Opening Address by Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, at the International Conference on Teaching and Learning with Technology (iCTLT) at the Suntec Convention Hall, on Tuesday, 5 August 2008
Permanent Secretary of Education, Mrs Tan Ching Yee
2nd Permanent Secretary of Education, Ms Yeoh Chee Yan
Director-General of Education, Miss Seah Jiak Choo
CEO ISTE, Dr Don Knezek
Let me extend a warm welcome to the 1,800 delegates from 20 countries participating in this inaugural International Conference for Teaching and Learning with Technology jointly organized by the Ministry of Education and the International Society for Technology in Education.
For Singapore with a mere 700 sq km in land and with scant natural resources, we will always need to harness technology to multiply our efforts and extend our global reach, to stay ahead of our competitors. This is our karma and we have gotten good at this fundamental strategy that pervades our thinking. Indeed, some countries, hoping to jump start their progress, copy our systems even wholesale - whether its air or sea ports, town planning, urban greenery etc. They tell us, that they trust that Singapore would have been thorough in our thinking and implementation details, so it would be quite safe to follow our procedures. Imitation is still the best form of flattery.
One key component to harness the powers of technology is the widespread use of Info-comm Technology (ICT) to enhance our productivity many folds. For example, we set up TradeXchange®, to position ourselves better as a global trading hub. This platform allows secure and seamless trade and exchange of information to be conducted online, and provides for more efficient movement of goods.
ICT is also used extensively by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to train our soldiers in combat. This allows commanders and men in various units to deal with a broader spectrum of scenarios, otherwise impossible in land scarce Singapore, and also saves costs.
We invest substantially in ICT networks. By 2012, the Next Generation National Broadband Network under the iN2015 Masterplan will be ready to support ultra-high speed connectivity, creating new opportunities for our economy, government and society. Schools, in particular, will be able to tap on the increased bandwidth to enhance teaching and learning in our schools.
Similarly for the Ministry Of Education, we sought too to use ICT to transform our learning environment. The first Masterplan to achieve this was started more than a decade ago. This conference coincides with a significant milestone and is an appropriate occasion to launch MOE’s third masterplan to use ICT for more effective teaching and learning in our schools.
This morning I would like to share with you the challenges faced and lessons gleaned from our past experiences of Masterplan 1 and 2. I will also share how these lessons learnt have helped us formulate strategies for our third ICT Masterplan.
Masterplan for ICT in Education 1, mp1
Investing in ICT is expensive business. How do Ministries and Departments of Education around the world justify such investment? In some countries, ICT is seen as a quick fix, almost a magic potion that will improve test scores. Once invoked, advanced technology is touted to be able to turn things around quickly, to assuage public concerns about academic standards.
Singapore chose a different path. We recognised that ICT indeed could be a powerful tool but it was not a panacea. Like all tools, it had to be employed judiciously if it was to equip our students with the necessary skills and dispositions to stimulate creativity and thinking skills that will prepare them better for the future.
1997 was a watershed year for education, when MOE revamped the curriculum to reduce content and to increase the emphasis on process skills and citizenship education. As part of this transformation, the first ICT Masterplan was launched to bring about a change in mindset in learning.
But the work involved in the first Masterplan was not glamorous, nor was it about quick fixes. It focused on nuts and bolts. It laid the foundation by providing all schools with the basic infrastructure, such as hardware, computer laboratories and essential learning software packages. More importantly, it trained all teachers with basic skills in the use of word processing and presentation software to begin the process of integrating ICT into their lesson plans.
A centralised approach was necessary as prior to this, ICT infrastructure in schools was lacking and a significant proportion of teachers were still not comfortable using ICT. In fact, only a handful of computers were available in schools. Computer networking in schools was almost non-existent. The application of technology in the classrooms was limited to using overhead projectors. Many teachers even perceived computers to be complex machines that would make their life more difficult. We should note that I am describing a situation only 10 years ago - so it shows how far we have progressed.
Of particular mention is how MOE adopted a different approach to the training of teachers. We recruited 60 Senior ICT instructors from our schools, educators who shared our goals of the benefits of ICT and were role models themselves. Rather than train a few teachers from each school at a time, we sent teams of instructors to each school. This way, the entire school moved in tandem, infused with a culture of using ICT, learning from each other, and learning to use ICT in the context of teaching. Each teacher received at least 30 hours of training.
Targets were set for all schools to have ICT-enabled lessons for up to 30% of curriculum time.
By the end of five years of the first Masterplan in 2002, 363 schools had fundamental building blocks in place to use ICT in the curriculum. More importantly, we had achieved a shift in the mindset of teachers and ICT became an accepted tool for teaching and learning.
The Second Information Technology in Education Study (or SITES 2) conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (or IEA) in 1999 reflected this paradigm change. It reported that Singapore stood out favourably in terms of the level of teachers’ knowledge of ICT-based instructional practice. They had more avenues to develop their ICT skills than their counterparts in most other countries. Singapore principals were very positive towards ICT in schools. They had an attitude score of 90 on a scale of 0 to100. Mental barriers of old mindsets had been successfully breached.
Masterplan for ICT in Education 2, mp2
These mundane but important tasks of scaling up ICT competence among the entire teaching force, laid a strong foundation for the second Masterplan which started in 2002 where we sought to deepen the integration of ICT into daily lessons in schools. It went beyond just using Powerpoint presentations to replace the transparencies and the old overhead projectors. We wanted instead to bring about greater interactivity and engagement in the learning process. For example, podcasts can help students practise different language skills, from writing to speaking. The technology allows them to play back their work, so that peers and teachers can help them to make improvements to pronunciation or grammar.
With a basic infrastructure present in all schools, we could also provide more autonomy for school leaders to decide how best to integrate ICT into teaching and learning based on the specific needs of their students. Baseline ICT Standards for students were also introduced in 2007 and spelt out the specific competencies that students should achieve at certain milestones, ranging from basic typing skills by Primary 3 (3rd grade) to application of data for scientific investigation by Secondary 4 (10th grade).
The results of these efforts were indeed satisfying to watch and many here would have witnessed the heightened activities and occasional sparks of brilliance as schools across the island used ICT innovatively in their daily curriculum. Some schools went very far on their own, and were provided with additional resources and support to do so.
Indeed, many schools competed to be in the innovation programmes that provided them additional resources to try out new innovations. Some were recognised as LEAD ICT@Schools or as FutureSchools@Singapore.
Some schools used ICT to take them to a different level and ventured into alternative pedagogies such as inquiry-based learning and problem-based learning. Students were able to expand their learning horizons through exploring virtual worlds such as Second Life and educational games such as Quest Atlantis. They were also able to demonstrate what they have learnt through blogs, wikis, podcasts, e-portfolios, animations and video production. Class outings had been enriched by mobile learning such as the development of e-trails, use of dataloggers, PDAs and mobile phones. You will see examples of how various schools have used ICT innovatively at this conference. It reflected a flourishing of spontaneous activities from many sources.
At the end of our second Masterplan, we can confidently say that, indeed, the use of ICT has transformed our learning environment. It has certainly gone far beyond just the mere use of PowerPoint slides.
The role of our teachers in this success has been critical. Their passion, commitment and willingness to learn new skills and employ ICT to improve learning outcomes were instrumental. Indeed, our teachers and students have been recognized internationally for their creative use of ICT for teaching and learning.
Some examples include Nur Ilyana Binte Mohamed Anwar from Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus who clinched the top Educators Choice Award at the Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forums in 2006, and Mr Mathew Ong from Anglo-Chinese School (Junior) who was awarded the 2nd runner up position at the same Forum in 2007 for his innovative use of Microsoft Word and Excel.
This year, teachers from Pei Hwa Presbyterian won the Gold Award at the UNESCO ICT in Education Innovation Awards held in Bangkok. Their Primary Four students produced and directed fairytale movies, which resulted in a better grasp and use of words to describe characters in their stories.
In April this year, students from Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, River Valley High School and Juying Primary School also did Singapore proud by becoming the first non-US team to clinch the prestigious championship at the LEGO® League World Festival in Atlanta.
Our teachers are now expert enough to produce their own digital content and expand the resource base for others to share. The West Zone Sharing of Resources Project, WeSHARE in short, is such an example of a first digital repository project developed for teachers by teachers in 2006. The project has now been expanded to every zone as part of the Inter-cluster Sharing of Resources project, or iSHARE. To date, a total of 12,450 teachers have gone into iSHARE both to upload and use the more than 66,000 resources in the repository. Teachers such as Mr Mohamed Musharraf Bin Yusof of Concord Primary School found that digital resources from iSHARE gave him ideas for planning his lessons. He found useful resources that he could adapt to suit his pupils’ learning needs.
Two Lessons from Two Masterplans
While we have achieved some success since 1997, we also recognised the mistakes and shortcomings. This is part and parcel of any new journey. I would like to share two lessons learnt with you.
The first is acknowledging that a gap continues to exist between familiarity with ICT and translating this into effective teaching. Over 30% of our teaching force is below the age of 30, and ICT-savvy. They own mobile phones and laptops, chat regularly on MSN Messenger and interact with friends on social networking sites such as Facebook. Some even have second and more lives on Second Life. However, it should not be assumed that they are more effective as teachers just because they are familiar with modern technology.
ICT savviness is useful but not enough. Teachers need to still base effective outcomes on sound pedagogical principles when they use ICT tools to bring out a learning point. Let me illustrate: Students who are asked to complete simple worksheet assignments on Tablet PCs could easily have used pen and paper. Similarly, students who are asked to use the Internet to search for information but given only 15 minutes to discuss what they have found before putting up a PowerPoint presentation. This use of ICT neither transforms nor enhances the learning experience. The most important educational value, that could have been derived from synthesizing information, presenting alternative view-points, even arguing with one another, have been subordinated to the mere technical tasks of searching for information using the Internet. In contrast, we have seen well constructed lessons where teachers require their primary level students to use simple technological tools like discussion forums to create and write stories that teachers and their classmates could critique. Or the example of using mp3 players to record and listen so that students can provide and obtain feedback on each other’s reading techniques. These are positive examples where pedagogically strong teachers are able to leverage on simple use of ICT to create powerful impact on students’ learning.
Second, we need to seek a balance between centralisation and autonomy. Autonomy for schools and teachers increased ownership and brought forth a flurry of innovations. We must not diminish the motivation for individual schools to find better teaching methods using ICT but at the same time we should address the unevenness in the quality of execution across schools. Autonomy can also lead to less efficiency. While each school might justifiably customize its learning resources for different groups of students, it may not be necessary for every school to buy its own learning management system or manage its own infrastructure. MOE will therefore look into those areas where economies of scale and standardization are advantageous, like infrastructural provisions and capability building for teachers. But we will still maintain a light touch and schools will still be the main driver of ICT efforts.
We have captured our learning journey through the first and second ICT Masterplans spanning a decade in the book, “On 2 IT”, which you will receive during this conference.
Masterplan for ICT in Education 3
These experiences and learning points serve us well as we launch the Third Masterplan today. Masterplan 3 represents a continuum of the vision of Masterplans 1 and 2; to transform the learning environment for our students. We want greater engagement of students to encourage more self-directed questioning and learning. An interactive environment using all our senses will provide greater clarity and enhance content transmission and retention.
Broadly, Masterplan 3 seeks to fulfil 4 goals to improve learning outcomes.
First, strengthen competencies for self-directed learning. The information age is passé. With powerful search engines, we seldom get pass the first few pages of our search results that run into hundreds of pages. With a surfeit of information, effectiveness is about selecting the right information, and being able to differentiate the important from the common but unrefined. With a single click, you can get reams of information but it may have been the wrong question to begin with. Such competencies to be able to discriminate information require technology literacy, higher-order thinking skills and even life and collaboration skills. The appropriate use of ICT can help develop many of these competencies.
Second, tailor learning experiences according to the way that each student learns best. The stronger the ability of teachers to recognise how each student learns and where he has difficulty in, the more effective they can tailor their teaching for better learning outcomes. A simple example of this is that students studying the same topic could use different learning resources or quizzes and tests that are better customised to that individual student.
Third, encourage students to go deeper and advance their learning. For those who can and want to go further in any subject, ICT is a powerful adjunct to learning. Some examples: Technology allows scientific concepts like atomic structures or protein structures to be better understood using 3-D representation, as compared to traditional 2-D representation. The use of tools like data loggers and probes automates laborious operations such as data collection and graph plotting, thus freeing up time for more important data analysis and design of experiments. Subjects and topics in the humanities, which are currently limited to the use of print sources, can now include video and audio sources. This produces a more authentic reconstruction of events which allows students to better appreciate different perspectives and produce more nuanced analyses.
Fourth, learn anywhere. The use of ICT allows such mobility and flexibility in learning, freeing it from the physical confine of classrooms and the rigidity of structured curriculum time.
These four goals are of course ideals, and will always be work in progress. But Masterplan 3 will bring us closer to achieving that learning nirvana. What are our strategies to achieve these goals?
Strategy 1: First, bring ICT into the core of the education process. To do this, we have to integrate ICT during planning and design of lessons plans and work through implementation details of curriculum and assessment.
Much of the current efforts, all around the world, in the use of ICT in schools are really an add-on to the traditional ways of doing things. There are limits to benefits that can be derived from this approach. In Masterplan 3, we seek a quantum leap by integrating ICT right from the planning and design stage. For example, visualisation and simulation of scientific phenomena that cannot be seen by the naked eye can help enhance learners’ understanding. But to maximise the impact of ICT for this, we will have to think how to integrate this into the daily curriculum in schools. It might even require a change in physical space. On one of my visits to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), I was shown a specially constructed facility that helped its students visualise electromagnetic fields. The professors there were pleased as Punch about this, because they had sought for some time to better explain this difficult concept, and now finally found an effective way to accomplish this.
Beyond teaching, the use of ICT in testing can bring about many benefits. One simple example: Through the use of individual PDAs, a teacher could ask any question any time during her lesson and get real time feedback of what each student has understood. It is a frightening thought but one that also shows the potential of that technology. MOE will start piloting the use of ICT in assessment in selected subjects and levels. To cite one example, we want to incorporate the use of rich interactive multimedia resources to make the learning of English Language more interesting for students. You could simulate different environments for students with animated and interactive characters - in a restaurant, cinema, a foreign city, even on a date or in a delivery room. The possibilities are endless and this interactive environment will provide more opportunities for students to practice the use of language that approximates daily living in real life. You could also incorporate the same format in examinations. This provides a more authentic way of assessing your students’ language capabilities.
Strategy 2: To accomplish our goals in Masterplan 3, we will as we have done in Masterplans 1 and 2, focus on improving the capabilities and skill sets of our teachers.
Our basic approach of making every teacher a user of ICT is the correct one. We will continue to upgrade the capabilities of all teachers. At the same time, to help schools move further up the ICT value chain, we will need a cadre of teachers with strong pedagogical grounding as “specialist teachers” in schools to lead effective integration and infusion of ICT into the classroom and the curriculum. We have seen this happen successfully in overseas schools.
Strategy 3: Improve the sharing of best practices and successful innovations.
If one teacher in any school has found an excellent way to harness ICT to improve learning outcomes for any particular subject, then the whole community need not re-invent the wheel. It would save much time and effort for all if that practice is spread and adopted by other teachers and schools. We need to build a stronger nexus between innovation and practice, so that we create a virtuous circle of practice being improved through innovations.
To facilitate this process, MOE will support the establishment of a network of educational labs, where innovations can be prototyped and tested. In these labs, educational technologists and curriculum specialists from the Ministry will work alongside other experts and teachers to explore new ways to use ICT. These labs can also serve as training grounds for both the “specialist teachers” and the student teachers. Positive results can then be quickly disseminated to the wider community.
These Labs will complement the existing LEAD ICT@Schools as well as up to 15 FutureSchools by 2015 in spearheading innovative ICT practices.
National Institute of Education should also be part of this network. MOE will act as an interface between all stakeholders. We will set up a dedicated translational unit staffed by specialists who can bring all partners together and facilitate the communication and translation of research and innovative methods into the classroom, where it counts most.
Strategy 4: We will further build up infrastructure where it is needed to upgrade the technology to maximise the potential of ICT. We will do so in phases according to the readiness of the schools and teachers.
Both bandwidth speed and computing power are expected to increase while the costs to decline. MOE will study how to increase the bandwidth speed for schools so that they can engage in anywhere, anytime learning. MOE will also study how to put computing power directly in the hands of every learner, be it a low-cost laptop for every child or a digital PDA in each pair of hands to enable mobile learning.
The Ministry will work with key partners such as the National Institute of Education, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore and the industry to implement these strategies.
If we succeed, we expect to see, at the end of Masterplan 3, a pervasive culture of innovative ICT practices across all schools and a corps of specialist teachers in every cluster who demonstrate a deep understanding of how ICT can transform teaching and learning both within and outside the classroom.
Today marks a continuation of an exciting journey for educators. Technology today allows us to multiply our efforts and achieve learning outcomes in ways unthinkable before. But it is a journey that will require each teacher to upgrade his own capability and share his experiences. Together, we can transform and enrich the learning environment for our students and equip the next generation with skills and competencies to succeed in a knowledge economy.
On this note, I wish all a fruitful conference and all the best in your endeavour to Lead, Learn and Innovate.
It is now my pleasure to declare iCTLT 2008 open.