Motivate kids to clean schools

A year ago, editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang challenged Singapore schools to make students responsible for cleaning them ("No litter please, we're Singaporeans"; Feb 8, 2015).

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has taken up that challenge, somewhat ("A clean way to pick up good habits in schools"; yesterday).

Inspired by education systems in Japan and Taiwan, the MOE has made cleaning compulsory for students across all schools in Singapore soon. It draws the line at toilets, though, and leaves schools to decide what to clean and when.

Thankfully, too, school cleaners are keeping their jobs for now.

Some parents are worried that the cleaning may take up too much of class time, while many laud the move, saying students will be able to take ownership of their shared space ("Parents give thumbs up, but some have doubts"; yesterday).

While I am supportive of the good intentions behind the move, a bigger question is whether schoolchildren will be made to clean the school, or motivated to do so.

Naturally, some children will be more serious about cleaning than others. My concern is how teachers will react to students who are less serious about cleaning.  

Will they be reprimanded for not taking their role seriously? Or will all teachers be patient enough to use the cleaning duties as teaching moments to educate children?

Only time will tell. But a mandated order is an ominous start.

Most parents would be pleased to see their children picking up good habits of keeping clean while at school. They would be even more pleased if this improves their children's habits at home.

Having said so, parents, let's not forget that it is our responsibility to teach our children these values at home in the first place.

William Tan Whee Kiem

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2016, with the headline 'Motivatekids to clean schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe