While Mother's Day weekend was filled with dinners, gifts and thank you cards, an interesting observation is that in schools, it's been rather quiet. In fact, the level of activity surrounding Mother's Day is inversely proportional to the level of education in schools. The higher the level of education, the less school activities related to Mother's Day.
It's a stark contrast to the flurry of activities in schools and the countless discussions in public about critical and creative thinking; a reflection of our fears and worries over the future survival of our community in the economic jungle. Values haven't disappeared, it's the tendency to value those that have economic relevance. A good student perseveres in pursuit of excellence, a team player who takes initiative, possesses leadership skills.
Education is the convenient whipping boy for the problems in society. Simultaneously the problem and the solution. The Straits Times' Forum is often filled with concerned members of the public ready to offer advice and what schools ought to do more or less of. But schools are the expression and result of society: values, ideals, fears and aspirations.
Change begins with adults; with the fathers and mothers, and those of their generation. Teachers, principals and even the education minister can only work within socio-cultural boundaries. This is probably most true in present times as digital technologies has enabled citizens to be more assertive and vocal. A perfect example is the PSLE that has seen various camps with different, and sometimes opposing interests, debate about the appropriate changes needed. Perhaps our story isn't too different from Finland. One generation decided that change was needed and took the time to decide what kind of change they wanted. It took years but what they have now is a culture that has high expectation of teachers and with it, the trust and respect.
The heart of this change is philosophical - what is education; what ought education be. Positive change didn't start with programmes, curriculum, pedagogy or assessment; backed by the latest scientific breakthrough or technological development. It's the result of philosophical reflection. How else did a nation develop a culture that's more concerned about the betterment of oneself than the beating the next closest competitor?
What is our philosophy of education? It is not a question solely for teachers and educators. If education is fundamental to the continuation of society, it's a question that every Singaporean citizen has to inquire and consider.