Are you familiar with these lyrics?

Mari kita rakyat Singapura
Sama-sama menuju bahagia
Cita-cita kita yang mulia
Berjaya Singapura

I am sure most, if not all, local students recognise this as the first verse of Singapore’s National Anthem. But I wonder…

…how many of them can sing it, let alone understand the meaning of the words.

Going by a survey I conducted among my friends, I believe not too many can. I was astounded that none of the teachers I approached could explain to me the significance of the lyrics – a few admitted that they were not able to sing the Anthem without the help of a song sheet.

(Before I go further, let me state that my friends and the teachers I refer to are not necessarily from my school.)

If my observations are correct, it means that most students are singing or humming the National Anthem mindlessly.

What’s more, my friends doing Malay as a third language agree with me that many of the students are “murdering” the song by singing it out of tune and pronouncing the words wrongly.

Under the circumstances, is it necessary for students to sing the National Anthem every school day? Wouldn’t it be better for them to just stand to attention while the National Flag is raised to the background music of the National Anthem?

You may say: “Come on, Jeremy. That will not be enough to imbue pride, loyalty and love for our beloved Singapore.”

I agree, but the status quo will not do. I would like to suggest that more time be spent in teaching the National Anthem in primary schools so that students can learn to sing it with passion.

They should also be taught progressively the correct pronunciation and the meaning of the lyrics.

Singing the National Anthem will then be more meaningful for them.

If students are not ready to sing the Anthem properly, they can stand to attention and keep their head high when the Anthem is played. They will demonstrate greater respect for the Anthem by not singing!

Another practice in schools which I think needs to be tweaked is the reciting of the Pledge. I have reason to believe that many students in the lower primary schools do not understand the Pledge – to them, it is only about uttering impressive words.

With due respect to them, I do not think many can fully appreciate such big concepts as “democratic society”, “justice”, “equality”, “prosperity” and “progress”. I suspect many have no clue what the words mean. If they do, I apologise for underestimating them.

Nevertheless, I would like to suggest that affirmations be used for lower primary school students in place of the Pledge. Affirmations are statements that direct the mind to focus on the thoughts to be achieved. They are useful tools for the programming of the mind.

Affirmations such as “We are Singaporeans”, “We love Singapore” and “We are one united people” are not only more meaningful and appropriate for the young ones, but also more effective in inculcating the right values in them.

They can also be practised in a fun and lively way. For example, the leader or teacher may prompt the students by shouting: “Who are we?” The students will respond with gusto: “We are Singaporeans!”

The Pledge-taking can be introduced at a later stage when the students have a better understanding of the history of Singapore and “big” words.

(This entry is published in TODAY of 15 February 2006)