SINGAPORE: The approach to National Education (NE) in schools will be refreshed, following a year-long review that concluded in October 2017.
Giving details on the refreshed approach in Parliament on Monday (Mar 5), Senior Minister of State for Education Janil Puthucheary noted that there are some who feel that the storyline is worn or tired, or, as MP Ang Wei Neng pointed out, that NE is propaganda.
In his speech, Dr Puthucheary noted that the Ministry of Education (MOE) recognises that it has to be open to doing NE differently.
“We must empower our students to discover what being Singaporean means to them personally – not because the syllabus says so, but because they themselves know so.”
He added that this was the basis for the recommendations by the 30-member NE Review Committee, which was chaired by Dr Puthucheary. The recommendations, he said, centre on nurturing a sense of belonging to the country and community, a sense of Singapore’s realities and challenges, and a sense of shared hope and aspirations as a nation.
EFFORTS TO IMPROVE AND REFRESH NATIONAL EDUCATION DRIVEN BY THREE THRUSTS
Schools currently use six NE messages as guidelines when creating their programmes.
With the changes, while schools have the autonomy to implement changes based on the profile and needs of their students, the framework has been made more intentional, where schools are encouraged to frame their NE efforts along three new thrusts.
The first, Dr Puthucheary said, is the need for NE discussions to take on contemporary issues, as well as the perspectives of different Singaporeans, including the students themselves.
“This will enable our students’ shared appreciation for the ever-evolving Singapore story,” he said, adding that one of the NE Review’s recommendations is for students to discuss contemporary issues on a more regular basis, and not just during subject periods.
“Our students may not agree with each other, or even with their teachers,” said Dr Puthucheary. “But we do want to ensure that there is a space for respectful conversations, and that we nurture in our students, open-mindedness, respect for others, and that they develop the skills for critical thinking.”
Second, MOE will facilitate “citizenship experiences” that empower students, allowing them to “find their own meaning as citizens”, said Dr Puthucheary.
“There are already milestone experiences throughout a student’s journey in our schools, such as the NE Show for all Primary 5 students, and subsequently, things like the Outward Bound School.”
Citing the example of Ping Yi Secondary School, he shared how 15-year-old students at the school receive their NRICs in a special ceremony. This “emphasises that despite their different backgrounds, these 15-year-olds must stand together and understand the shared privileges and responsibilities of being Singaporean,” he added.
“We look forward to making more of such cohort or school-based experiences available and meaningful for our students,” he said.
Dr Puthucheary added that the third thrust is about supporting teachers, noting that they are critical to any learning experience. “They have been doing well, and going forward, we will include more professional development opportunities and involve experienced educators in spearheading pedagogical innovation.”
MORE SUPPORT FOR STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
Dr Puthucheary added that his ministry is continuing its efforts to support students with special education needs.
For example, he pointed out that the School-to-Work transition programme has seen positive outcomes, and that his ministry is working with the Ministry of Social and Family Development and SG Enable to scale it up. The programme, which develops more customised job training pathways for special education students who can work, was first prototyped in five schools in 2014.
Giving more details, MOE said the programme has since been extended to seven more special education schools. This includes schools that cater to students with moderate-to-severe intellectual disability, autism and multiple disabilities.
Dr Puthucheary added that over the past year, the ministry has worked with MOE-funded special education schools to ensure the smooth implementation of compulsory education for children with moderate-to-severe special needs. It was announced in 2016 that all children with special needs who are above six years old and below 15 will have to attend school starting from 2019.
“We are confident that students who can benefit from such specialised support will receive quality education in these schools,” said Dr Puthucheary.
To facilitate greater access to information on special education needs and help parents make more informed decisions on the appropriate educational setting for their children, MOE said it will launch a revamped section on special education needs on its website in March.
The new site, it said, will include information such as the open house dates of special education schools, financial support available for parents and links to other relevant agencies.