Opinion: The true Character & Citizenship Education (CCE) lesson — summoning the Singapore Spirit

Instead of focusing on the ineffective Israel-Hamas CCE lesson, let’s work on cultivating the nation’s selfless spirit

This piece is part of MS Speaks, a segment in which MS News reporters share their honest views on current affairs and trending topics.

Last weekend, Singapore announced that its third tranche of humanitarian aid had arrived in Jordan and that it would begin joint airdrop operations with the Royal Jordanian Air Force to bring much-needed relief to the 2.3 million people in Gaza already suffering from catastrophic hunger.

In the same joint statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), Singapore called for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, urging all parties to “allow for the immediate, safe and unhindered provision of humanitarian aid to affected civilians in Gaza”.

This week, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivan Balakrishnan — along with his delegation of MFA officials and five Members of Parliament — met representatives from both Palestine and Israel, including the leaders of both countries, to coax both sides into a ceasefire.

Source: Vivian Balakrishnan on Facebook

Singapore has been expressing “deep concern” about the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza and hopes to see an end to the ongoing conflict that has seen thousands dead, including women and defenceless children, since Oct 2023.

No mean feat for a small, island-state.

No lack of charitable gestures from Singapore & its people

Beyond the Government, ground-up efforts by community groups and organisations have also not gone unnoticed.

On 18 March, Singapore’s Rahmatan Lil Alamin Foundation presented a cheque of S$6.1 million that had been generously donated by the Singapore public to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Non-profit organisation (NGO) Love Aid Singapore recently shared videos of its central kitchens — funded by donations from Singapore — to provide hot meals to refugees in the Jabaliya and Rafah regions. It has already garnered more than S$1.1 million in donations.

Additionally, Singapore citizens and the Government have collectively raised around S$10 million for relief operations to Gaza, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam in an event on 9 March.

Source: Ministry of Defence, Singapore (MINDEF) on Facebook

All of these, on top of the initial tranches of aid delivered last November and the deployment of medical doctors from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to treat casualties from Gaza.

Again, it’s testament to Singapore as a tiny nation punching well above its weight on the international stage.

The community reaction to these efforts have been telling, with many applauding the SAF and NGOs for their efforts in trying to ease the plight of the displaced in Gaza.

This show of unity is reminiscent of the last time we came together as a nation — when we battled Covid-19 and emerged stronger and more resilient than ever.

Yet, just three weeks ago, this same giving, caring society was up in arms, united in their anger towards the handling of Israel-Hamas or Israel-Palestine material in the Character & Citizenship Education (CCE) curriculum.

Messy execution of Israel-Hamas CCE lesson was avoidable

Some criticised the delivery of the CCE lesson and questioned if teachers were properly prepared or even qualified to deliver them.

Sure, students had the opportunity to discuss the conflict in a safe space, but then people started asking whether the classroom is even the right place to handle such sensitive, divisive issues — especially when the war is still ongoing with no visible resolution in sight.

Above all, many took issue with what they perceived to be a terrible representation of the issue, that seemed to trivialise its complexity. To discuss thorny historical and political issues, one would need in-depth knowledge from months or even years of study.

Source: govsg on YouTube

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing’s efforts to clarify that the lessons were not intended to “teach Israel-Palestine history or Middle East politics”, or his promise to review and adjust the materials, did little to quell the fire that was already raging out of control.

Why did MOE bother to touch on the subject at all, knowing that schools can’t provide the space and time to explore its complexities?

Given the brutality of the situation and the sheer number of lives lost in this conflict, it is inevitable that any “discussion” will invite non-objective and strong views.

Real CCE lesson is in finding the right way to rally the nation

So now you have two very different responses — almost polar opposites to the Government’s efforts on the Israel-Hamas conflict. Yet, this is hardly surprising.

On 6 Nov 2023, during a debate in Parliament on a motion about the situation in the Middle East, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong weighed in on the conflict, saying people in Singapore were following events closely and were horrified by the violence.

“No matter our race, religion, or background, we cannot help but grieve that so many lives have been lost, and many more remain in danger,” he said.

Images of war-torn cities, parents cradling their lifeless children and throngs of people rushing for food aid flooded our social media and tugged at our heartstrings.

Singaporeans may be many things, but we have also displayed that we can be kind and have a big heart — if we feel strongly for a cause.

Just look at how quickly Singaporeans rushed to act — whether it was donating to Government or ground-up efforts, applauding our service personnel deployed, or rallying behind our politicians as they placed increased pressure on external parties to come to the table.

As long as these efforts bring tangible relief to those in need, we will certainly get behind them.

So the real Character and Citizenship Education lesson does not lie in a badly executed, hour-long module in school.

It’s about finding more appropriate ways to rally the nation together.

It’s about cultivating an empathetic, kind, compassionate and selfless nature, one that would step up and come to the assistance of those in need — the true epitome of the Singapore Spirit.

Note: The views expressed within this article are the author’s own.

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Featured image adapted from Vivian Balakrishnan on Facebook.

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