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Total Defence in Action

24 Feb 2020

Temperature Taking

Amid this year’s outbreak of COVID-19, Total Defence Day has never been more relevant. Here’s a look at how students are learning about social responsibility and national resilience from what is happening in schools and in the community. By secondary school teacher, Goh Hong Yi.


As a student, and later a teacher, I have participated in the commemoration of Total Defence Day many times.

Each year, we discuss the threats faced by Singapore. The Fall of Singapore and the Japanese Occupation were, naturally, recurring topics. During recess, students would usually exchange “ration coupons” for war-time food like plain porridge and sweet potatoes. Through these activities, students get a sense (just the briefest glimpse!) of the hardships our forefathers went through when Singapore failed to defend itself.

The idea of Total Defence has never been so real as it is this year though.

The outbreak of the Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) reminds us that threats go beyond war. Unlike previous crises, the adversary we are facing today is not so obvious – we cannot see the virus!

The effects of fear, however, are very visible to our students. Temperature screenings are now a daily routine in schools. People are wearing masks on public transport. The malls are palpably emptier. Classmates and teachers may go on leave of absence. Every day, new cases are discussed at length on the news. Even at home, the virus dominates the conversation.

Here is where Total Defence comes in. More effective than any class activity, our students are witnessing acts of courage and selflessness taking place all around them. From our healthcare professionals at the frontline, to the volunteers distributing masks and delivering food to those quarantined, Singapore is rallying together through civil and social defence to fight the virus. On the economic front, relief measures are underway to help affected businesses and workers.

In schools, teachers are going all out to help with precautionary measures such as visual screening and temperature taking. They are also busy preparing Home-based Learning packages for those who are on leave of absence, and designing lessons to teach students more about the virus. Our support staff are also stepping up cleaning and disinfecting processes to keep schools safe for students. In the face of a threat like the virus, everyone is playing a part.

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Bus operators, security officers, cleaners and teachers are all pitching in to keep schools safe. Photos courtesy of Blangah Rise Primary School.

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Even parents are volunteering to help teach students about proper handwashing techniques! Photos courtesy of Teck Whye Primary School.

As schools commemorated Total Defence Day on 14 February, students were rallied to fight the virus and keep themselves healthy. In class, they are learning from the “Soaper 5”, a new cast of superheroes, who advocate for good hygiene practices and social responsibility amidst the spread of the virus.

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The Soaper 5 are here to fight the virus! Photo courtesy of First Toa Payoh Primary School.

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Clean hands and clean surfaces leaves no place for the virus! Photo courtesy of Jing Shan Primary School.

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Temperature-taking helps us detect those who are sick! Photo courtesy of Teck Whye Primary School.

Students are also putting what they learnt into practice. Regular handwashing and wiping down their tables after meals are simple acts that help stop the virus from spreading. In addition, students are penning notes to frontline workers to encourage them, and coming up with videos and slogans to spread positivity. At a time when nurses and healthcare workers are being treated with suspicion by some members of the public, these tokens of appreciation go a long way. There have also been individual acts of kindness – like a P6 student from Teck Whye Primary, who bought his friend a thermometer with his savings because his friend would forget to bring his to school. Way to go, students!

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Psychological defence – encouraging each other in difficult times. Photos courtesy of Blangah Rise Primary School and Maha Bodhi School.

For many of our students, this is the first national crisis they are experiencing. There are many unknowns about the virus, and no one knows for sure how many people will be infected and how long it will be before it dies down.

One thing is certain though - this is not the last crisis Singapore will have to face and the lessons of Total Defence this year will still be relevant in the future. Hopefully, when our children look back on this episode years from now, they will remember not so much the fear, but the shining moments of kindness, dedication and goodwill shown by so many Singaporeans.

“Together we keep Singapore strong” is more than just a slogan. It is what they lived through and what will give them the confidence to face any challenge the future brings. 

The writer has taught History in a local secondary school for 7 years, and is now posted to MOE HQ.