The Government has a grand scheme to get values education back on track, but a similar and, by now, largely forgotten campaign in 1991 to do the same has raised questions among educators about its application, even as they welcome the new plan.
By Yen Feng
The plan integrates character education into various aspects of school, including sports and co-curricular activities.
Of those who said they supported the new programme, few recalled a similar initiative introduced 20 years ago: The White Paper on Shared Values.
Those who did could not say what the values were.
Former MPs Chng Hee Kok and Hong Hai, who had debated passionately on the subject in Parliament, were unable to recall what the row was about.
'I must confess that I have little recollection,' said Dr Hong, 68, a People's Action Party (PAP) MP from 1989 to 1991, when asked about the public debate that ensued when the paper was introduced in 1991.
The White Paper on Shared Values, which extolled the virtues of 'nation before community, society above self', was the first codified, made-for-Singaporeans set of values to promote and guide ethical behaviour.
It provided the road map for a nationwide, moral education syllabus the following year, and later, paved the way for schools to devise their own values curricula.
It was not until 2003 that it was replaced by a set of new values after discussions with school leaders and teachers in a curriculum review.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) said the new values were adopted to provide a 'more focused approach' in the light of changing social trends, in response to queries from The Sunday Times.
Thus was born 'Respect, Responsibility, Integrity, Care, Harmony, and Resilience' - qualities that underpinned subsequent values curricula, including the latest Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) programme.
The CCE programme is said to be an integrated approach combining various values education curricula over the years. Educators said it signalled a sign of changed times.
Instead of exhorting students to put nation and society before self, the CCE's aim today is for students to build personal character, before applying themselves socially.
Over the years, the changing profile of students has made less effective, 'one-way' methods of teaching values, said Mr Michael Muhunthan, vice-principal of Pioneer Junior College.
'Students now engage better in a discussion. Telling them what is right and wrong does not work well any more.'
Ms Rohanah Mohd Ali, a teacher of more than 20 years, said that with globalisation and a growing culture of consumerism, students have become more self-centred.
The focus on individuals is necessary so students can learn to better themselves, the head of English at Greenview Secondary, who is in her 40s, added.
Overwhelmingly, educators welcomed the ministry's move to update their schools' values curricula, although some remain unsure of its impact on existing programmes.
These range from small-group discussions to outdoor activities that foster values of self-reliance and kindness. Almost every school makes compulsory some form of community work, which educators say teaches compassion.
At Westgrove Primary, Mr Mark Eric Nadhan, 33, who teaches English, mathematics and science, said that apart from the school's weekly pupil well-being classes, teachers are already encouraged to find 'teachable moments' daily when values education can mesh with subject learning - a point raised at a recent CCE conference.
In his English class earlier this year, for example, Mr Nadhan said he used reports of the tsunami in Japan to teach his pupils about resilience and empathy.
Teachers with longer memories said they hoped the renewed focus on values would not go the way of its 1991 predecessor - forgotten after a period of time, or worse, during school exams.
'I'm optimistic, but I wonder how long this 'high' on morals will go on,' said education consultant Sonia Sng, 38.
Others said the CCE programme should not be seen as a signal for teachers to pull back on academic rigour in place of teaching values.
Mrs Lee Cheng Leung, 39, a part-time marketing executive and mother of two teenagers, said: 'I expect teachers to teach, not parent.
'I hope the schools will involve parents when discussing what new programmes to introduce.'