Calvin clambered up a rock, approaching a sheer vertical that would have alarmed any parkour expert. The grey granite wall was perpendicular to the ground, designed as a quarry and clearly not intended for rock climbing. After a few minutes of attempting to find a route up the wall, he declared, “It’s too slippery!” and made his way back down. The primary-school-aged Forest School student had led one of us (Al) into the forest, excited to try to reach the quarry’s top. Al was exploring the forest with the students, ducking beneath branches and jumping over a meandering trail of ants. Another student, Mary, announced on her walkie-talkie: “Welcome to the forest. We’ll be back later, we’re busy exploring. Over.” The dense forest cover was like another world, a much-needed respite from the unbearably hot sun. This was their classroom for a few hours each week.[1] In the Forest School, children decided on their own agenda and coaches were there only to facilitate their learning. They had no goals to achieve except to explore the forest together, on their own terms.

If the thought of Singaporean primary school children roaming through a “forest classroom” in Dairy Farm armed only with walkie-talkies and each other’s company sounds bizarre to you, don’t worry—you’re not alone.[2] As we discussed Al’s trek through the forest with the students while writing this chapter, both of us struggled to find anything remotely resembling this experience in our own childhood educations in Singapore.[3] Where were the learning outcomes, the syllabi, the structured assignments? What could Calvin and Mary possibly be gaining by spending this kind of unstructured learning time in the forest?

To Singaporeans, education is about many things. Scholars, activists and political leaders have long debated whether education serves as Singapore’s great socio-economic leveller; as the means by which diverse individual citizens cohere into a patriotic collective; as a vehicle for cultivating critical thinking and delivering technical knowledge; and as one foundation of Singapore’s economic success.[4] To those outside Singapore, our cosmopolitan city-state’s educational system is either a marvel of pedagogical excellence to be emulated,[5] or a dystopian cautionary tale about a capitalist meritocracy powered by ruthless standardised testing and a billion-dollar private tuition industry.[6]

Dairy Farm Quarry Al Lim

But most debates about education in Singapore have omitted two crucial and intimately linked elements. First, the Anthropocene: today’s best science suggests that young people will inherit a more turbulent, crisis-filled world as natural systems buckle under the weight of over a century of unrestrained extraction and consumption of fossil fuels by humans.[7] While scholars and educators around the world are now grappling with what a warming climate means for education, Singaporeans have yet to begin such a national conversation.[8] Second, few Singaporeans have publicly discussed the role that education plays in shaping any society’s dominant virtues, values and moral foundations as they relate to nature. While past critiques of Singaporean values have usefully illuminated how Singaporeans come to accept a paternalistic market-driven state,[9] scholars have yet to consider what the values—not just the knowledge—that Singaporeans learn in schools teach them about their place in an ecologically fragile and finite world.

This article is an invitation to explore these intersecting challenges by asking a timely question: how can education, as a vehicle for shaping values, be shifted to support young people surviving and thriving in the Anthropocene? To answer this, we’ll explain how education, especially education in Singapore, has cultivated virtues that are maladaptive for the Anthropocene; we’ll explore what values scholars think should be emphasised moving forward; and we’ll describe some examples that Singapore might look to as models of education for ecologically aligned virtues, including examples close to home like the Forest School in Singapore.

Virtue Miseducation in Singapore

It is difficult for children raised in Singapore to love nature. This is a painful thing to admit, especially for two co-authors raised here and deeply concerned with the climate and nature crises.[10] But to us, this statement reflects both cutting-edge research and some realities of children’s lived experiences that are rarely captured by adult researchers writing disinterested articles.

Both of us experienced first-hand the “academification, digitalisation, and indoorification of young children’s lives,” to borrow the words of education philosopher David Sobel.[11] Twelve years in the Singaporean pre-university education system taught us far more about excelling in the classroom and competing in standardised tests than it did about playing together or identifying local flora and fauna. Our formative educational experiences remain tragically evident in today’s data: the average Singaporean 12-year-old now spends six and a half hours a day looking at screens,[12] and parents here continue to resist public health experts’ calls to ensure their children go outdoors every day, with one father famously telling a reporter, “Where got time to do that every day? My son might fail his exams if he doesn’t complete his homework or revision.”[13]

If this description seems overly dire to adult readers, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that there has long been a silence in Singapore about just how much children suffer as a result of Singaporean education. This is because their suffering is difficult to measure beyond the occasional shameful survey describing an increasing number of children contemplating suicide or seeking mental health treatment, some as young as 6 years old.[14] Since both of us grew up here, we are blissfully liberated from relying only on peer-reviewed quantitative scholarship and can simply share from our own experiences.[15] It is brutal to constantly be tested and made to compete with others. It is distressing to be streamed; to fear being “retained” or held back a year; to be punished for playing; to excel and see others fall behind; to fall behind while others excel; to fear failure because of a lack of access to tutors or enrichment classes; and to be disciplined harshly by teachers.

..to succeed in education here [in Singapore], a child must learn to embrace virtues like competition, individualism, acquisitiveness, control and conviction… failure to adopt such virtues leads to considerable and unnecessary suffering.

This is not to say that childhood in Singapore is an unmitigated disaster full of unending suffering, or that hard work, discipline and even pain have no place in childhood development. We cherished the opportunity to create enduring and diverse friendships, the solidarity between students navigating brutal systems and the rigour of academic thinking enabled by Singapore’s emphasis on competency. But the truth we can tell, the secret we no longer have any interest in keeping, is that to succeed in education here a child must learn to embrace virtues like competition, individualism, acquisitiveness, control and conviction—what philosopher William Throop calls “culturally dominant virtues”—and that failure to adopt such virtues leads to considerable and unnecessary suffering.

Throop sees these dominant virtues sitting at the heart of an unsustainable consumer culture and threatening our chances of surviving and thriving in the Anthropocene. Virtues, from Throop’s perspective, are “dispositions to think, feel and act in ways we deem to be good,” as well as “acquired skilful habits, both cognitive and moral.” The table below summarises the dominant virtues of Abundance, Control, Conviction, Competition, and Individualism, with some Singapore-specific manifestations.

1. Dominant virtue: Abundance (as opposed to frugality)

Linked concept: The world is abundant. Acquire possessions, pursue success, enjoy luxury and convenience and increase material consumption. Avoid inconvenience and insufficiency.

In Singapore, this looks like: Pursue the 5 Cs: cash, car, condominium, country club, credit card. Customers must never be inconvenienced. More sand for more land. More tuition, better grades.

2. Dominant virtue: Control (as opposed to adaptation)

Linked concept: Humans can and should control their surroundings. Technology gives people the power to modify and shape shared environments to their liking. Cultivate ambition, dominance, a can-do attitude and the will to power.

In Singapore, this looks like: Even if sea levels rise, Singapore will keep reclaiming land using Dutch technology like polders. Gardens by the Bay is a beautiful, futuristic model of how humans can live in harmony with (exert control over) nature.

3. Dominant virtue: Conviction (as opposed to humility)

Linked concept: People know enough to decide the best course of action. Argue forcefully and clearly, be sceptical of those who express doubt or uncertainty and frame problems in the clearest (and often simplest) way.

In Singapore, this looks like: Singapore’s leaders know best. Alternative groups have nothing to offer because they are inexperienced and incompetent. Strong leadership is Singapore’s greatest resource.

4. Dominant virtue: Competition (as opposed to collaboration)

Linked concept: Strive to win. When everyone competes, welfare improves. Focus on outcomes. Resources may be abundant, but opportunities are scarce and the best will seize them. Avoid weakness or vulnerability.

In Singapore, this looks like: A meritocracy where everyone competes is how society should work. Singapore must always remain competitive internationally. Pressure makes diamonds; Singapore’s leaders rose to the top of the ranks, so they deserve to lead.

5. Dominant virtue: Individualism (as opposed to systems-thinking)

Linked concept: Successes and failures are caused by individual components, people and agents. People deserve what they get. Shared investment is only worthwhile if it creates individual benefits.

In Singapore, this looks like: Singapore’s founders built this country through sheer will and determination. No one owes anyone a living. If something breaks, find the faulty part and replace it, like the SMRT CEO[16].

Table 1: Five dominant virtues in consumer culture, their linked concepts and their Singaporean expressions. Virtues and linked concepts are adapted from Throop.[17]

To be clear, we are not arguing that these are the only virtues taught in Singapore’s educational system, the only virtues present in Singapore or that these virtues are inherently bad and must be suppressed entirely. A strong sense of conviction and a belief in the world’s bountiful abundance can be useful or even necessary in some contexts. Instead of eliminating the dominant virtues entirely, Throop argues more for a rebalancing of virtues to enable sustainable thriving. Today’s dominant virtues are what motivate many of the social, economic and political choices that have led the world to the present state of climate crisis. They must be de-emphasised and replaced if subsequent generations are to thrive in a hotter, less stable and more turbulent world.

Consider the virtue of abundance. Throop describes this as “the pursuit of convenience, the desire for the newest technologies, the calibration of status in terms of possessions, the use of cost and income as proxy measures of value, and the fascination with luxury”—all deeply Singaporean tendencies. Singaporeans frequently compete to be first in line for new technologies, are intolerant of inconvenience or inefficiency and have codified the five C’s as our consumerist aspirations.[18] But these behaviours presuppose that the earth is abundant, that material limits can be transcended through innovation and that endless growth is possible even though the planet is finite. Because the science has shown how finite and depletable the planet’s resources are and how slowly earth systems regenerate the resources we relentlessly extract,[19] unchecked abundance thinking cannot continue to dominate.

The carefully built, controlled, and calibrated (but ultimately artificial) Gardens by the Bay is celebrated in Singapore… Zhukova Valentyna / Shutterstock

Or consider the dominant virtue of control. Singaporeans live in a carefully calibrated physical environment where outdoor infrastructure and greenery are meticulously manicured, indoor environments climate-controlled through air conditioning and even coastlines are deliberately constructed using sand extracted from neighbouring countries. Throop associates control with “ambition, a can-do attitude, the will to power, dominance, and a faith in technological solutions.” Nowhere is Singapore’s ambition and faith in technology more evident than in its climate defence strategy, in which the government plans to spend a staggering S$100 billion to employ “engineering solutions” to literally raise the island above the rising sea.[20] Education about nature in Singapore mirrors this belief: in Geography, we learn about how human ingenuity enables mastery over nature by learning about the land reclamation process; in Chemistry, we learn about allegedly clean-burning fossil fuels; and in Social Studies we learn about necessary trade-offs between development and conservation at sites like Bukit Brown or Sungei Buloh.

Singapore’s “soft authoritarian” approach to governance has been the subject of many debates and analyses, but one element is widely agreed on: in Singapore, it is normal and scarcely even newsworthy to bully the opposition.

A cousin of control is conviction, which “reflect[s] the assumption that we know enough to decide how to proceed with respect to our challenges.”[21] Conviction is often associated with high assertiveness, resistance to feedback or change and cultures of personality. Singapore’s “soft authoritarian” approach to governance has been the subject of many debates and analyses, but one element is widely agreed on: in Singapore, it is normal and scarcely even newsworthy to bully the opposition.[22] Singaporeans largely believe that the status quo is legitimate and that historical narratives vindicate the hard choices made by our leaders; the certainty demanded of Singaporeans in public life is mirrored in the expectations placed on students in their education, especially as they approach teenagehood. While discussion and open-mindedness are officially encouraged, students inevitably fall back on “model answers” and rote memorisation, even in subjects that demand and would benefit from critical thinking.[23] The insistence that the right answers have already been found, both in society and in the classroom, leads to the belief that those right answers must be parroted—and that those who question or refuse to repeat such answers are likely to fail.

Next up is competition. Singapore has become known for its emphasis on meritocracy, which pervades its education system, public service, approach to taxation and especially its uniformed service.[24] While the positive connections between meritocracy and competition are widely celebrated (the best make it to the top) the dark side is rarely considered (everyone else gets left behind). Throop observes that in competitive societies, “if flourishing requires winning, then many will not flourish.” The high social, economic and psychological costs of competition in Singapore have been hidden but are recently being highlighted, with recent investigations of inequality taking the spotlight in Singapore.[25]

Finally, individualism. Throop describes the psychological manifestation of individualist virtues as “a tendency to solve problems by breaking them down into their discrete parts, understanding each separately,” while the political implications of individualism include “the assumption that individuals have causal power,” and as such, “we deserve what we get.”[26] Individualist thinking is particularly visible in Singapore when credit and blame are apportioned to individuals rather than systems or institutions, as often happens when MRT breakdowns prompt widespread blame of the transport minister, when national narratives centre the stories of Great Men in popular history and when the discourse on welfare overwhelmingly emphasises self-reliance and personal responsibility over structural causes and collective care. Rather than genuinely assessing where our institutions and communities might be failing or succeeding, Singaporeans tend to focus attention on individuals, leading to reductive conclusions and band-aid fixes rather than necessary systemic change.

It’s difficult to protect nature if one does not love it; it’s difficult to love nature if one is alienated from it; and it’s difficult to avoid alienation if one is subjected to systems that reward alienated ways of knowing, thinking and being.

When you combine Singapore’s rampant consumer culture and the psychological toll of its education system with this virtue miseducation—the inculcation of virtues that degrade rather than uplift both human and planetary health—the result is an urgent case for reforming education for the Anthropocene. Put simply, it’s difficult to protect nature if one does not love it; it’s difficult to love nature if one is alienated from it; and it’s difficult to avoid alienation if one is subjected to systems that reward alienated ways of knowing, thinking and being. But how can children be served better? What alternatives are there to these dominant virtues, and how do educational approaches that shift toward alternative virtues perform? What transformations might be expected, both for children and for communities, when such models are implemented?

Transition Virtues and How to Teach Them

It is possible, desirable and necessary to shift education towards what Throop calls transition virtues: frugality, adaptation, humility, collaboration and systems-thinking. Singapore will not be the first country to contemplate such a shift, nor will it be making a risky bet. There is increasingly rich and promising evidence from scholarly literature dealing with these transition virtues, supported by our own ethnographic work exploring the Forest School Singapore. We summarise Throop’s transition virtues and imagine Singaporean possibilities in the table below.

1. Transition virtue: Frugality (as opposed to abundance)

Linked concept: The world is finite. Pursue efficiency and cultivate thrift. Use resources carefully. Enjoy intangible goods (community, family, nature, leisure). Avoid waste and excess.

In Singapore this could look like: Build a zero-waste neighbourhood. Empower karang guni and waste workers. Spread Repair Kopitiams across Singapore.[27] Emphasise leisure time over leisure spending.

2 .Transition virtue: Adaptation (as opposed to control)

Linked concept: People do not and cannot control their surroundings. Conditions can change unpredictably. Cultivate resilience, flexibility and generosity to help those less able to adapt.

In Singapore this could look like: Grow food locally. Support vulnerable groups close to the coastline. Invest in mental health, resilient systems and failsafes. Support neighbouring nations at risk of climate-related disasters.

3. Transition virtue: Humility (as opposed to conviction)

Linked concept: Human knowledge is limited and not always generalisable. Other perspectives may have just as much value as our own. Frame problems with their full complexity in mind. Listen respectfully to others.

In Singapore this could look like: Host open town halls instead of meet-the-people sessions. Acknowledge and commend civic groups for their input. Form coalitions with other organisations and regional groups.

4. Transition virtue: Collaboration (as opposed to competition)

Linked concept: Strive to understand and care for others first. Distribute benefits and burdens fairly. Focus on processes. Opportunities are created by working together thoughtfully. Create trust and safety for everyone involved.

In Singapore this could look like: End streaming across all educational tracks. Promote social and emotional learning, including listening skills and collective decision-making skills. Support community projects with shared resources.

5. Transition virtue: Systems-thinking (as opposed to individualism)

Linked concept: Successes and failures are caused by complex and interlinked systems. Systems can produce negative outcomes even if individuals do nothing wrong. Redundancy confers resilience and is not a waste of resources or capacities.

In Singapore this could look like: Establish baseline standards of living. Address Singapore’s involvement in unsustainable systems in finance, shipping and other industries. Revisit historical narratives and celebrate communities and policies, not just Great Men.

Table 2: Five transition virtues, their linked concepts and potential manifestations in Singapore. Virtues and linked concepts are adapted from Throop.[28]

Some of these virtues will be very familiar to Singaporeans. Many of our national narratives and institutions support frugality—consider how CPF and our reserve policies are always framed as prudent measures to safeguard the future, for example.[29] The Singapore government is also investing in conventional climate adaptation measures and improving local self-sufficiency, suggesting that we are not strangers to adaptive virtues.[30] Other virtues will be less familiar, like systems-thinking, which might challenge popular notions of self-determination and individual responsibility. Or humility, which might threaten the dominance of established groups and individuals. But Throop, like many others, sees these shifts as being necessary (though not sufficient) to build thriving and sustainable societies in the Anthropocene.[31] Throop argues that these virtues will improve our chances of responding effectively to crises, building a foundation of social trust, shifting lifestyles towards less material but more holistic prosperity and transforming our relationships to the biosphere.

…while the wild, untamed, natural Bukit Brown cemetery, home to much heritage and wild-life, has had a highway built through it and is slated for eventual redevelopment. cherry-hai / Shutterstock

But how can such virtues be taught, and what do they look like in action? Here, we present the considerable peer-reviewed evidence on Forest Schools, which are part of a growing global movement that has many names: earth education (or EarthEd), ecoliteracy, sustainability education, and place-based education.[32] In EarthEd: Rethinking Education on a Changing Planet, a sweeping volume edited by environmental scholar Erik Assadourian that should be on every Singaporean educator’s shelf, these different approaches are explored alongside empirical research from experts highlighting the lasting and statistically significant benefits of these pedagogies on child development, mental and physical health, emotional and physical skills and interest in learning.[33] Drawn to this ecocentric pedagogy, one of us (Al) visited the Forest School Singapore to learn more.

In our field observations at the Forest School, we noticed a particularly significant shift from individualism to systems-thinking. Students’ questions about where the food on their dinner table came from led them to a better understanding of their position in relation to nature and the world around them. Rather than dismiss their curiosity because it distracts from all-important test preparation, coaches offered students explanations that connected what they saw on their plates to broader food systems. Topics ranged from the role of supermarkets and supply chains in the global food system to the conditions of animals in contemporary factory farming. The students were even able to apply these categories to other contexts, as the conversation shifted to how animals in zoos and plants in pots were not “natural” in that someone had placed them in cages and pots, domesticating what had been wild flora and fauna. Humans may do this for ethical reasons, like conserving endangered species, or problematic and profiteering touristic ones, such as sedating tigers, and those reasons were discussed by the students.

As climate change is teaching us every day: we might be the central actors in the Anthropocene, but we are far from the only players.

This approach harnesses curiosity to promote systems-thinking by connecting things to their systemic roots while illustrating how the students themselves are implicated in those systems. These conversations were not about presupposing or promoting an ethical stance on topics such as animal agriculture, but about de-familiarising children from routine activities, such as their daily meals. Children were encouraged to explore the mundane with curiosity, to learn by themselves and to make empathic connections with nonhuman actors. After all, as climate change is teaching us every day: we might be the central actors in the Anthropocene, but we are far from the only players.

We are not romanticising the Forest School. Throop’s virtue transition must be understood as a process of value formation that actively rebalances virtue clusters, rather than an outright elimination of dominant virtues. The moment the students leave the Forest School, they re-enter a world that continually questions their worth based on test scores and credentials. These socio-cultural expectations, norms and hierarchies will not be transformed overnight, but inculcating transition virtues in students will help them respond to new constraints while maintaining their psychological, emotional and social wellbeing. Calvin, Mary, and the rest of the students will face a turbulent, unstable and rapidly warming planet. In the Forest School, they are being provided with the conditions to grow and develop, illustrating the importance of grounding their educational encounters with nature in transition virtues rather than in instructional outcomes.

To survive and thrive in the Anthropocene

It is impossible to build a future you cannot imagine.[34] Let’s envision a Singapore in which children and adults have embraced these virtues. What might the future of Singapore look and feel like if it successfully moved from inculcating the currently dominant virtues to these necessary transition virtues. If we ask a normative, rather than probabilistic, question—how Singapore should change, rather than how it might change—we might find visions that inspire the pursuit of desirable, just and safe futures for our children and grandchildren.

Imagine, for example, a Singapore where children experienced the safety and freedom to delight in their education, rather than enduring a decade of intense standardised testing and streaming that they repress or remember with feelings of resentment and inadequacy. Imagine a Singapore where our children would be the first to point out the rare occasions when Dipterocarp trees begin to fruit, or highlight the beauty of streets like Seraya Road and Meranti Road being named after the eponymous trees that so gracefully cover our island. Imagine a Singapore where the idea of living in balance with nature meant more than just lining our highways with exotic trees or building “biophilic” playgrounds, and instead meant working to heal our collapsing ecosystems and building a regenerative economy.

Towards the end of our time at the Forest School, Calvin shouted: “There might be treasure in the rock!” and pointed to a big quarry stone that would later become the students’ self-made “rock store.” Simultaneously, Mary screamed: “I’m scared, there’s like a river of ants here!” before she gathered her courage to leap over them. She then joined Calvin to sit on the rock, trying to figure out if there was indeed treasure inside. We struggle to imagine our childhood selves ever being enchanted by the empty fields outside our childhood homes—which inevitably became construction sites, and now are sprawling condominiums—to search them for treasure. But perhaps there is hope yet. Perhaps the children of the Forest School, and the Singapore they create, will recognise that the treasure is indeed beneath the rock, that the rock itself is a treasure. To survive and thrive in the Anthropocene, Singapore must learn the Anthropocene’s lessons and teach a different curriculum, allowing fields, forests and shorelines to once again become spaces of enchantment, exploration and education.

 

This is an edited extract of “Learning to Thrive: Educating Singapore’s Children for a Climate-Changed World”, from Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene edited by Matthew Schneider-Mayerson (Ethos Books). To order a copy, go to www.ethosbooks.com.sg/products/chilli-crab and receive a free ebook of this title to read immediately.

Bibliography

[1]The Forest School mostly operates on weekends and Fridays, and serves as a supplement to rather than a replacement for mainstream Singaporean schooling.
[2]Dairy Farm is an estate in the central-west region of Singapore. The green spaces in this estate are linked directly to Singapore’s largest water catchment and nature reserve, which is home to many of Singapore’s native species and is a flourishing site of local biodiversity.
[3]Both authors of this chapter grew up and were educated in Singapore.
[4]Farhan Ali, “Gaps in Educational Outcomes: Analysing National Examination Performance of Singaporean Malay and Non-Malay Students in the Past 20 Years,” Asia Pacific Journal of Education 36, no. 4 (October 1, 2016): 473–87; S. Gopinathan, “Globalisation, the Singapore Developmental State and Education Policy: A Thesis Revisited,” Globalisation, Societies and Education 5, no. 1 (March 1, 2007): 53–70; Pak Tee Ng, “Singapore’s Response to the Global War for Talent: Politics and Education,” International Journal of Educational Development 31, no. 3 (May 1, 2011): 262–68; Francis Wong Bing Kwan and Philip Stimpson, “Environmental Education in Singapore: A Curriculum for the Environment or in the National Interest?,” International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education 12, no. 2 (2003): 123–138.
[5]See, for example, The Economist, “What Other Countries Can Learn from Singapore’s Schools,” The Economist, August 30, 2018.
[6]See, for example, R. Quinn Moore, “Multiracialism and Meritocracy: Singapore’s Approach to Race and Inequality,” Review of Social Economy 58, no. 3 (September 1, 2000): 339–60; Charlene Tan, “Private Supplementary Tutoring and Parentocracy in Singapore,” Interchange 48, no. 4 (November 1, 2017): 315–29.
[7]IPCC, Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report (IPCC, 2014).
[8]See, for example, Erik Assadourian, “EarthEd: Rethinking Education on a Changing Planet,” in EarthEd (Springer, 2017): 3–20; William Throop, “Flourishing in the Age of Climate Change: Finding the Heart of Sustainability,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 40, no. 1 (2016): 296–314; Jason Horowitz, “Italy’s Students Will Get a Lesson in Climate Change. Many Lessons, in Fact.” The New York Times, November 5, 2019.
[9]See Chua Beng Huat, Liberalism Disavowed: Communitarianism and State Capitalism in Singapore (Cornell University Press, 2017); Cherian George, Singapore, Incomplete: Reflections on a First World Nation’s Arrested Political Development (Ethos Books, 2017); Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh and Donald Low, Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus (NUS Press, 2014); You Yenn Teo, This is What Inequality Looks Like (Ethos Books, 2018); Michael D. Barr, “Lee Kuan Yew and the ‘Asian Values’ Debate,” Asian Studies Review 24, no. 3 (September 1, 2000): 309–34.
[10]On the nature crisis, see Emma Howard and Georgie Johnson, “‘We are losing the web of life’: why the global nature crisis is as dangerous as climate change,” Unearthed, June 5, 2019.
[11]Sobel, “Outdoor School for All.”
[12]Calvin Yang, “12-Year-Olds in Singapore Spend 6½ Hours Daily on Electronic Devices: Survey,” The Straits Times, April 2, 2017.
[13]Eveline Gan, “Being Outdoors 2 Hours a Day Keeps Myopia Away, but Some Singapore Parents Say ‘No Way,’” TODAY, August 17, 2019.
[14]AFP, “Too Much, Too Young: Singapore Schoolchildren’s Struggles with Stress,” South China Morning Post, July 4, 2019.
[15]For similar non-Singaporean experiences, see also Aaron Swartz, “Against School,” The New Republic, January 11, 2016; John Taylor Gatto, “Against School,” Harper’s Magazine 307, no. 1840 (2003): 33–38; bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress (Routledge, 2014).
[16]ChannelNewsAsia, “Former defence chief Neo Kian Hong to replace Desmond Kuek as SMRT CEO,” 18 April, 2018.
[17]Throop, “Flourishing in the Age of Climate Change,” 300.
[18]Amanda Goh, “Singapore’s Happiest Person,” Nature 453, no. 7195 (May 2008): 694–694; Chua Beng Huat, Life is Not Complete without Shopping: Consumption Culture in Singapore (NUS Press, 2003).
[19]See, for example, Johan Rockström et al, “Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity,” Ecology and Society 14, no. 2 (November 18, 2009).
[20]On Singapore’s approach to treating climate change as a matter of national defence, see Ai-Lien Chang, “National Day Rally 2019: $100 Billion Needed to Protect Singapore against Rising Sea Levels,” The Straits Times, August 18, 2019.
[21]Throop, “Flourishing in the Age of Climate Change,” 302.
[22]Kenneth Paul Tan, “Singapore in 2011: A ‘New Normal’ in Politics?,” Asian Survey 52, no. 1 (February 1, 2012): 220–26; Garry Rodan and Tom White, “Consensus Representation Upkeep,” New Naratif, January 13, 2020.
[23]Bobby Jayaraman, “Let’s Kill the Drill Approach in Schools,” The Straits Times, February 17, 2017; Angela Jelita, “Singapore’s Price for Education Success: Streaming, Stress and Suicides,” South China Morning Post, September 21, 2017.
[24]Moore, “Multiracialism and Meritocracy”; Kenneth Paul Tan, “Meritocracy and Elitism in a Global City: Ideological Shifts in Singapore,” International Political Science Review 29, no. 1 (January 1, 2008): 7–27; Thomas J. Bellows, “Meritocracy and the Singapore Political System,” Asian Journal of Political Science 17, no. 1 (April 1, 2009): 24–44.
[25]See, for example, Teo, This Is What Inequality Looks Like; Teo You Yenn, “Speaking out of Turn,” Teo You Yenn (blog), October 8, 2019; Bharati Jagdish, “Universal Welfare and Saying ‘no’ to Tuition: Teo You Yenn Goes On the Record about Inequality,” CNA, May 20, 2018; Teo You Yenn and Kok Hoe Ng, “S$1,379 a Month Needed for Basic Needs? This Is How Singapore’s Seniors Agree on This Baseline,” TODAY, June 4, 2019.
[26]Throop, “Flourishing in the Age of Climate Change,” 304.
[27]Repair Kopitiam is a community-driven repair meet-up project founded in November 2014. They organise workshops to repair defective items, encouraging consumers to fix these items instead of throwing them away.
[28]Ibid., 300.
[29]Christopher Gee, “CPF Money: Yours, Ours or the Government’s?,” TODAY, August 14, 2019.
[30]National Climate Change Secretariat, “Singapore’s Climate Action Plan: Take Action Today for a Carbon-Efficient Singapore” (Prime Minister’s Office, 2016).
[31]Throop, like most thinkers, is careful to note that while a shift to transition virtues will be important, it will not be enough to enable sustainable thriving. Bold systemic action will also be critical: institutions will still have to reduce carbon emissions, technology will still need to improve and jobs will still have to be shifted towards activities that build sustainable infrastructure, food systems, mobility and more. See Naomi Klein, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal (Simon & Schuster, 2019).
[32]Assadourian, “EarthEd”; Michael K. Stone, “Ecoliteracy and Schooling for Sustainability,” in EarthEd: Rethinking Education on a Changing Planet, State of the World (Washington, DC: Island Press/Center for Resource Economics, 2017): 35–47; Sobel, “Outdoor School for All”; Sara Knight, Forest School and Outdoor Learning in the Early Years (SAGE, 2013).
[33]Gregory A. Smith and David Sobel, Place-and Community-Based Education in Schools (Routledge, 2014); Dan Davies et al., “Creative Learning Environments in Education—A Systematic Literature Review,” Thinking Skills and Creativity 8 (April 1, 2013): 80–91; Pamela Barker and Amy McConnell Franklin, “Social and Emotional Learning for a Challenging Century,” in EarthEd (Springer, 2017): 95–106.

Author

Feroz Khan

Feroz Khan is a Singaporean researcher and author based at the Disaster Analytics for Society Lab in NTU. His research investigates the impacts that disasters have on society, the social choices that create vulnerability, and the actions we might take to build resilient and sustainable communities in the Anthropocene.
Author

Al Lim

Al Lim is a researcher of Southeast Asian urban studies. He starts his PhD in Anthropology at Yale University in 2020, after completing an MSc in Urbanisation and Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science and a B.A. (Hons) in Urban Studies at Yale-NUS College.

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