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Food for thought on change

Posted on: September 15, 2016

In August 2016, the Singapore Health Promotion Board updated its documentation for the Healthy Meals in Schools Programme. If the programme has a mission statement, it must be this (from programme site):

Research has shown that food preferences are generally acquired during childhood and that eating habits acquired after adolescence are more resistant to change. The school environment plays an important role in nurturing and sustaining good eating habit. In view of this, the Healthy Meals in Schools Programme (HMSP) seeks to enhance the availability of healthier food and beverage choices in schools.

School canteen stall owners generally toe the line during normal school operating hours. But some might operate outside those lines when they can.

My son had to attend extra classes Monday through Saturday during the school “vacation” last week because of the upcoming PSLE. He told me that the canteen uncles and aunties sold french fries and fizzy drinks like Sprite.

Were they doing this to make a quick buck? Might their excuse be that the junk food items were morale boosters? Might they reason that they did this only rarely so they were not really doing anything wrong?

Who can blame them if they have self-interests to think of, they retain old mindsets that are not challenged, and there is seemingly little monitoring?

The same could be asked about the implementation of our latest ICT Masterplan. The fourth iteration was released a year ago without much fanfare. However, in this case there is even less pressure.

There are guidelines and principles. There are even metrics from the previous plan. School ICT heads will know what I am talking about, and if they are honest, they will acknowledge that such data and soft policies do not make a dent.

The ICT Masterplan and the Healthy Meals in Schools Programme suffer similar problems. If they are viewed as policies, rules, or guidelines to follow, people will look for loopholes. If the words are not enforced, they will be ignored. If there are spot-checks and periodic measures, they are predictable and can be prepared for, just like exams.

What needs to happen is a shift to ownership of better teaching and learning as enabled (not just enhanced) with ICT, and better eating habits as enabled by an environment promoting healthier food. Both address mindsets first, not behaviours. Both seek to replace an old culture of practice.

Both need non-traditional leadership — from the ground up. Both need social pressure, not just periodic measuring, testing, monitoring, and punishing.

To be fair, the 4th ICT Masterplan is crafted in a way that embraces such forms of ownership, leadership, and cultural change. However, they are just as easy to ignore in favour of french fry or instant noodle teaching.

Such teaching is fast, efficient, and seemingly filling. But like the unhealthy food, this results in long-term harm. Schooling is favoured over educating; the schooled are exam-smart and dependent on such meals; the next generation are prepared for the teachers’ past instead of being able to shape their future.

1 Response to "Food for thought on change"

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