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Spark Joy?


In this issue...

What's the Focus: Decluttering vs Zero Waste

What's the Point: Multiple Perspectives

A breakdown of the news and national conversations on the issue of decluttering and waste generation

In the Classroom

Our Master Specialist (CCE) and guest writer Ms Fatema Hussain (Centre for Research in Pedagogy & Practice, NIE) share thoughts on how to facilitate richer discussions on contemporary issues

Teacher Talk

Your Voice

Ideas for bringing this discussion into class with your students Start a conversation with your colleagues on our featured issue

Feedback from our readers

Dear colleagues,

"Teachers are hoarders." Does this claim resonate with you? When I walk into the staff room, I usually do not see my colleagues at first glance. Instead, I see towering columns of books, piles of worksheets, shelves of files, bundles of first-aid kits, snack piles atop cupboards and mountains of evidence of effort and hard work. Only when I holler will a few heads peek out from the fortress-like cubicles. Somehow, "Keep it! You never know when you might need it" is always a self-fulfilling prophecy in a teacher’s life. I remember fondly a colleague who used to tell me never to attempt to pack his cubicle, for it is an organised mess. His teaching life depended on this immaculate mess where he knew exactly which worksheet he needed to pull from under a file and which students' homework he had temporarily banished into the heart of his mess. A thought that has always bugged me is: when does this organised mess, which is dear and valuable, become disorganised clutter?  This question came up again for me after the launch of Japanese decluttering guru Marie Kondo's new show on Netflix, which reignited interest in the trademark "KonMari method" that she first popularised in her 2011 book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Of course, not all of this interest in the KonMari method has been positive. For example, some have questioned what happens to all the clutter that has been found not to "spark joy". Do the results of all this decluttering end up in our landfills? In this issue, Spark Joy?, we were inspired to explore the tensions between the decluttering fever sparked by Marie Kondo’s Netflix show and our quest to become a zero-waste nation. Join us as we explore questions of what decluttering means to each of us, and how we can declutter without generating more waste.

Warmest Regards,

Ms Jasmine Lim Assistant Director, National Education Character and Citizenship Education Branch Student Development Curriculum Division


What's the Focus Issue: Decluttering vs Zero Waste Key Question: How can we declutter responsibly, without generating even more waste? Possible Focuses: In considering how to discuss perspectives around decluttering and waste generation, we may wish to focus on...

Well Being

... whether decluttering sparks joy for everyone.

Decluttering: Sparking Joy or Sparking Debate?

Are you a Konvert? Mess appeal: Who is Marie Kondo and why does she want me to throw away stuff? (Channel NewsAsia, Jan 2019)

"...homeowners are now frantically decluttering their lives, thanks to Marie Kondo and her trademarked KonMari Method of sorting their piles of clothing, books and even sentimental items."

We suggest using the Focus Cards as a resource to generate discussion on an issue! We picked out the cards below for this issue. What would you focus on?


Life Purpose and Meaning

... whether we can declutter and still reach our Zero Waste target as a nation.

 ... what fulfilment we derive from the items we own.

Why decluttering can be problematic "A crushing sensation" - decluttering sparks heartache, distress in hoarders (Channel NewsAsia, Feb 2019)

"...this effort of tidying is not as straightforward for many we think of as 'hoarders'. For this group of people, clearing away their things collected over years and decades, is akin to tearing a hole in their heart. Having to decide whether to toss out items involves opening up long buried, forgotten but unresolved issues."

A clean space not helpful for everyone "Tidying up" promises joy in a minimalist life. For many, though, it may not be so simple (The Insider, Jan 2019)

Marie Kondo show sparks decluttering fever among Singaporeans (The Straits Times, Jan 2019)

"The organisational guru's Netflix series Tidying Up With Marie Kondo was released on Jan 1, prompting many Singaporeans to declutter their bedrooms, and write about it on social media."

"While purging a space of superfluous objects may fulfil some people's needs, the action can have a negative effect on others... We should be wary of a prescription for everyone because we are all different and need different things... public figures must embrace diversity rather than saying we have to organise a certain way."

Not my books! Can the KonMari Method really be applied to everything? (The Washington Post, Jan 2019)

"The metric of objects only 'sparking joy' is deeply problematic and woefully misguided when asked to get rid of books."

Img credit: Kondo M. 2017, The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story, Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, California


What's the Focus

How do we declutter without creating additional waste? "The KonMari method emphasises getting rid of stuff, but it doesn’t all just vanish...The idea of 'don’t like it, just bin it' encourages the culture of disposability...

"There is another Japanese tradition that [we] could embrace. It’s called mottainai... Mottainai is all about reusing, repurposing, repairing and respecting items." (The Guardian, Jan 2019)

Zero Waste Year: How have we fared so far? Three major streams of trash are targeted under the first Zero Waste Masterplan:

Packing Waste

Food Waste

"The amount of food waste generated in Singapore has increased by about 40% over the past 10 years and is expected to increase with our growing population and economic activity. Besides the effort required to collect and dispose of it, food waste contaminates recyclables and compromises recycling efforts." (National Environment Agency, Sep 2018)

"In 2017, [Singapore] produced more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic waste, with only 6% of this being recycled... Singapore uses 473 million plastic disposable items like takeaway containers each year." (Channel NewsAsia, Jan 2019)

The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources and the National Environment Agency will be publishing their inaugural Zero Waste Masterplan in the second half of this year. The Masterplan will chart the adoption of a circular economy approach to sustainable waste and resource management. Read the press release here. More information on the Year Towards Zero Waste can be found at www.towardszerowaste.sg.


e-Waste Electronic waste or e-waste is one of the waste streams that is particularly concerning due to its toxic nature. "We are producing in excess of 60,000 tonnes (of e-waste) a year." - Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for Environment and Water Resources (Channel NewsAsia, Feb 2019)

For more on how to reduce waste, check out last year's NE Forte issue on waste management!

In The World

Trash Streams around the World Singapore's first Zero Waste Masterplan will focus efforts on three major streams of trash: food waste, packing waste and e-waste. How are other countries dealing with these trash streams?

Fighting food waste in Greece (European Commission, Jan 2017)

Food Waste

1) Meal prep surplus is re-directed to a municipality-run restaurant 2) Neighbourhood compost system 3) Smart card to inform shoppers about items left in their fridge and which are approaching their expiration date

Canada: Local nonprofit Food Stash Foundation redirects food waste to needy (Georgia Straight, Apr 2017)

Canada's Food Stash Foundation collects excess produce from cafes, restaurants and grocery stores, and distributes it to local charities across the region.

10 Zero Waste Supermarkets from Around the Globe (Waste360, Apr 2016)

Packing Waste


1) Barcelona, Spain 2) Lille, France 3) Berlin, Germany 4) København, Denmark 5) Austin, Texas (USA)

6) Wien, Austria 7) Prato, Italy 8) Copenhagen, Denmark 9) Los Angeles (USA) 10) Brooklyn, New York (USA)

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games medals to be created from recycled electronic waste (Channel NewsAsia, Feb 2019)

Is there hope? Could we be becoming less materialistic? (Channel NewsAsia, Feb 2019)

"People are buying less often and less overall... Buying more and more things as a source of identity and meaning seems to be gradually but consistently falling out of favour."


The World Economic Forum Tells Davos: Electronics Are "the FastestGrowing Waste Stream in the World" (Motherboard, Jan 2019)


Level : Secondary 2 Title : It's All In My Backyard Theme : U and I in Community Duration : 60 minutes

What a Waste!

Pre-Lesson Activity: Get students to separate their trash at home and to take pictures of the contents of their trash bin for one week. Note down the items that are found in their trash bin.

Lesson Activity: 1. Word Cloud:

Unpack the concept of Zero Waste for the students. What does Zero Waste look like to them?

2. Video:

Invite students to watch this video and ask them if they agree more with Grandma or the granddaughter when it comes to recycling. Why?

Getting Grandma to go Zero-Waste and Plastic Free (Channel NewsAsia, Jul 2018)

3. Think-Pair-Share

Invite students to have a discussion with their shoulder partner on the following questions.

What items did you/your family throw away? What would someone who looks through your family's trash deduce about your family's recycling habits? Was there anything in the trash that could have been repurposed or reused? Why do you think we throw these things away instead of reusing or repurposing them?

Post-Lesson Activity: Challenge students to fit the contents of one week's worth of trash into a mason jar! 6

Teacher Talk

To declutter or not to declutter? Some of us might have been inspired by the KonMari method; others not so. A few might even take these practices to extremes, as illustrated in the articles below. On the spectrum of hoarder vs minimalist, where do you stand and why? Have a conversation with your colleagues on this!

extreme Hoarders

extreme Minimalists

"A crushing sensation" - decluttering sparks heartache, distress in hoarders

Compulsive decluttering: the opposite of hoarding (The Atlantic, Sep 2015)

(Channel NewsAsia, Feb 2019)

"For this group of people, clearing away their things collected over years and decades, is akin to tearing a hole in their heart.

"For some, the need to shed possessions is a life-consuming illness—but the cultural embrace of decluttering can make it hard to seek help.

However, not all hoarders collect stuff for sentimental reasons. Most hoard items which they feel are still useful, or can be useful if they just put some work into them... Others say they wish to avoid creating waste, often remarking how wasteful it is to throw such a good item away, even though it may be damaged beyond repair."

'[People] see my tidy home and sigh about the fact that theirs is a dump,' says Barbour, who was diagnosed with OCD in 1995. 'What they don’t realise is how long it has taken me to order everything with millimetre precision, or the anxiety I feel at things being even slightly out of position.'"

As inspired by our foreword...

Are teachers hoarders? Do we tend to hold on to our resources "just in case"? Does our attitude towards organising our possessions also influence our teaching styles? What would our classrooms/schools/staffrooms look like if we only kept the things that "spark joy"?


What's the Point

Contemporary Issues: How can we facilitate and enrich discussions with multiple perspectives? In the last issue of NE Forte, a few tips were suggested to make discussions on contemporary issues relevant for our students. These tips were: 1. Make human connections 2. Don’t place the entire focus on knowledge about the issue 3. Avoid short-circuiting the process by zooming in on the “correct answer” 4. Encourage students to voice their thoughts, opinions and feelings 5. Listen and ask probing questions All of these tips are easily described. The challenge comes with execution. A question often asked is: As teacher-facilitators, how can we actually do it? In this article, we introduce one possible approach teachers can use when facilitating discussions on contemporary issues. This approach uses a four-quadrant frame (see Figure 1) that was developed from a 1 National Institute of Education (NIE) study on CCE and Social Studies classrooms (2016-2018) . Referred to as 2 the Context-Dimension Frame , it can be used to help facilitators and participants: explore and evaluate a range of perspectives from the personal to the broader social/global context; apply critical thinking skills to problematise singular, widely-accepted viewpoints to arrive at a deeper understanding of such viewpoints; and consider how to possibly reach a state of harmony or consensus amidst different perspectives on an issue.

From the desks of

Dr Thavamalar Kanagaratnam (Master Specialist, CCEB) and Ms Fatema Hussain (Research Associate, Centre for Research in Pedagogy & Practice, NIE) [1] Hussain, F. A. (2018, November). Citizenship continues to be an argument: Negotiating National Education goals and developing students’ critical thinking. Paper presented at ERAS-APERA International Conference, Singapore. [2] Core Research Programme: Baseline Investigation of Social Studies and Character & Citizenship Education Pedagogies in Singapore Classrooms. Principal Investigator: Dr Dennis Kwek, Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice, National Institute of Education.


What's the Point

The Context-Dimension Frame has two scales and four quadrants. On the horizontal Context scale, the left side denotes the micro-context, which refers to one’s personal beliefs and unique sensibilities shaped by one’s life experiences and individual/family/community backgrounds. At the other end of the Context scale, is the macro-context. This refers to the broader socio-political setup, cultural norms, as well as global issues and considerations. On the vertical Dimension scale, the bottom end denotes unidimensionality. This refers to commonly stated facts, universal truths, settled issues and widely-held beliefs. Moving up the Dimension scale, multidimensionality surfaces, which refers to contested issues, open questions and ongoing debates.

Figure 1: Context-Dimension Frame for Classroom Discussions on Contemporary Issues

Unidimensional Micro-context:

Quadrant 1 represents an individual’s personal beliefs, value system, and unique sensibilities as a result of belonging to a certain socio-economic status, ethnic group, religion, educational level, etc. In this space, an individual self-reflects on deeply-cherished beliefs and assumptions, and the teacher facilitates the sharing and clarification of these views. The teacher uses clarifying questions, withholding judgement to seek understanding, and asks for personal stories and experiences to explain or illustrate the perspective. Conversations in Quadrant 1 are personal and sensitive, but unlikely to be controversial as it denotes one's own personal uncontested truth.

Unidimensional Macro-context:

Quadrant 2 represents the “official” or dominant narrative, the generally undisputed facts of a matter, as well as desired behaviours that align with the moral, social and cultural norms of the society. Classroom talk in this quadrant relates to the macro-context and is likely to be the least sensitive. Moreover, as the focus is on widely accepted facts and settled issues, this space would be the least controversial.


What's the Point

Multidimensional Macro-context:

Quadrant 3 represents the problematising of generally undisputed dominant narratives (Quadrant 2) by introducing other perspectives based on different worldviews. It is important to note that multidimensionality is a space of potential controversy and contention. However, being far removed from personal truths, classroom discussions situated in this quadrant may not be sensitive in nature. For example, Singapore has a law against making disparaging remarks about a religion and offenders will be punished by law for doing so. However, in some countries, citizens have the freedom of expression as an absolute right, and do not face punishment for making such remarks. A rich discussion will allow for rigorous analyses of different perspectives and classroom participants can possibly, draw conclusions about what works best for our specific national and cultural context.

Multidimensional Micro-context:

Quadrant 4 represents the problematising of an individual’s personal beliefs and opinions (Quadrant 1). In this space, the individual is encouraged to scrutinise his beliefs and challenge his own assumptions, as well as evaluate the relevance and implications of his/her perspective. The teacher can ask sensitising questions or introduce “what if…?” scenarios, which enable students to think beyond themselves and listen to the perspectives of others. It is through this process that new understandings may emerge. Besides being somewhat controversial, this space is also likely to be the most sensitive because an individual may not be prepared to problematise his/her personal perspective, or may find his/her deeply-held beliefs challenged by contesting claims.

How can we use the Context-Dimension Frame for classroom discussions on contemporary issues? When we understand the two scales and the four quadrants, which constitute the Context-Dimension Frame, we can begin to facilitate rich discussions by asking appropriate clarifying, sensitising and influencing questions. We intentionally move the discussion across the four quadrants, problematising micro and macro unidimensional perspectives, exploring multiple viewpoints and unpacking complex issues – shifting between respect for personal narratives and lived experiences; and the broader societal context, shared values and the common good. The frame is particularly useful for negotiating controversial and/or sensitive issues, which are spontaneously initiated by students in the classroom; and for planning lessons to systematically incorporate discussion of contemporary issues.  

In the upcoming issues of NE Forte, we will explore how to apply the Context-Dimension Frame using specific examples of contemporary issues, appropriate questioning techniques and classroom strategies.


Your Voice

Dear NE Forte Team, Thank you for the wonderful work! I look forward to receiving and reading NE Forte. The articles and materials are insightful and timely. Thank you for curating and selecting excellent materials – very often, they are just-in-time materials that reflect and provide educators with an understanding of contemporary issues that concern Singapore. This has been very helpful for me as an educator and in my role in the CCE Department. We have a segment called “Monday Moments” where I conduct a short school-wide sharing with the entire school on contemporary issues and how these issues/events affect Singapore and Singaporeans, and serve as a learning point for us all. I find myself sharing on the articles and thoughts reflected in NE Forte. I am pleased to share that our pupils enjoy the sharing and I credit the NE Forte Team for crafting this wonderful content. May I suggest the following for your consideration: 1.      Excerpts from books/commentary written by political leaders/former top civil servants 2.       Online repository for past issues of NE Forte

(Psst.. You can find an online repository of our past issues here!)

Our contributor for this issue is: Mr Kelvin Chin HOD CCE Anchor Green Primary School

3.      Some stories/focus on global events that impact citizenship education in Singapore. While these issues may be difficult for pupils (especially primary school pupils) to understand, it’ll be useful for educators’ professional development and learning to be aware of these global developments and think about how they could bring the learning points to the classrooms. Once again, thank you for your wonderful work and I look forward to reading your upcoming issues.

Best regards, Kelvin

Write to us:


We hear you! Thank you for your feedback!

Sarab, Samantha, Jasmine, Jun, Sheena, Colin CCE Branch and Guidance Branch


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NE Forte will return on

13 March! For secondary school teachers, do look out for the ST IN Budget issue on 25 Feb :)


Singapore Our Home SG75 Competition 2019


A Better Living Environment - Roving Exhibition

Total Defence 2019 Poster In our previous issue, we featured the Total Defence 2019 poster with its "Where's Wally" styled puzzle. The new poster features actions that we can take to put Total Defence in action and also addresses threats from the digital domain. Which Total Defence actions did you spot? Find out more on OPAL.

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