Response to the Adjournment Motion: Maximising Every Student's Potential in Classrooms of the Future

Published Date: 07 November 2017 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Mr Leon Perera, NCMP

Matter Proposed

Maximising Every Student's Potential in Classrooms of the Future.

Speech

Mr Deputy Speaker,

1. My Ministry is committed to bringing out the best in every child, by providing the opportunities and learning environment to enable every child to do so. We stay abreast of good educational practices and developments in other countries, and constantly review how we can take ideas and adapt them to our contexts, including ideas that have been discussed in this house by my esteemed colleagues, including Ms Denise Phua.

2. My Ministry has already embarked on this journey to nurture future-ready and responsible learners, bringing the future classroom into reality today. I will share briefly about our holistic approach in three areas: Learners, Learning Spaces, in which technologies are embedded, and Teachers.

3. It is teachers, and how they teach, that make the critical difference, not just class sizes.

4. First, maximising the potential of every child starts with the Learner. Our curriculum has shifted to focus more on 21st Century Competencies such as Critical and Inventive Thinking that enables our students to solve real-world problems creatively; and Collaboration and Communication skills that enable them to work effectively in teams.

5. Earlier this year, I spoke about the importance of nurturing the joy of learning in our children. This is so that they can discover their interests and passions. This intrinsic motivation is key to lifelong learning and success. I stressed the importance of developing an entrepreneurial dare, so our children will have the resilience, adaptability and enterprising spirit to apply their learning to real-world contexts, and to pursue their passions. These are key aspects of a holistic education, not just simply class sizes. Taken together, these fundamental dispositions, attitudes and skills will help our students thrive in an uncertain and complex world. We will continue our focus on nurturing these dispositions, while moving away from an over-emphasis on academic grades.

6. This brings me to my second point. We are already evolving our Learning Spaces beyond the classroom to provide for a more authentic learning experience. To prepare out children for the future, it is not just about class sizes, but how we get them to apply their learning.

7. Because Applied Learning connects what they learn in the classroom with real-world contexts, be it in the STEM arena, the Arts and Humanities domain. It combines content mastery with a more applied and practice-oriented approach to learning. Using their knowledge and skills, students can experiment, investigate and develop innovative ideas and solutions to real-world problems. Through hands-on experience and exposure, they can better discover their strengths and interests, as well as their future education and career pathways.

8. And how is Applied Learning implemented in our schools? We work with different agencies. In the areas of coding and technology, we worked with IMDA to expose students to basic coding and technology through various activities. ‘Code for Fun’, for example, is an enrichment programme that has benefitted 73,000 students in both primary and secondary schools since 2014. The ‘Lab on Wheels’, a bus that travels from school to school, allows students to tinker with modern technologies such as 3D printers, drones, and other fun stuff. How do you calibrate class sizes in such activities? We should not fixate on a single dimension of success in education.

9. The Applied Learning Programme is offered in all secondary schools from 2017. Coding and technology are just two examples of ALPs that are offered in our schools. Many of the ALPs in STEM areas, such as Health Science, Transport and Communication, and Robotics, are very welcome. There are also non-STEM areas such as in the Languages, Humanities, Business and Entrepreneurship. In line with the chosen ALP focus, schools design and deliver activities, to expose students to these new areas and fuel their passion for learning, in and outside the classroom. Many of the ALPs have been developed with relevant industry partners, government agencies and even Institutes of Higher Learning.

10. Students with keen STEM interest can develop their interests through these programmes or relevant Co-Curricular Activities. Again, how do we measure these programmes through class sizes? Upper secondary students can go one step further. They can take up Advanced Elective Modules or Applied Subjects. Examples of these include Computing and Electronics for the Express and Normal (Academic) courses and Mobile Robotics and Smart Electrical Technology for the Normal (Technical) courses. These are electives. Again, this is not in the era where Mr Perera and I grew up, where there were all standardised – 40 in a class. These are all in different class sizes. Feedback from these students who took these modules or subjects have been very positive. They enjoyed seeing their learning come alive, and were engaged in the process, regardless of which course they are from.

11. In addition, we are also redesigning the education experience for students to provide a more customised learning space to help every child realise his potential. What I mentioned in ALPs are just one way we do so, to cater to learners with different interests and aptitudes.

12. A major change we are making this year, is to allow secondary school students to offer subjects at differentiated levels, based on their strengths. Lower secondary students in the Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) courses will be able to take their stronger subjects at a higher academic level. And this, as the Member has mentioned, will take place in class sizes of 10, 15, and 20 - we are flexible. This flexibility allows students to stretch themselves in their areas of strength and build a strong academic foundation. Such a foundation will position them well to harness future technologies and future learning so they can thrive. For example, many of the skills needed are already developed today in our classrooms, regardless of class sizes.

13. We are also providing more learning resources available to students in the online space, to enable them to pursue their interests in a self-directed manner. When we look at classrooms of the future, on the online space, how will we define class size? From next year, all students will be able to access quality learning resources through the Student Learning Space, which is a new online portal. Riding on this technology with these resources, students can access additional material according to their interest, and at their own pace anytime, anywhere. This is learning in the future classroom, beyond class sizes.

14. Third, competent and dedicated teachers remain key to our students’ learning. We invest in our teachers because teacher quality is critical to improving student outcomes. This is most decisive, backed by OECD research.

15. In spite of the different research that the Member has quoted, these researchers are not conclusive. For example, John Hattie’s work on the effect of class sizes says that these early advantages are not necessarily sustained. In fact, they can be short-term.

16. But what I can say is that having grown our teaching force by 20% over the past 10 years, our current Pupil-Teacher-Ratios at 16 and 12 for primary and secondary school levels respectively are already comparable to OECD standards.

17. Instead of reducing class sizes across the board, schools deploy teachers flexibly to keep class sizes smaller for students who need the extra support.

18. Pull-out classes, as I informed the Member previously, for levelling-up, can be in smaller classes of 6 to 8. As I have said before too, the form class size is not indicative of the learning support or attention that our students are receiving.

19. The future classroom does not look like yesteryear.

20. Schools already band students based on their learning needs. For example, the levelling-up programmes, and Subject-based Banding classes that I have mentioned.

21. For our teachers, we also invest in our teachers’ professional development, because they are key. This year, we launched the Singapore Teaching Practice (STP), our very own model of teaching and learning that is backed by research evidence, and this will be adopted in NIE and in our schools. It brings together the shared beliefs of Singapore educators – past and present, and effective practices that lead to engaged and joyful learning across our schools. With this common reference point, teachers can innovate their teaching practices to better meet the evolving needs of students today. Our teachers also continue to keep themselves current with the latest pedagogies, as well as suitable education technology. In their schools, they are supported by trained mentors. Beyond their schools, they are committed to a range of in-service professional development courses, as well as networked learning communities.

22. Mr Deputy Speaker, I have laid out in brief what MOE has developed to prepare our students for the future, whether in the classrooms today or tomorrow, and certainly beyond the single dimension of defining what are the best tools we can use to ensure their success. MOE are embarking on many exciting changes, but in all the things that we are doing, we are guided by values and character education that will always remain at the core of our children’s education. With sound values, the right learning dispositions, as I mentioned, and deep knowledge and skills, I am confident that our students can rise up to the opportunities and challenges of the future economy and Singaporean society. Thank you.

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