Go beyond Confucius in moral education

While I laud Mr Paul Chan Poh Hoi for advocating the reinforcement of the teaching of moral education in schools ("Confucius still applicable in schools today"; Forum Online, Dec 1), merely inculcating Confucian values is both unfair and a limiting factor.

Singapore is a multiracial and multi-religious society. Our schools are places where we can both maintain our cultural diversity and yet forge friendships across these lines.

As much as Confucius' philosophy contains many truths, his perspective on life is Sino-centric.

This does not do justice to moral codes and ideas from the traditions of other races and religions.

Moreover, Confucius cannot claim monopoly over the truth of moral philosophy. His ideas may contradict those advanced by other thinkers. But this does not make the idea of other thinkers invalid - they also have distinct insights to offer students in Singapore.

Our education system should allow these ideas to "converse" with one another, so students can reconcile different perspectives of our dynamic world.

Introducing interactive activities, as Mr Chan suggested, will be beneficial only if students are allowed to derive their own conclusions of morality.

The old method of inculcating morals by didactic one-way transmissions has failed - children feel patronised and uninterested in accepting values promulgated to them with no room for adjustment and discussion.

The best way to make someone a moral being is to have him reach his own conclusion in becoming one through reasoning and understanding.

Studying the methods of philosophy is beneficial for this.

Singapore should implement a curriculum of moral philosophy for students.

Texts used should be representative of the major strands of philosophical thought. They should espouse not just the traditions of Singapore's main ethnic groups but also those from the West, such as stoicism and utilitarianism.

Classes should be taught in a case study way, involving questions and answers, where students grapple with moral dilemmas and seek moral solutions to these problems.

By doing so, students are exposed to different perspectives of morality. They will be able to use philosophical reasoning to deal with situations they are faced with, instead of trying to apply static textbook examples. This can also give rise to a new generation of critical thinkers.

We can no longer rely on traditional methods of moral education. A general philosophy curriculum will be more useful in breeding a discerning and moral generation of Singaporeans.

Ng Qi Siang