Why It Matters

Tidy classroom = clean Singapore

Students cleaning a classroom at Xingnan Primary School. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Students in primary and secondary schools, as well as those in junior colleges, will have to spend at least a few minutes each day cleaning classrooms, canteens and corridors by the end of this year.

The Ministry of Education announced the move on Thursday in an effort to help students cultivate good life habits. However, many have questioned the need for compulsory cleaning activities. On the other hand, some recalled how they used to tidy up after using a classroom, and how it almost became instinctive to clean the blackboard or sweep the floor at day's end.

In recent years, cracks have started to appear in Singapore's global reputation for cleanliness. More than 26,000 littering fines were meted out by the National Environment Agency last year - the highest since 2009, when over 41,000 were given out. Nearly seven in 10 caught were Singapore residents.

The problem, it seems, is that our clean image is largely the result of an army of hired cleaners.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last year urged Singaporeans to make Singapore a clean city rather than a "cleaned" one, in a post in reaction to trash left behind by Laneway music festival revellers.

In addition, overprotective parents are increasingly leaving the cleaning to hired help rather than teaching their children to do it.

Anti-littering advocates have pushed for more education on littering, especially among the young.

Hence, the move to have students pick up after themselves is a step in the right direction.

This is not the first time. There have been various movements, such as a Use Your Hands campaign introduced in 1976, to get students to improve school gardens and clean up the premises.

Yet, after years of such campaigns, Singapore has not reached a level of civic consciousness displayed by other Asian countries like Japan, where cleaning the school compound is a daily routine for students.

It is still too early to say if the latest move will bear fruit. But if we do not arrest the trend now, it may be too late when our seemingly overprotected children - who assume that someone will clean up after them - become parents themselves.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2016, with the headline Tidy classroom = clean Singapore. Subscribe