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Singapore: A Student-Centered Model Based on Trust and Values

Global Education Allies on a visit to Lotus Bridge International School


There is, over the years, a heightened awareness, in educational circles, about the crucial role trust plays in the functioning of schools and positive learning outcomes. This is accompanied by equally diligent scholarly research related to different aspects of the role trust plays in the overall functioning and achievements of Schools.

My Early Interest in Trust

As a young High School Principal, in the early 1980s, my professional interest gravitated towards viewing trust as a powerful educational tool.

I had a firm belief in the value of trusting teachers to participate in the School’s decision-making process. Thus, when at the end of 1982, I was awarded a scholarship for Singapore’s first Masters in Educational Leadership Programme, I chose “Teachers’ Participation in School Decision-Making” as my research topic.

Using Trust to Transform the Culture in a Singapore Government School

Using Trust as a pivotal strategy turned out to be a panacea for addressing the ills of a young neighborhood School, where I was posted in1984, as its third Principal, in four years!

The School was situated in a rather undeveloped Housing estate in the north of the island. A hundred and one teachers had been posted to the school to meet the staffing needs for the instructional program for the 2000 Students. Many did not seem to be happy to serve in a rather rural type of setting. This coupled, with the challenges they had in managing the students for positive learning outcomes also affected teachers’ morale. The staff was also divided into opposing cliques for some issues.

At the same time, it was clear to me at very onset that, there were serious concerns regarding the student body, which included:

  1. There being too many and rather harsh School Rules for Students;

  2. A general lack of pride in and loyalty to the School;

  3. The unreasonable and overbearing behavior of School Prefects;

  4. Many students having to pay extortion money to the Chinese Secret Society called Ang Soon Tong, which operated in the neighborhood and had student members within the school ;

  5. The use of liberal corporal punishment by the School Discipline Master; and

  6. The harsh policy of suspension and expulsion from school.

I started verbalizing these students’ concerns to the teachers, during the Weekly Staff Interaction Sessions, which had been put in place for involving teachers in decision-making and building trust. While taking the teachers in confidence, a series of rather unorthodox steps were taken to win the trust of the students too. These included:

  1. Putting up a semi-permanent 5 feet by 250 feet School Banner on the main school building which read “YOUR PROBLEM IS OUR PROBLEM, WE ARE HERE FOR YOU”;

  2. Getting 4 “notorious“ students, on whom the teachers seem to have given up, to prepare a 3 feet by 15 feet Plastic Display Board, reading “I HAVE FAITH IN YOU” and installing it above the doorway to the Principal’s Office;

  3. Abolishing the post of Discipline Master and promoting the policy of counselling, in place of canning;

  4. Abolishing all School Rules and Replacing them with Student Rules (made by students);

  5. Developing a whole School-based Value Inculcation Programme (VIP) on Universal Values;

  6. The abolishing of the School’s Prefectorial Board and replacing it with a Self-Reliance Board, where students participated in elections;

  7. Giving students the freedom to transform the Class teaching environment, into more cozy and aesthetic places, through a Class Creativity Program;

  8. Attempts to transform the school into A Home Away from Home; and

  9. Giving students role-models to emulate

The experiment and the positive outcomes of the policy trust and use of values to build trust and transform lives again has been well-documented by the Singapore national media, in a full-page feature article. As a result of the philosophy of trust and student empowerment, the School gained a reputation for providing troubled youth a life-line to safety and ultimate success in life.

Replicating the Model Based on Trust and Values in Bangkok, Thailand

From 2005 to 2015, I was appointed as the Educational Consultant and Member of the Governing Board to the Thai Sikh Cambridge International School, in Bangkok Thailand.

The entire model, comprising the various innovations and special programs was replicated, to further enhance the use of Trust as an instrument to raise the levels of both staff empowerment and student achievement. The various innovations and, in particular, the Value Inculcation Programme, were put together into a structured whole school-based student development program entitled Total Student Development Program (TSDP).

During this period, the School was accorded the Membership of the Council of International Schools (CIS) and gained full Accreditation by the International body in 2013.

The work on Power of Trust and Values, in Education, Continues in Singapore.

The present work, on fine-tuning this model of building a student needs-based education institution based on trust and values, is going on at Lotus Bridge international School, in Singapore.

The International school, established, in 2019, has the Philosophy that every Child can learn and achieve optimal excellence. The earlier work done in a Singapore government school shared above is being taken to a new height with the focus on empowering to be future agents of change, in a fast-changing world. This is being done by a team of educationists who nurture them through:

  1. A Value Inculcation Program (VIP), based on 9 universal values;

  2. A Class Creativity Program (CCP), which transform their teaching and learning environment into a hub of Creativity;

  3. The Da Vinci Creativity Nurturing Program (CNP) which transcends all activities in the institution;

  4. A whole school-based leadership nurturing program, entitled Every Lotusian is a Leader (ELIAL);

  5. A Knowledge of the World Program (KNOW) to prepare them for global living;

  6. Students’ Outdoor Nurturing Activities (SONA) Activities program inspired by Beethoven (Perseverance), Confucius (Wisdom), Nightingale (Service) and Tagore (Scholarship) and

  7. An across the school Public Speaking Program (PSP)

With the above innovations in place, the Visions of Lotus Bridge International is to achieve Optimal Academic Excellence for all students while preparing the future graduates of the institution to be agents of change who will, persevere to build a better and more caring world for all of Humanity.

Dr. Harjinder Kaur and Bhajan Singh are directors and founders of the Lotus Bridge International SchooI, a school located in the Little India district at the heart of Singapore. They have welcomed GEA to their school. Photo credit to GEA photos and

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