The controversial move to make national education part of the school curriculum appears to be a fait accompli. Despite strong resistance from some parents and student groups, the government seems determined to go ahead with a soft launch in primary schools next month, and make the subject compulsory in 2015 and in secondary schools the following year. The decision has, inevitably, disappointed many who joined a protest against what they fear to be brainwashing for students. The Catholic church has also instructed its 197 schools not to make national education a separate subject.
Pressure is now put on an advisory panel set up to monitor the curriculum's implementation. It remains unclear whether the Committee on the Implementation of Moral and National Education can pacify those who are worried. But the members have been given a tall order. They have been tasked to ensure the materials are unbiased and the teaching methods liberal.
Whether parents and teachers feel comfortable with the new curriculum depends on how the committee does its job. According to the committee's terms of reference, members can review the content of the teaching materials, which is a de facto vetting power on what is and isn't appropriate for the minds of our future generations. It is therefore important that members discharge their duties impartially. The government and parents have a role to play too. If it is sincere about giving schools the free hand to teach within the curriculum guideline, it should allow freedom for the committee and schools. Parents should also avoid prejudging the content.
The government's goal is clear. The committee is set up to ease resistance rather than block implementation. It is regrettable that members cannot discuss whether or not the curriculum should be put on hold in light of the boiling sentiments. That is why a few key stakeholders who reject the curriculum have refused to join. This is understandable. They see their presence as legitimising the committee's work. Admittedly, the boycott has undermined the committee's representativeness and credibility. But those spurning it have also given up the opportunity to influence the outcome.
National education remains the right step forward as long as it is taught in an objective way. The government has promised that the curriculum aims to nurture positive values and independent thinking among students. It should be allowed to prove this will be the case.