A Plea to All Educators / Parents to Teach Character Education to the Children
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How I was transformed from a straight grade Fs student to grade As Student
I recall fondly my younger days when I was in Primary and Secondary School. I lived in a 2-room rented flat and I was always playing marbles or catching spiders, always busy with every other playful pursuits but never any focus on my studies.
My father, with very little education and an early immigrant from China. was too busy trying to earn a living and putting food on the table. My mother was illiterate and both my parents were not able to provide much support in my studies nor did they show any expectations that I must do well in school. I was 'left largely to my devices' and naturally, I did badly and eventually failed all my subjects in my O level. I started to feel I was stupid, thinking I am lousy and I had very low self-esteem.
The day when I received my O level results, knowing that I have failed all my subjects was only just the beginning of the pain I felt then. The bigger blow was the news that my father was admitted to emergency care in the hospital for a 'ruptured vein' in the leg due to prolonged standing (my father was then selling and frying char kway teow). Luckily, the doctor saved my father but he had to be out of work for two months. My father was the only sole bread-winner in the family and without any financial support, we had difficulties making ends meet. I vividly remembered the moments when I was beaten by my mother for refusing to eat the cheap bean sprouts and soya sauce that were mixed with porridge.
I was very lucky then that I visited the National Library and chanced upon motivational self-help books from motivational gurus like Norman Vincent Peale, Dr Wayne Dryer, Anthony Robbin etc. I was greatly inspired by their teachings and I set upon a steely resolve to work hard and 'changed my fate'.
I learnt from the motivational gurus transformational attitudinal development skills-set that provides me the skills, knowledge and dispositions that enable me to manage self and make responsible decisions. With the right attitudinal skills-sets and a hungry mind for more learning, I acquired more essential study skills that eventually helped me to score distinctions in most of my subjects for my O level in the year that I repeated. I then moved on to do my Degree in NUS and obtained my Master's Degree from NTU.
In retrospect, I would not have acquired that much of success academically if I had not learnt the attitudinal development skills-sets. My other friends who repeated the O level with me were not so interested in the motivational books that I read, and the repeated reprimands and 'forced practicing' on the assessment books did not help them much. All my other friends failed in their exams.
Looking back at my friends and observing the many other underachieving students in many of our schools today, I believe these underachieving students (including my friends) would have achieved greater academic results if they have been taught the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) - character strengths values such as grit, self-control, self-awareness, empathy, integrity etc - and these character strengths values can all be taught and facilitated in the classroom.
“The most important scientific discovery about self-control is that it can be taught.”
Many character education research overwhelmingly show the linkages among SEL, student outcomes, and school performance. Research done on the subject found out that students who receive character education have fewer incidences of disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and truancy. The positive environment that it bought to schools also increased attendance and has also brought about a significant improvement in academic performance of the students.
We should now start to initiate a new character education movement , to urge our schools to take on a bigger and active role in character education for our children.
From preschool classrooms to Secondary and higher learning classrooms, school leaders and teachers should put more emphasis on SEL as it helps to promote young people’s academic success, engagement, good behaviour, cooperation with others, problem-solving abilities, health, and well being, while also preventing a variety of problems such as truancy, alcohol and drug use, bullying, and violence.
For too long, “academic grades and exams” have been emphasized, tested, and reported upon, but another essential aspect of a child’s education — social and emotional learning (SEL) — has been underemphasized or altogether forgotten — with serious consequences to children, schools, and communities.
We applaud the recent announcements by MOE to reduce emphasis on grades and to emphasize more on holistic education and the other important success attributes such as character and values education.
We see gradual changes in the Singapore's Education System but in too many classrooms and schools in Singapore, children are missing a critical piece of their education; character education is not yet systematically taught or not emphasized. In most classroom settings, students and their teachers focus on the cognitive elements of education, while other life skills are often absent from the in-school experience.
We should urge more schools (not only in Singapore but for the benefit of all children in all parts of the world from preschool to primary to secondary) to prioritize SEL. SEL should be embedded throughout the curriculum, pedagogy, and the culture of a school and emphasized in our schools' educational goals.
Please support our Character Education movement. SEL should become an integrated piece of the prekindergarten through Primary and Secondary education experience, considered as essential to education as reading, writing, and arithmetic. What our children learn from character education will be useful to them as they engage and interact with other people in society. For them to become upstanding members of their communities, they need to know the proper way to treat other people, and these are the things that they learn and understand through character education.
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