Developing civic-mindedness must start in school

In the recent debates on the speed of bicycles and personal mobility devices on footpaths, as well as smoking in homes, the focus has been on one glaring deficiency in our people - the lack of civic-mindedness.

This begs the question: Why are we lacking in basic graciousness and civility, even though Singapore is a First World country?

I believe the root cause can be traced to our education system.

Unlike the Japanese, who spend a lot of time and effort inculcating social responsibility in the young during their school years, our students are brought up in a system that is solely engineered for one goal: to get good grades in examinations.

The competition to score better grades, be the best student in class or school and get scholarships has culminated in this relentless self-centred pursuit to be better than the rest. The last thing on students' minds is the welfare of others.

Metaphorically speaking, whether at home or in school, our students are fed a "jungle diet" of the survival of the fittest. In the battle to be the creme de la creme, the victor triumphs over the "dead bodies" of the vanquished or those who fall by the wayside.

When they step into society, this rat race to be better than everyone else continues unabated as they try to outperform their colleagues in rankings and promotions.

In short, civic-mindedness is, at best, a distant concept practised by a few, or, at worst, a totally alien concept that is not in the equation at all.

To address this lopsided development, we have to seriously look into revamping our education system so that, besides grades, other equally important considerations such as inculcating social responsibility in our young are given serious attention and taught as essential subjects in schools.

Seah Yam Meng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2018, with the headline 'Developing civic-mindedness must start in school'. Print Edition | Subscribe