A sweeping change in school

From 2016, all students from primary school to junior college are required to clean classrooms, canteens and corridors daily, as part of a nationwide initiative to cultivate good habits for life.
Xinmin Primary School pupils cleaning their classroom, a daily activity for them which starts when a chime is played over the PA system five minutes before dismissal.
Xinmin Primary School pupils cleaning their classroom, a daily activity for them which starts when a chime is played over the PA system five minutes before dismissal.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Cleaning classrooms a daily ritual as schools aim to cultivate good habits among students

Like clockwork, pupils at Xinmin Primary School drop their textbooks and pens, and pick up brooms, whiteboard dusters and other cleaning tools when a chime is played over the PA system five minutes before dismissal every day.

They busy themselves with arranging the classroom furniture, sweeping the floor, wiping the whiteboard and dusting the shelves.

Scenes like these are repeated throughout the island because all students from primary school to junior college now have to clean classrooms and corridors daily.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) told The Straits Times that all schools have implemented daily cleaning, which was a target MOE had set for the end of last year.

Students take part in cleaning after assembly in the morning, in between lessons, before or after their recess breaks, or at the end of the school day.

The aim is to help them cultivate good habits for life.

MOE had looked at similar practices from education systems in Japan and Taiwan, where cleaning the school compound is a daily routine for students.

The ministry has since received positive feedback from the schools, parents and students.

"Feedback has shown that the cleaning activities have helped to inculcate values such as a sense of responsibility and consideration for others," said an MOE spokesman. "Through these activities, students also cultivate good life habits both in school and at home."

Educators also lauded the move.

Mr A. Sivam Reddy, principal of Xinmin Primary, said implementing such activities in all schools creates a common experience for this generation of students.

"This initiative also puts all students, regardless of social status or wealth, on an equal footing."

Some teachers and school leaders have also set the tone, by being role models themselves.

Mr Adrian Tan, head of the character and citizenship education department at Juying Secondary School, said: "Cleaning up after ourselves is a basic life skill.

"It is not uncommon for students to see their teachers and school leaders stopping to pick up a piece of litter on the floor and deposit it into the nearest rubbish bin."

Schools are given the flexibility to decide on what these activities should be and when they take place. Some have come up with creative activities to make cleaning fun while inculcating good habits in the students.

At Teck Ghee Primary School in Ang Mo Kio, for instance, the pupils clean classrooms and corridors alongside their teachers for five minutes at the end of the school day.

Songs, adapted to suit the cleaning theme and sung by the teachers, are played over the public address system while the pupils clean.

National University of Singapore economics lecturer Kelvin Seah said such activities help students to keep their shared spaces tidy and compel them to think twice before dirtying those areas.

"In order for the cleaning activities to be impactful - that is, to reach its objective of inculcating desired values - schools should communicate to students the lessons that could potentially be taken away from each activity," he said.

"This way, students will not come to see these activities as chores and end up doing them mechanically."

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Pupils take part in cleaning

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2017, with the headline 'A sweeping change in school'. Print Edition | Subscribe