Returning to Things Sing

I was invited to speak at the biennial Teachers Conference (TC2014) in Singapore and spent the first week of June there. The Academy of Singapore Teachers and the Ministry of Education named me a Top Overseas Teacher (TOT) and asked me to present information about ways to use Engineering to facilitate character, values and global citizenship issues in science curriculum. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to return to the country I had lived in for 6 months during 2013. While there are always new ideas and initiatives in Singapore, my Singaporean acquaintances proved to be true old friends and were, as always, very gracious hosts. I had a whirlwind week complete with more jet-lag and more varied Asian cuisine than I thought one person could handle!

The conference was a  terrific opportunity to share ideas and approaches to promoting values and character education across the curriculum. None of it was presented with any agenda other than that of equipping young people to cope with the unforeseen issues of a rapidly changing world. It is an issue of global significance. In an interconnected world, all actions have consequences and many solutions create more problems. It is probably more important than ever to educate the whole child.

Singapore has shown much foresight by including Citizenship and Character Education as part of their national curriculum. It is perhaps easier to promote such a program with a highly centralized education system in a small country, but there are valuable lessons every school and every school system can incorporate. I think the idea that most resounded throughout the conference is the old adage the “actions speak louder than words”. You can’t expect to teach values and good character if you don’t model them yourself. It all comes down to establishing a culture of respect in the classroom and it all starts with the teacher. The part that is new for many of us, Singapore included, is that it must be a two-way street, where students deserve the respect of the teacher. Traditional classrooms were hierarchical environments, perhaps more so in Asian societies. Students need the freedom to practice respect and ethical decision making in the classroom. That requires a collegial environment of mutual cooperation and understanding. Project- and problem-based learning can go a long way toward educating young citizens. As teachers, we bear the responsibility for equipping our students to lead meaningful, productive lives. They will never be able to steer through the rapidly changing landscape of the future with some sense of moral compass.

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