- POSTED: 26 Sep 2013 22:02
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The Education Ministry’s new plans for the year are a "culture shift" in the way teachers teach and how students learn, said experts.
SINGAPORE: The Education Ministry’s new plans for the year are a "culture shift" in the way teachers teach and how students learn, said experts.
Education Minister Heng Swee Keat announced a raft of measures at his ministry's annual Workplan Seminar on Wednesday.
One of them is for every secondary school to offer two distinctive learning programmes for all students by 2017.
The Journalism and Broadcast programme at Holy Innocents' High School is just one example of the kind of applied learning the Education Ministry wants to see in all secondary schools by 2017.
The subject matter will differ across schools, but the idea is that learning goes beyond receiving information from a teacher in a classroom.
Experts said what is critical are the teachers and the teaching environment. For the new programmes to work, they will have to engage students and help them work together and learn from one another.
More importantly, they will have to create meaningful applications of what is being taught in class.
This will require a cultural shift in terms of teaching and learning, and the first few years will be challenging.
Dr Sandy Cook, senior associate dean for Medical Education, Resesarch & Evaluation at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, said: "Change is always hard. If teachers have taught a certain way for a long period of time, having them change and approach things different will be a challenge for MOE. So they will need to work with the faculty and have training programmes and classes that support and encourage them in making that kind of change."
The move is an incremental step away from the focus on grades and scores as the Education Ministry gears up for changes to the PSLE.
For parents, however, the mindset change will take time.
Queenie Cheah, a parent, said: "That (grades) is basically the entry point to university, people look at your GPAs (grade point average). So I think that (grades) is still important. But what we are trying to do is balance up life skills. I think that would be good if we do it correctly."
With students and parents already concerned about insufficient time both in school and at home for classes and homework, how will the additional projects add to the workload of not just students, but also teachers?
This is where schools can adapt by cutting down on routine work and encouraging the student's independent learning, said National Institute of Education (NIE) Assistant Professor Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar.
She explained: "Teachers and parents, they just want to be sure that their children can do well in examinations. But I think we need to let go a little bit. Let go in the sense that you don't have to practice… to the death; try to do well and ace your examinations. I think there is much you can learn beyond preparing for examinations.
"Look at the things that are happening around you, look at events happening globally in the world, how does that impact you, how does that relate to what you learn in school? That's where the rich and deep learning can be realised."
If done well, applied learning can be fun, said Dr Cook: "Singapore students do tend to have less fun overall in the environment, because they're focusing on trying to do well on tests and not trying to figure out how this enriches them in many different ways."
The new learning programmes will not be graded, but there are other ways of assessment that even parents can appreciate.
Madam Evelyn Yen's 14-year-old daughter, a student at CHIJ St. Theresa's Convent, began experiencing the school's Education for Life niche a year ago.
Madam Yen said: "I noticed the change in terms of (my child's) communicating between friends, between teachers, and between family members. They're able to talk more, besides just studies… grades, and how well you do in school. This is something different."
Since then, Madam Yen has also started volunteering for the programme.
Educators said successful programmes will take time to develop and parents, too, can play a meaningful role as volunteers.