Speeches

FY 2010 Committee of Supply Debate: 2nd Reply by Senior Minister of State Ms Grace Fu on PERI Updates, General Education Matters, Enhancing CL Teaching and Learning and Enhancing Special Education

(I) PERI Updates

Dr Maliki Osman asked for an update on PERI’s recommendations.

PAL

The Programme for Active Learning, or PAL, was introduced to strengthen the emphasis on non-academic programmes within the curriculum. Under PAL, Primary 1 and 2 students would be exposed early to activities that further school efforts in developing character and life-skills. MOE has begun prototyping PAL modules in 12 schools this year, and we have developed some very good ideas on PAL.

New Town Primary, for example, has implemented a Music and Movement module comprising games, movement and singing to allow students to develop body and spatial awareness and improve body coordination. Teamwork and discipline are also strengthened.

Jurong West Primary has introduced the Gymkidz PAL Programme to enable their students to acquire basic movements and skills in a fun and creative way. A mobile playground has been set up in the school, allowing students to learn a range of movements and skills by manoeuvring around obstacles such as ladders, slides and trampolines. The teaching of social emotional competencies is also woven into the programme by incorporating reflection time for the children.

Members would be happy to note that PAL is built into the curriculum, so that learning in a fun way is institutionalised.

Form Teacher Guidance Period

MOE has also introduced the Form Teacher Guidance Period within the primary school curriculum time in the 12 PAL prototype schools. Form Teachers play a central role in shaping the development of their young charges, and it is important to devote sufficient attention to their development. The additional one period per week gives them time to interact with the students and pay attention to the child’s holistic development. MOE intends to introduce the Form Teacher Guidance Period to all primary schools by 2012.

Holistic Assessment

In addition, MOE is working with 16 primary schools to prototype the use of assessment practices that focus more on developmental objectives. For Primary 1, all 16 prototype schools have done away with high-stakes examinations, and replaced them with bite-sized forms of assessments which place greater emphasis on learning rather than grades alone. At Primary 2, the schools have retained the end-of-year examinations while having a range of topical tests and other assessment tasks across Terms 1 to 3.

MOE will share these best practices with all primary schools starting from the middle of this year, and regularly provide schools with more assessment exemplars as they are developed. We will also create a dedicated ‘holistic assessment’ website to enable all teachers to access these resources easily. Over the next 3 years, we expect all primary schools to embark on the holistic assessment journey.

Enhancing Primary School Infrastructure

We have also made progress on infrastructural enhancements. This year, 7 more schools moved to single session, bringing the total number of single session primary schools to 83, out of 178 schools. 28 existing primary schools will proceed with their upgrading plans this year, while 5 new schools will be ready in 2012.

We are currently refining the new-generation primary school building norms, which will be rolled out in phases to all primary schools. Here are two examples of the new facilities. First is a Fitness Playground, which provides a safe environment for students to learn basic movements, develop their physical skills and play together. Second is a Teaching Laboratory, which facilitates lesson observations and professional sharing among teachers. The classroom is also being redesigned with more effective layouts and fittings to support pedagogical needs.

Edusave Scholarship for Lower Primary Students

These “hardware” and “software” enhancements will put us in good stead to deliver holistic outcomes in primary education. Mr Lim Biow Chuan’s suggestion of extending the Edusave Scholarships, which reward academic achievements, to lower primary students hence may not be optimal, as we would need to subject the lower primary students to examinations and ranking. This would work against PERI’s recommendation to rebalance the curriculum towards skills and character development. Lower primary students who have shown good improvements, or those from lower-income households who have performed well, can continue to benefit from the Good Progress Award and Edusave Merit Bursary.

(II) General Education Matters

Values, Character Building, Role of Parents and Community, Sexuality Education, and Secondary School Start Time

Mr Lim Biow Chuan, Mdm Cynthia Phua, Mrs Mildred Tan and Ms Irene Ng asked about the teaching of values and character building. We fully agree that these are fundamental to holistic education, which was a key theme of my Minister’s speech. Civics and Moral Education (CME) is one of the key platforms for delivery within curriculum time. School programmes such as CCAs and Community Involvement Programmes provide opportunities outside curriculum time as well. To cater to different student interests, schools have on average about 30 to 35 CCAs, with at least 8 to 10 sports and games. And as Minister said yesterday, more opportunities will be created for students as more emphasis is placed on PE, Art and Music. I would like to assure Members that there are opportunities for the development of soft skills embedded throughout the “total curriculum”. MOE has also developed a Character Development Award framework to encourage schools to integrate character development into the school culture and processes. In other words, we want school leaders to pay attention and institutionalise the necessary processes. Mdm Cynthia Phua asked about secondary school hours. Schools already have the flexibility to decide on the start and end times of their school day, taking into account local conditions as well as stakeholders considerations. Schools can plan their CCA schedule around the school hours

But while schools play an important role, the inculcation of sound values and good character in our students must be the primary responsibility of parents, as Mrs Mildred Tan correctly pointed out. Schools will continue to engage parents through Parent Support Groups and Parent-Teacher Associations and MOE will continue to engage stakeholders through the COMPASS initiative. The COMPASS Parent Ambassadors Taskforce formed last year would help to encourage parents to play an active role in the education of their children. Mrs Tan suggested a tri-partite mechanism to address issues such as teenage sexuality and gambling. We can consider this suggestion using COMPASS as the platform. As Mr Viswa Sadasivan suggested, schools can tap on community resources to support students’ social and emotional development. And I agree that alumni can be a helpful resource for schools and we in MOE appreciate the contribution of the alumni. In 2008, COMPASS published an Alumni Handbook, celebrating the many bonds that alumni have with their schools. The book has on its cover the tag-line, It Starts with a Passion, and ends with, It Ends with the Ties that Bind, describing vividly how many of us felt about our alma mater. We encourage alumni to come forward and start alumni movements in the schools. COMPASS will continue to harness the involvement of the community and parents in support of our schools.

Mrs Mildred Tan brought up the issue of sexuality education. She mentioned a case yesterday about a 9-year old girl who became pregnant. I believe she referred to a newspaper article in 2007. In response to that article, in March 2007, MCYS had a discussion with the counsellor and journalist who published this story. It turned out that the counsellor was neither able to verify the identity nor the age of the girl who was supposedly pregnant. The counsellor was not medically trained and was not able to verify the pregnancy. Consequently, we should not speculate on conclusions on this case. It is really, as it stands, hearsay.

Nevertheless, the point remains that our children must develop a sense of right and wrong. This is something that parents and families need to take a lead on. Values and morals are sensitive issues that are best decided by parents. MOE’s sexuality education programme aims to complement parents’ role in helping students make informed, responsible and values-based decisions regarding sexuality. Our framework for sexuality education reflects the mainstream views and values of the Singapore society. We promote abstinence, but at the same time, teach forms of contraception to protect youths against diseases and unwanted pregnancy. We have put up more information on the MOE and schools’ websites, to inform parents about the programmes conducted in schools.

Political Education

Ms Irene Ng raised the issue of developing political awareness in our students. This is currently done through the Social Studies curriculum, where students learn about governance, the Singapore election process, the concept of nationhood and national identity, including the significance of national symbols such as the Pledge. Case studies of other societies are included so that students learn about the principles of governance in different contexts. On the teaching of History and Literature, our current syllabi do present opportunities for students to explore moral dilemmas that shape the outcome of events, issues and actions. Students learn to exercise moral judgment, think critically and draw conclusions about national issues. Students also learn about our founding fathers like S. Rajaratnam, and political figures like Lim Chin Siong and Lee Siew Choh, to understand Singapore’s journey towards self-government and independence.

Quality of Teaching

Ms Josceline Yeo is right in saying that the quality of learning is much more important than the quantity of learning. This is, in fact, embodied in the Teach Less Learn More movement (TLLM), which seeks to bring about more effective and engaged learning. As part of TLLM, judicious reductions have also been made to the curriculum content, up to 30%, to provide teachers with more scope for innovation in their teaching, and to give students more time to take part in learning activities that would hone critical thinking and other key 21st Century competencies.

Online Resources

Ms Denise Phua asked about the sharing of online resources. MOE already has edumall 2.0, an online repository that provides teachers with digital resources. It also allows schools to share their good ICT classroom practices and lessons. In addition, school clusters have their own resource repository, iSHARE, for school-created teaching and learning resources.

(III) Enhancing CL Teaching and Learning

I will next touch on the teaching and learning of CL, which several Members like Mrs Josephine Teo, Mr Ong Kian Min, Mr Baey Yam Keng, and Mr Low Thia Kiang have spoken about.

Sir, in Mandarin, please.

部长在较早时提到,我们在进行华文教学的时候,必须清楚地认识到学生掌握母语的能力不同,他们的家庭语言背景差异也很大。过去五年来,来自英语家庭背景的小一学生比例逐年增加。与此同时,也有更多华文能力比较强的学生选择修读高级华文。因此教育部必须制定一套能满足不同学习需求的华文教学框架,根据以学生不同的起点,采用适当的教学策略来帮助他们提升语文能力,加强他们的自信心,以达到因材施教,各尽所能的效果。(Translation: As Minister mentioned yesterday, our approach to teaching CL must take cognisance of the diverse language abilities of our students and the increasingly varied language backgrounds. The proportion of Chinese P1 students from predominantly EL speaking homes has increased over the past 5 years. At the same time, more able students are pursuing CL at a higher level. There is therefore a need for a more customised CL teaching framework that would recognise the different starting points of students, and to devise different teaching strategies to help everyone become more proficient and confident in the language, and to reach as high a level as they are able to.)

议员们也反映了社会人士关注的问题—如,教育部会不会降低整体学生的语文水平来解决部分学生的学习问题? 我们要如何激发语文能力较强的学生,继续保持对华文学习的兴趣和提高他们的华文水平?如何培养企业所需的人才?在此, 我要声明,教育部将继续努力协助每一个学生学习语文,以期充分发挥他们的潜能,达到竭尽所能的高水平。然而,我们必须认清的一点就是学生的学习起点、能力各有差异,在十到十二年的学习过程中所能达致的语文水平也各有不同. 张议员阐述了企业界和文化界对华文教育的期盼,教育部将加倍努力,投入更多资源,例如通过特选课程学校,以及开办双文化课程等方式,协助这一批学生在学习华文与文化方面精益求精。我们的特选学校表现出色,每年都吸引到许多优秀,并且喜欢华文学习氛围的学生到特选学校就读。教育部正在考虑是否有必要再增设一所特选学校。(Translation: Members have raised concerns on whether we will address the problem for the minority by lowering the standards across the board and if not, how we will motivate high-ability students to go further. How do we groom talents which the business community needs? I would like to assure Members that MOE will maintain our efforts to help everyone learn the language to as high a level as they can go. We must acknowledge differences in starting points, abilities and hence also what standards different students can attain within 10 to 12 years of education. There are high expectations on CL education, as expressed by Mr Teo Siong Seng. We will redouble our efforts and put in the resources to help those students who are able to progress as far as they can, e.g. through the Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools and the Bicultural Studies Programme (BSP). Our SAP schools are doing well and are attracting many good students who wish to benefit from a strong Chinese programme. MOE is currently considering if there is demand for an additional SAP school.)

我们的双文化课程自开办以来,每年的收生人数也不断增加,从2005年的290名增加到2010年的470名。每年发出的奖学金可高达100份。我们会时刻关注,并进行检讨,必要时再增加学生和奖学金的名额。(Translation: Since the launch of the Bicultural Studies Programme, the student enrolment has increased every year, from 290 in 2005 to 470 in 2010. Up to 100 scholarships are also awarded each year. We will monitor and review if there is a need to expand the enrolment and scholarship scheme.)

在此同时,教育部的重点将会是逐步地为学校提供更多的资源,以帮助老师提升教学能力,为配合新的华文教学模式, 做好准备。我们也会加强和新加坡华文教研中心的合作,为华文教师的培训以及教学研究,加快步伐。教育部也将会继续与民间团体和学术机构, 例如推广华语学习委员会、通商中国、推广华语理事会等机构合作,通过以华文华语为交流媒介的活动,携手推广华语华文的学习,进而造就一批双语双文化的人才。(Translation: At the same time, we will enhance our support to schools, and build up our teachers’ professional expertise to prepare them for the new CL learning approach. We will further strengthen our collaboration with the Singapore Centre for Chinese Language on teacher training and research. MOE will also work with bodies like the Committee to Promote Chinese Language Learning, Business China and Promote Mandarin Council to organise Chinese-related activities and promote CL learning, to help us groom a core of bilingual, bicultural elite.)

Enhancing Modular Curriculum

Mr Ong Kian Min asked for an update on changes made to the CL curriculum. The Primary modular CL curriculum has been fully implemented across all levels. Feedback from teachers has been most positive. A study by NIE has found that the modular approach has been effective in improving oral proficiency among students. Another study by NTU further showed that students demonstrated better character recognition using this approach.

To better assess the students’ language ability, so as to apply appropriate teaching approaches, schools today conduct banding of students for the Bridging, Core and Enrichment modules after having observed their students’ CL learning and aptitude for 1 semester. MOE will be collaborating with the Singapore Centre for Chinese Language to develop a diagnostic tool to assess students’ oracy competence to facilitate the grouping into the different modules. The diagnostic tool, which would be developed and prototyped this year, can also be used for developmental assessment throughout the year.

MOE will also be providing schools with a high concentration of students from EL-speaking homes with an additional CL teacher, on top of the two additional teachers all primary schools received in 2007 for the CL modular curriculum. This will allow these schools to further customise their teaching.

There will be more extensive use of EL to teach students with greater needs in the learning of CL, which has proven to be a useful approach. Greater curricular support and in-service training will be provided for teachers to use the bilingual approach. A CL-EL glossary of selected vocabulary will also be developed by 2011 for students in the Chinese Language and Foundation Chinese courses.

We are receptive to Mr Baey Yam Keng’s suggestion of incorporating contemporary Chinese culture in the syllabus. Many teachers do use this to enhance the learning of CL. For the new syllabus, MOE will be including in the Teachers’ Guide a list of recommended materials, such as the award winning China production «漂亮妈妈» (“Breaking the Silence”), which teachers could use to make the lessons more engaging for students.

Use of ICT

With new media and technologies vastly changing the way our students acquire knowledge, there is room to leverage more on ICT tools and applications to enhance and engage students in CL learning. ICT facilitates the functional use of the language, creates authentic settings, and enables customized and active learning. It provides immediate feedback to students, which is important in the acquisition of oral-aural skills. Going forward, MOE intends to incorporate more ICT-based language learning into the syllabus design so that it forms a bigger proportion of the learning experience. An ICT-based language resource package constituting 10-15% of MTL curriculum for all levels will be provided to all schools.

In addition, MOE intends to develop a web-based MTL portal to promote oracy learning and strengthen assessment practices for students from P4 to Pre-University levels. Teachers can assign oral learning tasks to students who can upload their completed product at the portal in the form of audio/video files. Through the portal, students can review their own or their peers’ presentations, and teachers can grade and provide feedback to students. The portal will also be equipped with text-to-speech technology that automatically evaluates the student’s pronunciation after the student reads out a passage. This will enable students to practise and evaluate their oral presentations at their own pace and convenience. As you can see, the potential of such an application is immense. The MTL portal will be rolled out to schools in phases starting from 2012.

Enhancing CL ‘B’

For students who face exceptional difficulties coping with the learning of CL, they would be better served by CL ‘B’. Mr Low Thia Kiang had remarked that the CL ‘B’ option would erode CL standards. CL ‘B’ was introduced 9 years ago. Prior to that, students who were weak in CL were taught and tested in the same way as students with stronger CL ability. It did not work. On the contrary, these students continued to fail CL and were put off learning the language altogether. Our goal in MOE is to keep these CL ‘B’ students interested in the language, so that instead of being discouraged for not being able to meet the requirement, they will go on to acquire a basic but functional command of the language. With an interest in the language, we hope that they will continue using and learning the language after they have left school. The high rate of enrolment in courses mentioned by Mr Teo Siong Seng may not be a bad thing, seen in the light of lifelong learning.

The percentage of students taking CL ’B’ at ‘O’ Level has increased from 2% to 4% between 2001 and 2009, while the percentage offering CL ’B’ at ‘A’ Level has stayed around 2% orabout 250 students. Passing rate is high, over 95% for both ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels in 2009. In case Mr Low will draw the conclusion from the high passing rate that the standard is questionable, I have circulated a sample of an ‘O’ Level CL ‘B’ paper. And as you can see from the sample questions, students are expected to achieve a reasonable standard in the language. Mr Low’s concern that it will become an easy option for students is therefore unfounded.

Many students are benefiting from CL ‘B’. I understand that students are enjoying the lessons so much that in some cases, even those who had been exempted from CL are asking to join the classes! The students tell us that they recognise the importance of being able to communicate verbally in CL, and that the content of the CL ‘B’ lessons is pitched at a suitable level.

With more students coming from predominantly EL-speaking homes, we expect that there will be more students offering CL ‘B’ in future. To enhance the accessibility of CL ‘B’ instruction, MOE has established 3 additional zonal CL ‘B’ centres, and will also support secondary schools with a high concentration of students weak in CL to offer school-based CL ‘B’ lessons. At the JC/CI level, MOE will relax the eligibility criteria, from the current ‘O’ level E8 grade or below, to D7 grade or below, to allow more students to benefit from taking ‘A’ Level CL ‘B’.

(IV) Enhancing Special Education

Let me now turn to the topic of Special Education (SPED).

MOE will continue to oversee the educational aspects in SPED schools by providing training, professional and funding support. However, children with special needs often need support in areas such as paramedical and social support that cannot be catered for by MOE alone. This is the reason that the ‘Many Helping Hands’ approach is required and MOE works closely with NCSS and the VWOs to enhance the quality of the SPED sector. We should continue with this tripartite partnership which has served us well. We will also continue to work closely with the hospitals and the parent support groups of the VWOs to engage parents and assist them in developing a greater understanding of their children’s learning needs and experiences.

In terms of educational aspects, we are starting to see results in SPED schools—there are more professional exchanges amongst SPED schools and with mainstream schools. SPED school leaders have buddies in the mainstream schools for professional support, and they are invited to attend Cluster Board meetings and relevant cluster programmes. There are also more opportunities for SPED school teachers to upgrade themselves professionally. To date, about 85% of SPED teachers have completed teacher training courses at NIE (i.e. the Diploma in Special Education, Specialist Diploma in Special Education and Specialist Post-graduate Diploma in Special Education). MOE also actively helps the VWOs build and refurbish school buildings, with 95% of the construction and equipment cost paid for by MOE.

Ms Denise Phua highlighted the need to streamline the accountability processes. I am glad to report that good progress has been made. With the MOE-NCSS Quality Assurance Framework (QAF), which schools have begun using for self-evaluation this year, agencies have worked closely to ensure that requirements are streamlined and duplication eliminated.

Funding Support—School-Based Awards to Recognise SPED Achievement and Progress

Over the years, we see that more SPED students are doing well. The number of SPED students accessing the mainstream curriculum has gone up since 2007. We want to continue to motivate all SPED students to strive to do well.

MOE will be providing each SPED school with a lump-sum grant to establish school-based awards for students who are Singapore citizens. As the profile of students and the type of curriculum offered across the SPED schools are very diverse, each school will have the flexibility to establish its own criteria for the awards, whether to recognise achievements and progress made in the students’ learning, development of skills, or contributions to the school community. Schools will also determine the number and quantum of awards to be given out. The grants will be funded from the Edusave Endowment Fund, and be disbursed starting from this year.

Revision of Edusave Pupils Fund and Edusave Grants

Currently, SPED students receive the Edusave Pupils Fund in Edusave accounts which they can use to pay for school fees and enrichment programmes. The schools also benefit from the Edusave Grant to pay for enrichment programmes or to purchase additional resources. With the increase in the number of SPED students taking the mainstream secondary curriculum and vocational education programmes, MOE will be revising the quanta of the Edusave Pupils Fund and Edusave Grants for these students from Jan 2011. Based on current rates for mainstream secondary level, the quanta will be increased from $200 to $240 for the Edusave Pupils Fund, and from $50 to $90 for the Edusave Grant.

Professional Support—Direct Instruction Reading and Language Programme to SPED Schools

Next, I will touch on the professional support provided to SPED schools. Functional literacy is one of the key skill sets we seek to develop in SPED students, as it helps them learn and communicate effectively, and find gainful employment. Currently, SPED schools adopt or develop their own literacy curricula. However, with limited curricular and pedagogical expertise in the schools, the quality of literacy teaching is rather varied and uneven.

Since last year, specialists from MOE’s Special Education Branch have been working closely with teachers in 7 SPED schools to pilot a Direct Instruction reading and language programme for lower primary students with Intellectual Disabilities (ID).

Direct Instruction is a clear and explicit teaching approach in which reading skills are carefully taught in a step by step manner until the child masters the skills. Students first learn the sounds of letters, and how to blend the sounds to read words. Armed with the basic building blocks of reading, they are then guided to read books independently, and to comprehend what they read.

This method is particularly suited to the learning needs of SPED students and the results of the pilot have been very positive, with teachers observing that the students demonstrated greater interest and motivation to read, and became more attentive and focused in other lessons.

Given the benefits, MOE will be rolling out the Direct Instruction programme to students with mild to moderate ID progressively at all SPED schools from 2010. We will also work with the schools to pilot other Direct Instruction programmes for oral and writing skills.

Greater Opportunities for Meaningful Integration Between Children from SPED and Mainstream Schools

As learning disabilities and the degree of severity of special needs children are on a continuum, we must continue to adopt differentiated approaches to meet the wide range of needs.

Since 2007, MOE has worked with two SPED schools to prototype satellite partnerships to provide opportunities for purposeful interactions between SPED students and their mainstream peers.

Moving forward, MOE intends to facilitate more partnerships between SPED schools that are co-located with mainstream schools. In 2010, Pathlight School will have a second secondary satellite site with another mainstream partner, Bishan Park Secondary. Resources such as funding and manpower will be provided to help sustain these partnerships and achieve the desired objectives. MOE specialists will also guide the schools in planning integration activities and monitor its impact on pupils.

We thank Ms Denise Phua for her suggestions of providing learning support professionals in IHLs and setting up an Institute of Special Education modelled after the ITE. MOE is currently collaborating with ITE to better understand the needs of students, and the forms of support that would be most appropriate in ITE. We are also facilitating the training of ITE staff in the area of special needs such as dyslexia and autism.

Our approach towards post-secondary education is to enhance the employability of our students. Instead of adopting an education goal of keeping the students in schools until 21 years old, as Ms Phua has suggested, we want to make education worthwhile for them. To this end, Metta and Delta Senior Schools are currently offering accredited vocational education programmes, in partnership with ITE and WDA respectively. This is a more meaningful approach, as after going through the programmes, students graduate with nationally recognised vocational certifications that enhance their employability. MOE is now looking further upstream, and has begun a second phase of preparing SPED students for vocational training in Metta and Delta Senior Schools. We are prototyping in 4 SPED schools, catering to students as early as 13 years of age.

Conclusion

Sir, it is our goal to nurture the potential of all our children. Whether it is in the area of languages, or independent living and employment skills for those with special needs, we want to develop them to the fullest so that our children can go as far as they can. MOE will continue to work with the stakeholders and the community to support our students, so as to give them the best possible education to prepare them for the future.

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