April 29, 2017

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Photo by Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
Cook a pot of Curry before audience seating.
primaryschool
Illustration by Marcus Tan

On Thursday, My Paper ran a front page story on parents who are upset at some social studies questions in a test script for Primary 5 students. They think it’s too early to expose children at the young age of 11 to issues such as, the reasons for the 1961 split within the PAP in Singapore, or the cause for UMNO’s worry about the “Chinese majority in Singapore. Here is what our Junior Chefs think of it:

 

by Pavan Mano

History’s many versions

“History is written by the victor,” goes the common refrain. And how it is taught in schools by history’s different parties matters too. That’s probably what lies at the heart of this outcry – parents are worried that the narration of events presented to their young impressionable children is (unfairly) skewed in ways that might not tally with their version of history. In public relations parlance, this is known as “spin’’ – creating an interpretation of events to sway public opinion according to what the spin doctors want. In layman’s terms, it’s just propaganda.

I was chatting with two Malaysian friends recently who could not understand why merger and separation was such a huge deal in Singaporean education. According to them, Malaysian history textbooks deal with the two countries’ separation in a few lines, simply saying that Singapore “left’’. Clearly the same event can be expressed differently, with different outcomes.

When I was 11, in Primary 5, I assumed that whatever I was taught was gospel truth – whatever Sir said must be correct. Of course, it seems silly now, but at that age I was simply absorbing information presented to me; critically analysing and thinking about the issue was something unfamiliar. Asking questions was a daunting task as questioning Sir was unimaginable.

I’m not sure exactly what’s being taught to those in primary schools now but based on the talk making its rounds on the web, some people think there is a “spin’’ or state-sponsored propaganda.

The Education ministry is caught between a rock and a hard place on this one – there is no one “correct” version of history to teach. Interpretations abound. Whatever the critics say, the version that they insist should be taught instead, is simply that – a version. So what then?

Well, there were two other people whose words I treated as gospel at age 11 – my parents. What’s taught in school is only one interpretation. Students will take it at face value. Unquestioningly, even. But educating children is not the sole responsibility of MOE . Parents have a stake in it too.

So why not engage the children? Explain the other side(s) of the story. Bring them to the library. Share webpages with them. Expose them to other interpretations so that they know this is a complex issue. The critical analysis will come as they mature.

It is better that young Singaporeans are taught something about local history rather than nothing at all. Parents are free to disagree and educate their young ones as they see fit, and as they should. At the very least, introducing pre-teens to local politics and history provides a starting point for a meaningful dialogue to be had. And that’s much better than having them remain on the fence, indifferent, disinterested, and apathetic. From childhood right through their adult life.

 

by Donovan Cheah

Start them young – when they are less stressed.

Is it ever too early to let students know more about their country? According to some parents, the answer seems to be “Yes!”.

I disagree.

Is maturity to be defined arbitrarily as a numerical age? Curious students will eventually ask about the country’s past, the formation of government. If no answers are given in school, they can search the Web for information, relying on socio-political blogs, for example, or plough through historical archives on Singapore.

Even as a university student, I feel that I may not have fully grasped many of the intricate issues that our country faces. Many of these issues are multi-dimensional, which also implies that there is no one easy solution to them. No doubt, politics, public policy and the likes of them are difficult to understand, but they affect our lives directly, and hence it is imperative that people should start knowing at least a little about the country from young.

The way to start, naturally, is talk about significant past happenings. Introducing them to how our country was born out of forced circumstances, for example, will give them some grounding in understanding Singapore’s fragility.

What about the argument about when students should be taught such matters? I tend to hew towards: the earlier the better. Let them ask questions when they are still young when they do not have so much to grapple with; don’t cram everything in secondary school or beyond. Because, by then, if they do not perceive social studies as important, they would no longer have the heart to understand or even read about Singapore.

Give our young people a gentler learning curve in understanding more and more complicated issues by giving them glimpses of our nation in the past. When knowledge builds up, analytical skills can be applied. How to critique history will then be up to them.

 

by Uthara Nair

What’s the big deal about teaching politics?

I honestly don’t understand all this hoopla about primary 5 students being too young to be exposed to politics. What nonsense. These students are not being asked to vote, they are simply being exposed to the intricacies of government and history. If parents are so scared about their children being unduly influenced in a certain way, what, may I ask, do they do during election time when ministers and candidates walk about, give speeches, hold rallies? Lock their children in a metal box?

First, those questions that some parents found objectionable are only in the Gifted syllabus, which are supposedly for the more mature and studious. Or is the worry the “brainwashing’’ of clever children?

Second, isn’t it more advantageous to gradually introduce the students to political history of Singapore, rather than dumping it on them suddenly when they are deemed to be ‘mature’ enough?

There’s so much political news and views both local and foreign that it might be better to start them off with a foundational understanding- if the social studies questions can even be called that- of politics. This learning doesn’t end. Even in university, there is the compulsory Singapore studies modules that must be completed for graduation.

Third, why can’t parents get more involved in educating their children on politics? Supplement the teacher or even correct the teacher if you think the child is getting a false or lousy grounding. But before jumping the gun, take a look at the scope and extent of “political’’ lessons in a primary student’s syllabus. Have your say in what should be taught – but don’t get it banned.

Photo by Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
Popsicles found at a pasar malam.

By Yen Feng

Of the many things that Singaporeans get kan-cheong about, school grades are pretty up there. So imagine how some 2,500 students here must feel, after being told that their exam results are being withheld indefinitely due to a union dispute thousands of miles away.

The students are from the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) who are pursuing degrees issued by RMIT University in Victoria, Australia.

Because of a dispute between the country’s National Tertiary Education Union and the university, the union has banned it from releasing exam results until a deal can be struck over employment and salary issues.

Basically, the union wants the school to cut its staff and up the remaining lecturers’ pay, but the school says this would cost them nearly $300 million over the next four years.

The report was carried by CNA and Zaobao this morning, and was missed by other mainstream media, including ST and TODAY. The university’s deputy vice-chancellor told CNA that the union’s claims were unrealistic.

According to CNA’s report, there are about 6,000 students in Singapore enrolled under the SIM-RMIT programme. Only a portion of first- and second-year students, or about 2,500 students, are believed to be affected by this academic detente, however.

Zaobao said that SIM is believed to be RMIT’s largest partner in Singapore, and added that there are a few other private centres offering courses from the Australian university – though, it did not name any.

This incident comes less than a week after the results of some 50,000 students at Victoria’s Swinburne University of Technology were withheld over a similar dispute, CNA reported.

Examples of other similarly troubled tie-ups between schools are not uncommon in recent years – such as the high-profile closure of NYU’s Tisch Asia’s campus in Singapore, for example.

Earlier in January this year, the Singapore Institute of Technology ended its relationship with Las Vegas’ University of Nevada because of a disagreement over fees (The American university wanted more money); and last year, students at the private AEC College were unable to start their MBA programme offered by Britain’s University of Wales because their English test results were withheld.

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Photo by Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
A corridor at the campus of NUS Yale.

by Bertha Henson

The sex-for-grades case is winding down with the law professor slammed with a guilty verdict and his sentence to be handed down on Monday. For the best-written report on the prosecution and defence arguments on what sort of sentence he should get, read TNP. Strangely, ST is doing “catch-up’’ today, incorporating elements that were said the day before in court about how the Tey Tsun Hang’s case differs from that of former Central Narcotics Bureau chief Ng Boon Gay, who walked out of court a free man.

So is it going to be the “clang of the prison gates’’ for Tey, who was found guilty of soliciting gifts and sex from a student? That, by the way, seems to be some kind of short hand for a token jail term. Or will it be 16 weeks imprisonment which the prosecution is asking for?

One interesting point has emerged – and that is about the integrity of the university grading system. Now, if you remember the Tey case, it’s about getting favours from the student because the student thinks the teacher – or the teacher gave her the impression – can give her better grades. It seems her grades weren’t changed, so Tey either conned the girl into thinking he could do so, or the girl was naïve enough to think he could.

This is what TODAY reported the prosecution as saying: “The key suggestion raised by the offence is that the grading system, while having safeguards in place, can potentially be circumvented and subverted if an ill-intentioned party involved in grading the students is determined to enter into illicit arrangements.”

But the defence lawyer noted that grades were not altered: “The present case has not caused NUS any reputational damage with regard to its grading framework and its institutional integrity.”

The prosecution’s reply: “The accused was placed in a position where the accuracy and validity of the marks awarded depended on his professionalism and integrity — in both instances, the accused has been found sorely wanting.”

That last bit is a little difficult to comprehend. So while her grades had not been “altered’’, does he mean that there was no need to, since the orginal grades had already factored in the “favours’’ granted?

Perhaps, the university authorities would like to clarify its grading process once again and how it safeguards the system from being influenced by the marker’s personal prejudices or “illicit arrangements’’ in the first instance. It’s going to be a tall order and could in fact, be unfair to the majority of teachers who exercise stringent care in grading. But if people outside think that the integrity of the system could be compromised as the prosecution alludes, it might be worthwhile clearing the air.

But now that the law don-versus-lawyer case is about to end, and we’ve enjoyed the cut-and-thrust of argument, fainting fits and the like – we should turn our attention to another lawyer-versus-lawyer case. This involves a former prosecutor who is part of that seemingly never-ending underage sex case. Spencer Gwee claimed in court that his legal career made him an “important catch’’ for the police whom he claimed spoon-fed information to the girl to build up its case against him.

One time, Gwee was accused of doing his lawyer’s job for him. Much like how Tey used to edge out his own counsel, Mr Peter Low, during his own trial.

Read ST for the story. It’s entertaining.

Photo by Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
A corridor at the campus of NUS Yale.

by Augustin Chiam

Ex-NUS law professor, Tey Tsun Hang was charged on Tuesday (29 May 2013) on all six counts of corruption, accused of corruptly receiving gifts and sex from his former student, Darrine Ko. The “sex-for-grades” label is a bit of a misnomer given that the prosecution has never argued that grades were tampered with – more like “sex-and-expensive-gifts-for-nothing”, given that Ko never received compensation for the gifts or the abortion(!) she had to undertake.

In a three-hour long verdict by Chief District Judge Tan Siong Thye, the talking points are plenty.

ST focused on how Tey’s claim that his relationship with Ko is a romantic one was rejected by the Judge. Not once did he refer to Ko by her name/nickname, preferring to call her “a female student”. He had also been “terse in his e-mails (to her), sometimes to the point of being curt” and when he did take the initiative to write, his “romantic Chinese poem” was exposed as a copy-and-paste exercise from YouTube. Seems like a classic case of one-sided puppy love, pity that it didn’t raise any red flags for Ko.

TODAY reported that the prosecutors argued for Tey to be covered under Section 8 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (PoCA) without really specifying or explain the Section. Essentially, it means that as an employee of NUS, any gifts received by Tey would be presumed to be corruptly received until proven otherwise; One of those “guilty-until-proven-innocent” clauses in the Singapore penal code, similar to how possession of certain drugs carries with it the presumption that one intends to distribute it.

Ng Boon Gay’s alleged sex-for-I.T. contracts case is the other (in)famous case that concerned Section 8 of the PoCA. TODAY also highlighted how the Judge differentiated Tey’s case from Ng’s. The Judge said that Tey “had total autonomy and power” over his student, noting that in Ng’s case, the contracts in question were drawn up primarily by his I.T. department. Ng was acquitted from his corruption charges, his extra-marital affair irrelevant to the question of whether he was corrupt.

The conclusion of this case certainly highlights the “sensitive” relationship between teacher and students. Lest it be forgotten, Tey had earlier admitted to CPIB and the courts that he had sex with another student besides Ko. NUS will understandably be more conscious and it remains to be seen whether stricter measures will be put in place to ensure that such close encounters with the students will not occur again. No more couches in the offices?

Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
A Disco Ball.

by Yen Feng

What do Singaporeans and Nigerians have in common?

A love for instant noodles – this was the answer to a question the Minister of Education Heng Swee Kiat posed nearly 100 Singaporean students in Hangzhou, China, during a university dialogue session yesterday.

The minister was speaking on the increasing number of Singapore firms who are now investing in Africa – a fact he said was not known to many people, reported Zaobao today.

Though he did not give any specifics, the trend follows the economic development of China and Africa, he said, adding that such greater presence in Africa may include securing more flights from Singapore to African nations.

Mr Heng told the students on a foreign exchange programme that the Nigerians were particularly fond of instant noodles that were brought to Africa by a Singaporean businessman.

Because they so loved the product, they also fell in love with Singapore, the Chinese paper reported.

One third-year student asked Mr Heng if there were any foreign exchange student programmes between Singapore and Africa.

Among the 100 Singaporean students present, though none had been to Africa before, more than half said they would love an opportunity to do so. According to ZB, this prompted the minister to exclaim: “Wah, this is very interesting!”

Other topics discussed during the dialogue included bilingualism and the quality of teachers and university graduates.

Using Chinese software can be tricky
Using Chinese software can be tricky

In November, a few hundred students will be sitting part of their Chinese Mother Tongue exams using a laptop – the first time computers are being used in a national examination, the Education Ministry said yesterday.

Instead of writing their answers on traditional gao zhi (Chinese foolscap), the 300 junior college students will have to type an e-mail or blog entry by using romanised hanyu pinyin, then selecting the right characters when prompted by the input software. This “functional writing” part of the test makes up 20 per cent of the whole exam.

Media reports said the exam is the A-level Mother Tongue “B” exam, introduced in 2003 to help students who aren’t so good in Chinese.

The thinking behind this new e-component is that it will make learning Chinese more current since no one really writes in script anymore – certainly not students who are poor in the language to begin with.

Or as MOE deputy-general of education Wong Siew Hoong put it to ST: These students were selected to have the e-exam because they “are the ones who will require a lot more authenticity in their learning”.

TODAY said such computer-based writing “has become the norm not only in the workplace but also in social communication”.

Surprisingly, the Chinese daily Zaobao did not have a conniption fit about the news – after all, the concern most traditional Chinese-speakers will have is that such a move may compromise the learning of Chinese characters at a time when already more and more Chinese Singaporeans are using English at home and at work.

The paper reported the story straight – though, expect its Forum pages to be flooded by similar concerns over the next few days.

This was an issue addressed by the director of assessment research at the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board yesterday.

Mr Yue Lip Sin said “recognising the characters is as important as knowing how to write them,” ST reported, adding: “What is important is whether they are able to communicate the idea and the feeling in the functional writing.”

by Bertha Henson 

When there are so many ministers talking down a diploma or degree, something’s amiss (or afoot), methinks. Mr Heng Swee Keat makes it minister No. 4 to have weighed in on how a paper qualification is not the only route to success. Now… the minisers were mainly speaking to polytechnic graduates, practically telling them to get a job (there are plenty, so it has been asserted) instead of automatically heading to the universities.

What will they say if the audience were university graduates? Not to go chasing yet another paper? Post-graduate qualifications? What’s for sure, the mantra that learning is a lifelong process will be heard.

This is all so odd. When university places were opened up, one reason was to give more good poly students a shot at a degree locally instead of spending money on an overseas education. It was universally applauded. Then there was all that projection about the proportion of university graduates making up the labour force in the future. So many universities, autonomous and private, brand-name and otherwise, are sited here, nay, wooed over. And now we are saying that poly students might want to think about getting a job first?

You can’t blame anyone for wondering about the ministerial chorus.

Why do people want a degree? First, entry-level pay is differentiated for diploma and degree holders, as it should be, given the longer investment in a university education. Second, a degree is more prestigious than a diploma. Third, a degree is what our parents would prefer us to have. Fourth, a degree is needed if you want to be a “professional’’, say, lawyer, doctor or accountant.

In fact, a degree is now perceived as not good enough in the eyes of some people. Is it a “good’’ degree? From a “good’’ university? In fact, a Bachelors degree is not as good as a post-graduate degree. An MA or a Phd is better, that’s why it’s printed on business cards.

But I would be the first to say that work experience is valuable – but do employers think so too? When I left university, the difference between a general degree and an honours degree was $200 a month, a large sum in those days. Can a general degree holder surpass the pay of the new honours graduate in one year or two or three? Or will they forever be lagging behind? What about a diploma versus degree holder? Much would depend on how much effort the employee puts in. The other question would be whether this is recognised by employers or would employers be dazzled by the academic credentials of a fresh recruit that they automatically make arrangements for their career “progression’’?

I have another worry. Is the ministerial chorus being sounded because our polytechnic students are not good enough to fill university places, especially with the expansion of poly places over the years? And their aspirations will have to be dampened or there will be a political problem on our hands? To accommodate so many, university entry levels will have to be lowered to meet the higher demand. (I have always wondered about whether the Integrated Programme has siphoned off the best students at age 12, preparing them for university. Do the best of the rest head to the junior colleges or to the polys?)

It will take more than a ministerial chorus to turn people away from a degree and take their chances in the job market or set up their own business. The education route has been so ingrained in the minds of the people here. Sure, there are plenty of people who have made it good in life without a degree (and the media is celebrating them like crazy these days). But how many did so because they didn’t have a choice, like too few uni places here so they only go to the cream of the crop, too expensive elsewhere or family circumstances that require them to earn a living?

Another thought: With so many foreign workers sent packing with the tightened work permit system, is this one way to make sure a labour crunch is averted? Perhaps, work opportunities and space for career progression really abound. We need workers, to replace the workers who have to go home.

Ministers are weighing in on the worth of a degree, with the latest one being Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing who urged poly students to get some work experience.

Two young BN writers say what they think.

Which weighs of greater importance? A college degree or workplace experience, especially when one has just graduated? (Illustration by Melissa Lim)
Which weighs of greater importance? A college degree or workplace experience, especially when one has just graduated? (Illustration by Melissa Lim)

by Kwan Jin Yao, 21, “studying” Business, who believes that we should embrace individuals who disagree with your perspectives

Stories of top polytechnic graduates like Tan Junhong’s are great, but they are “rare”. Despite leaving school with a perfect score, the aeronautical engineering graduate intends to work for aircraft-engine makers before university. The vast majority, it seems, prefer to further their studies in the universities (although the diploma proves that they are work-ready, in comparison to their junior college counterparts). Some might argue they lack foresight: a few years in the workplace or preferred industry will allow them to develop skill-sets and experiences that cannot be gained while at college.

While the reality on-the-ground is quite different, everyone in the administration appears to be harping on this same message. The ST report noted SP principal Tan Choon Shian advising his students, that “while conventional wisdom suggests pursuing a degree right away, it is also wise to work for a few years”. Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that a university degree is “not vital for success”. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong added his voice too, insisting that “getting a degree is not the only option for polytechnic students”. 

So where do we go from here? 

Perhaps one of the ways is to reaffirm the longstanding belief that junior college graduates do get an edge when they apply to enter a local university. At first glance, the representative grade profiles for A-level and polytechnic applicants are equally competitive (the NUS Business Administration programmes – for instance – requires A level students to score AAA/B to AAA/A, and poly students to score between 3.82 and 3.97). However, beyond the number of applicants, it would be interesting to know how many polytechnic graduates do make it to the local universities, and how this rate compares to the junior college graduates.

Even though the Government’s conception of the polytechnic as a vocational institution might not have changed, there is a sense that the perspectives of the students are changing. Are there more graduates applying to the universities than before? Will the new schools allow for more polytechnic admissions? 

The Government might find itself in a pickle: revealing the statistical status quo might show that it is indeed extremely difficult for polytechnic graduates to enter the local universities. This could incur the wrath of parents and students. Just ask Acting Minister Lawrence Wong, who received tremendous flak last year when he contended that “we do not want the polytechnics to become pre-universities”. 

Already, anecdotal discontent is surfacing because of this perceived discrimination. Polytechnic graduates believe that a degree promises greater prospects and more competitive incomes, and so university aspirations have become more ubiquitous. And this trend is not going to abate with bureaucrats or policy-makers telling them otherwise.

 

by Augustin Chiam, 24, Political Science Major, Yr 3 NUS undergraduate. He believes that people should have the courage to be wrong.

So much talk recently about whether a university degree is a must-have. And now polytechnic graduates are being assured that there are jobs waiting for them, should they decide to forgo a degree and forge ahead with a diploma. The more important lesson, according to the latest minister to weigh in on the topic, Mr Chan Chun Sing, is to cultivate a mind that is willing and able to learn, for all times.

Let’s just take the first point: that there are jobs awaiting polytechnic graduates.

As it so happens, the five polytechnics (NYP, Ngee Ann, RP, SP and TP) conducted a Graduate Employment Survey 2012. The results showed that the full time employment rate for polytechnic graduates is only 65.4 per cent for fresh graduates and 77.8 per cent for post-NS graduates. When those doing part-time non-contractual work is included, the figure is significantly higher at 91 per cent for fresh graduates and 93 per cent for post-NS graduates. 

Compared to the Graduate Employment Survey 2012 conducted by the universities, these figures make the choice of whether to get out to work or move on to university less complicated.

Using the NUS results as an example, 65 per cent is the lowest percentage for full time employment and even that is an anomaly because it is for the graduates with a degree in Music. The full time employment rate for most of the other courses hover in the mid-80 percentage range. When the number of graduates working part-time non-contractual work is included, the lowest is 82.6 per cent for the graduates with a degree in Science without honours.

If the question is simply whether the polytechnic graduates have a better chance of finding employment, the statistics affirm that applying for university is a no-brainer. The 65.4 per cent full-employment figure hardly reassures polytechnic graduates of their chances in the job market. One suspects that the overall employment rates are inflated by polytechnic graduates who might not even be working in a career related to the diploma which they have just earned.

So is there an advantage in going out into the job market with just a diploma? Entrepreneurs like Peter Thiel think so. He is willing to fork out $100,000 to get young people to not go to a university and start a business instead.

Gaining industrial experience is the reason some polytechnic graduates are choosing to follow the unconventional path of working first. It might even even confer them an advantage whilst applying and studying in a university because the course materials are seen in a different light.

Furthermore, the polytechnic graduate who is willing to persevere through this longer academic route to a degree is probably more likely to have the kind of work-ethic and passion for his field of choice than his peers from junior college.

In fact, a poly graduate who does the work first and study later route might well end up in a far better position in the job market than those who went straight from junior college into university. Perhaps, a survey on this special breed should be conducted to see if employers do or do not put a premium on them.

 

by Bertha Henson

Media reports said today that the polytechnics are on target to enrol 45 per cent of the Primary One cohort by 2015, up from 43 per cent. Well and good. Now, here’s a question: Are they getting the best students, given that the Integrated Programme have locked in the best students for six years and their next step is university? Recall the fuss made when top O level students picked a poly over JC. It was a feather in the cap for polytechnic education in Singapore.

Now those IP students have graduated, and at least two batches are now in university. Is Singapore’s cream of the crop evenly distributed among the tertiary institutions? It would be a pity if the polytechnics, which have tried so hard over the years to burnish their credentials, are deprived of good students who want a “hands on’’ route but find themselves locked in from age 12 or 14 in another school system that might not be catering to their strengths.

ST reported that  initiatives such as the Polytechnic Foundation Programme and the Direct Entry Scheme to Polytechnic Programme were introduced this year to help more students get into polytechnics. The response has been described as “good’’. How good? In terms of numbers or quality of students?

 

by Kwan Jin Yao

Whether you are a dog person or a cat person, you are no doubt cheering news that animal welfare will be included in the Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) framework.

Illustration by Melissa Lim

The horrific cases of animal abuse, cruelty, and abandonment in Singapore, albeit anecdotal, signals the need for us to have greater respect for animals – and it’s best to start them young.

It is not uncommon to see children shy away from animals, big and small. Sometimes this is not helped by the attitude of parents. What about bringing children to an animal farm? The concern will be whether the chickens can transmit bird flu to the young ones. So a child’s exposure to chicken is via frozen poultry on supermarket shelves.

Get them a dog? Wait. Fur can trigger asthmas. Get them a small dog and they run away from big dogs because their bark is louder – even though some big dogs are among the gentlest creatures on earth. What about a cat? Wait, they scratch. Fish? Guess who will end up cleaning the tank. Best to get them an iPad. Or take them to a zoo where the animals are safely behind bars or in cages. 

In fact, some parents might lament that this new syllabus would not be beneficial for students who might not have interacted with animals before, especially if their families do not own pets. What about concerns over allergies? Physical discomfort, like smells? Maybe, animal welfare will have to be taught in a classroom context, via a text book.

Yet learning to be kind to animals can build a sense of responsibility, as the young impressionable child becomes more empathetic as he or she expresses concern for others. Compassion can be nurtured, as they learn how to behave and co-exist with it.

Pet corners, which may require manpower or resource investments, can nonetheless be a good complement if the schoolchildren are sufficiently engaged and committed. Even an-adopt-pet scheme, where a class of children take it upon themselves to look after animals who are not “dangerous’’ to their health or well-being. Rabbits? Terrapins? Hamsters?

Of course, there can be trips to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and animal shelters. Perhaps, day trips with the 30 or so animal welfare groups who have taken it upon themselves to round up strays or sterilise them. 

There are so many opportunities for teaching and education: young children can be called upon to think about pet ownership; those with household pets can share their experiences of grooming and caring for them. This could potentially be the springboard for greater student involvement through volunteerism or community service as well. They would be giving voice to the voiceless and paying attention to one of the most disregarded groups in Singapore – animals.

More intriguingly, how far will this springboard take participating schoolchildren? How should educators or schools react – for instance – if a passionate group of students decide to campaign against or communicate with corporations that trap animals in enclosures?

Besides brief sessions with domestic pets or animals, will schools and the MOE be open to having organisations like the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) conduct seminars on seemingly controversial issues? Will students get the opportunity to articulate these concerns on a public platform, or to protest against perceived animal injustices? The inclusion of animal welfare in formal syllabus, it is presumed, would open up opportunities for students to challenge the status quo. Will we be receptive to these activities?

Furthermore, on a broader scale, beyond the focus on pets per se, it would be meaningful if these initial classroom lessons and pet interactions can segue into ethical discussions about animal rights and treatment. Why preclude ethical engagement, if the students are ready for it? There is tremendous academic value in these exchanges, as conventional practices are challenged: the ethics of keeping animals in observatories for different purposes, whether punitive measures against abuses are adequate, and the many issues with raising livestock. The details will come, but it is worth pondering how teachers or schools can support the endeavours organised by the students.

For all we know, this might herald an era of animal activism, something that is already on the rise. The next question is: are we genuinely ready for it?