SINGAPORE: Senior Minister of State for Education Janil Puthucheary has assured that the Ministry of Education (MOE) will get the "balance right" when the Applied Learning Programme (ALP) is set up in all primary schools in Singapore by 2023.
Dr Puthucheary was responding to a listener on 938NOW's Talkback programme on Wednesday morning (Mar 7). The listener had asked if introducing the ALP to students would be an "add-on" to their existing workload.
All primary schools will have an ALP by 2023, Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng announced in Parliament during his ministry's Committee of Supply debate on Monday.
ALPs are programmes designed by schools to help students apply their learning to the real world. Since 2017, more than 80 of the 191 primary schools in Singapore have an ALP.
"When I (earlier) said add-on, what I meant was an add-on to the outcomes that we want," said Dr Puthucheary.
"So it’s the same content in terms of the facts, the same knowledge, the same syllabus and the same amount of hours and weeks and we are not eating into school holidays ... none of that ... but using an extra set of techniques, an extra set of experiences and an extra set of opportunities that the kids will have, (so) that same amount of base knowledge translates into an added layer of skills and experience for the kids," he said.
"So, no, we are very mindful of this idea that whatever we introduce into the curriculum, actually has to, in a way, compete with all the other things that we have to do, so we (have) got to get that balance right."
Mr Ng had earlier said there would be no tests or exams for the ALPs, a point reiterated by Dr Puthucheary on Wednesday.
"We are not planning this as a change in the way we do exams or evaluations," he said. "This is another way of getting to that same set of skills and knowledge, so it's making it much more experiential, and hopefully a lot more fun. We want the kids to enjoy this."
"So no, this is not going to be yet another 'examinable' subject."
NATIONAL EDUCATION: TACKLING POTENTIALLY THORNY TOPICS
Dr Puthucheary also touched on National Education (NE), which he spoke about in Parliament on Monday.
He said then that the approach to NE in schools will be refreshed, following a year-long review that concluded in October 2017.
Schools are now encouraged to frame their NE efforts along three new thrusts - one of which is for NE discussions to take on contemporary issues.
Dr Puthucheary on Wednesday acknowledged that this could give rise to the possibility of touchier topics being discussed in the classroom - but that this might not be a bad thing if "done properly".
"What does properly mean? It means the students don't necessarily need to agree with each other on a touchy subject, or maybe they don't even agree with the teacher on this subject, but everyone's respectful, everyone's engaged and finds a way to walk away from it, maintaining that respect and having learnt something," he said.
Dr Puthucheary noted that it also boils down to how discussion of such topics is facilitated in the classroom. He had said on Monday that the "third thrust" is about supporting teachers, noting that they are critical to any learning experience.
"That really is why we have that third thrust ... We have got to have that professional development and the confidence in the professional development that the teachers have," he said. "Now, actually this is already within the teaching profession ... These are skills and aptitudes that they are quite familiar with."
But as the approach to NE is broadened, Dr Puthucheary added that there will be a need for teachers who had traditionally not taught NE to start to have these types of skills to deal with some touchier subject matters.
This is why, he said, the third thrust is there, to keep “an eye on professional development".
"We support our teaching professionals, so that they can do this.”