What Chan Chun Sing Said About Having Israel-Hamas Conflict Contents in MOE CCE Materials


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In the past few days, you may have come across this Instagram post by a parent concerned about what children aged 11 to 12 are learning about the Israel-Hamas conflict during their character and citizenship education (CCE) classes in school.

 

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A post shared by Emil Oolatbookoo (@emiloolatbookoo)

In the post, there are multiple screenshots of Instagram stories by other concerned parents speaking out on the same matter.

One of the screenshots mentions that a slide, used by teachers in the CCE lesson, allegedly said “Hamas does not believe in Israel as a nation and wants the total destruction of Israel.”

After contacting the school about this, it was discovered that the slides used were issued nation-wide and are not editable by teachers.

The post was met with a lot of angry comments, saying MOE (Ministry of Education, Singapore) is “brainwashing” young children and feeding them “misinformation”. Parents are also enraged that this session was conducted without their prior knowledge or consent.

Many commented that 11- and 12-year-old children are far too young to be exposed to such politics, especially when it is of such a violent nature.

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing’s Response

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing spoke to SPH Media and Mediacorp in an interview on 25 February 2024.

The character and citizenship education (CCE) lessons conducted in schools on the Israel-Hamas conflict aim to help students process their emotions and information about the issue, and are not meant to be history lessons or to ascribe blame, Mr Chan said.

He added that it was urgent to have candid conversations with students to help them understand the topic given Singapore’s social fabric and the large volume of information on the issue.

Given the complex nature of the Israel-Hamas conflict, Mr Chan also said that MOE had expected challenges in teaching this in schools.

Since CCE classes address a range of contemporary issues like mental well-being, casual racism, and global events such as the Russian-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas conflict, MOE fully expects that “there will be issues that will elicit different reactions from different people,” he said.

“It can be a manner of degree, it can be in different ways. So I think we are mentally prepared for this.”

CCE lessons are meant to provide holistic education to children. In other words, it covers areas like emotional and social development, which aren’t covered in your normal academic subjects. CCE lessons have four main aims.

First, to help students navigate their emotions and empathise with others; second, to emphasize the importance of safeguarding social cohesion and harmony in Singapore’s multiracial society; third, to critically assess and verify sources of information before sharing; and fourth, to appreciate the diversity of views and engage in sensitive, respectful conversations.

Mr Chan added that while this may not be easy to achieve, the alternative would be to leave students to learn about the issue on their own and be subjected to external influences.

Even primary school kids have phones these days and are hence exposed to keyboard warriors on Instagram, TikTok, and Reddit. Without a clear-headed adult laying out the facts and timeline for these children, they may be swayed by emotionally charged and biased sources on social media.


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CCE lessons are meant to create a safe environment for students to understand happenings in the world and to engage in sensitive, respectful discussions about them.

Some parents have agreed that if left to the internet, the younger generation could easily find biased information online and it could destroy our social fabric. “We must not allow overseas events to affect our solidarity,” one comment said.

Chan said that students and Singaporeans in general have already been flooded with unverified information, images, and misinformation being circulated online, noting that this has stirred emotions and sparked heated conversations, including among young people.

“We have to be very careful not to let the seeds of hatred and distrust be planted in our younger generations,” he said.

“We must understand Singapore’s vulnerabilities and interests, and work hard to preserve our cohesion, mutual tolerance and acceptance, and find ways to preserve our multiracial and multi-religious harmony.”


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CCE Lessons on the Conflict

Mr Chan said MOE had collaborated with other ministries and agencies, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to curate age-appropriate materials for students to help them understand the conflict.

Professional educators and principals had also been consulted regarding the material.

An MOE spokesperson said teachers are trained to use age-appropriate methods to help students “appreciate different dimensions of the issue, and discuss them sensitively and respectfully.”

The focus for younger students is on empathy for victims of the conflict, and preserving harmony and cohesion in Singapore’s multiracial society, she added.

Classes for older students include an additional focus on verifying sources of information and appreciating the diverse views that people from other backgrounds may have.

CCE lessons covering the Israel-Hamas conflict began in February 2024, with content covering up till December 2023.


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As new developments are still happening, CCE lessons will be updated in tranches every two to three months, Mr Chan said.

On a particular slide in the CCE lessons that was posted online on the events of 7 October, when Hamas attacked Israel and Israel retaliated, Mr Chan said it should not be taken in isolation.

There are also slides that cover the complex and violent history behind the conflict for teachers’ reference, as well as materials that go even further back which encourage older students to read and understand this conflict in detail.

The war in Gaza erupted after Hamas militants crossed the border into Israel on 7 October, killing 1,200 Israelis and taking 240 people as hostages in a brutal rampage through Israeli towns.

Since then, the Israeli retaliation in Gaza has laid much of the enclave to waste, sending the Palestinian death toll surging to almost 30,000, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.


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“Some people may have mischaracterised it and say that we only present from Oct 7 and beyond. Our position is very clear. This is a conflict with a long history, many things have happened,” he said.

Mr Chan pointed out that Singapore has joined many countries in the United Nations to call for a ceasefire and humanitarian support for the victims. Singapore has always supported a two-state solution, he said.

MOE will update teaching materials and evolve its teaching methods, taking in feedback from stakeholders.

Opt-out Option

Some have requested for an opt-out option for parents who do not feel comfortable letting their children participate in this CCE lesson. In response, Mr Chan urged parents to look at the core purpose of CCE lessons – to encourage mutual understanding and social harmony.

“I think we want all our students to be able to appreciate this,” he said.

“If we approach it from this perspective, then we can understand the importance of inculcating such values to our students… how we work together with people from diverse backgrounds to promote our social harmony and cohesion, how we work together to verify facts, how we work together such that at the end of the day, even if we hold different perspectives, we can have a respectful conversation.”

These values are crucial in Singapore’s multiracial and multi-religious society, he said.

Principals and Teachers Play a Key Role

Mr Chan said that even teachers who may feel strongly on the issue had carried out their duties with professionalism and do not impose their personal views on students.


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As professionals, the teachers “are committed to guide our children to the best of their abilities to understand the importance of upholding our social harmony, verifying information as a life skill, and appreciating diverse perspectives respectfully,” he said.

He also mentioned that the CCE lessons were prepared in consultation with educators, and that school leaders helped to prepare and select teachers to teach the material and facilitate discussions.

“I must credit our educators for the conviction and courage to do this well, despite the challenges, for the sake of our children and our people,” he said.

When asked about how he would address the concerns of teachers who feel conflicted about the lessons, he said “we understand that different teachers may have their individual concerns, and this is not just about the Malay/Muslim community. It can also apply to the Jewish community, the Christian communities, or any other people of different faiths, or from different backgrounds.”

“We make it a point to make sure that we help the schools to form the teams to deliver (the lessons) as a team, rather than as individuals.”