In most East and Southeast Asian, most elementary and secondary schools have played a significant role in laying a good moral foundation in students. The emphasis is evident in the Japanese’s Fundamental Law of Education which mentions that education should “cultivate morality and ethics (dotokushin wo yashinau)” and significant time has been set aside for that in the formal curriculum. Singapore’s education system also places a similar focus on inculcating values and nurturing civic-minded citizens through the Character and Citizenship Education in schools.
However, a vacuum exists when students progress to tertiary education – the most crucial years before they enter the workforce. Students are often engrossed in their co-curricular activities and active pursuit of academic excellence resulting in the lack of ample time for proper introspective reflection.
It would certainly be useful to have a dedicated ethics class in university where students debate over what is considered as a responsible behavior. This should not be come in a form of top-down didactic approach but rather a journey of self-discovery. Such a class would thus help one to reaffirm his or her concepts of right and wrong as well as shape a ready understanding of how to react in different situations before they happen.
As the future workplace becomes increasingly complex, individuals are more likely to face moral dilemmas. While having gone through an ethics class might not necessarily guarantee that individuals would always make the best decisions, but the reiterative thought process would at least help them be more discerning while also providing a moral anchor that governs an individual’s decision in challenging times.
A university education should not only prepare individuals for the workplace but for life. Universities should not be over-focusing on equipping students with knowledge and technical skills, instead they should also concentrate on achieving their broader social mission – ingraining a sound moral compass that would guide graduates for life. That should be the universities’ main social responsibility.
By Soh Yi Da
The author is a graduate of the National University of Singapore.