked heated conversations.

Therefore, he stressed the importance of preventing the spread of hatred and distrust among younger generations. "We must understand Singapore's vulnerabilities and interests, and work hard to preserve our cohesion, mutual tolerance and acceptance, and find ways to preserve our multiracial and multi-religious harmony," he added.

Chan assured that the CCE curriculum would be regularly updated to reflect new developments and information. He added that the first tranche of materials was updated till December 2023, and the Ministry of Education will continue to update it every two to three months.

Misconceptions surrounding curriculum slide

The Gaza conflict erupted when Hamas militants crossed the border into Israel on 7 October, resulting in the deaths of 1,200 Israelis and the capture of 240 hostages during a rampage into Israeli towns. Subsequently, Israeli retaliation in Gaza caused significant destruction, with the Palestinian death toll reportedly reaching almost 30,000, according to Gaza's Health Ministry.

Chan also said that one particular slide in the CCE lessons, which focused on the events of 7 October when Hamas attacked Israel and Israel retaliated, should not be viewed in isolation. He explained that the curriculum also includes slides that delve into the complex and violent history of the conflict for teachers' reference.

"Some people may have mischaracterised it and say that we only present from 7 October and beyond. Our position is very clear. This is a conflict with a long history, many things have happened," he said.

Chan highlighted Singapore's stance in the United Nations, which has joined other countries in calling for a ceasefire and humanitarian support for the victims. Singapore has also consistently supported a two-state solution.

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