Infusing values into the classroom

Marcus Goh
Yahoo illustration.

By Marcus Goh and Adrian Kuek

Grade Expectations is a weekly feature on education in Singapore. Expect fun activities, useful tips and insightful news on learning. It’s not just about your child’s grades – it’s about raising a great child!

Before this century, it wasn’t uncommon to be caned or scolded by a teacher. They were seen not only as academic guardians, but moral ones as well. Teachers didn’t just teach us all about the world, but they also taught us how to behave and what’s right. If you forgot to bring your toothbrush (remember health education lessons, when it was mandatory to brush your teeth after recess?), you would get caned. No question about it.

Nowadays, it seems like teachers can’t even raise their voice at a student without it being secretly recorded and then broadcast out of context on so-called “citizen journalism” sites. It’s true that teachers can be harsh when it comes to punishing students for infractions — most punishments have to be, by definition. But this culture of fear has resulted in an education system in which values are severely lacking.

I’m not just talking about moral values here, but about kindness, grace, tolerance, and forgiveness. These values form the backbone of a caring and cultured society, and if the next generation isn’t learning it from young, how can we expect them to espouse it when they become adults? They won’t magically learn good values once they turn 21.

It’s a slow, gradual process that should start in the classroom.

Why good values should be taught in the classroom

Students attend school in their formative years, and what they learn forms the basis for the rest of their lives. If they learn good values from a young age, it becomes a part of them. It’s easier than having to actively and consciously learn to behave later on in adulthood.

Also, when they start school, their parents aren’t with them as often to monitor their behaviour. Teachers might see them more often, and they should be equipped with the authority to teach good values to students.

Thirdly, many students act very differently when their parents are not around. There’s no-one to police their actions, so that’s when good values come in. How would you behave if there were no consequences for your actions?

A cultural shift

Children are given a lot more leeway nowadays. Gone are the days when “children should be seen and not heard” was a common utterance by parents. Although this does not apply to every child, it has certainly contributed to a rise in the number of brats. How many times have we seen children throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want? Can you imagine this sort of behaviour continuing into their adult lives, unchecked?

In fact, teachers cannot even enforce appropriate attire and appearance without being subjected to backlash. It’s true that parents are only a phone call away, but if you’re a teacher with 40 students in your form class, is it really feasible to call and text the parent of every child that misbehaves?

Parents play a part, too

However, let’s not forget that parents are just as important when it comes to teaching good values to their children. What is taught in school should be reinforced at home, and vice-versa. It should not be a case where the parents undermine the authority of the teachers by opposing their disciplinary actions.

For the sake of our future generations, let’s put good values back into the classroom and give teachers the autonomy to discipline our students.

Marcus Goh runs Write-Handed, a creative writing studio. At the same time, he teaches Secondary English at The Write Connection. He has been a specialist tutor for English and Literature (Secondary) since 2005.

Adrian Kuek runs Joyous Learning, an enrichment centre that specialises in English, Mathematics, Science and Creative Writing for Primary. He previously served as the academic director of one of Singapore’s largest enrichment centre chains for over seven years.