The revamping of the junior college syllabus can help more young learners see knowledge in the right perspective. Education is not about mechanically retrieving answers from a data set. It should help students see the connections among different areas of study and apply knowledge to the real world. Of course, it is not as if these outcomes were ignored by the previous curriculum. Introduced in 2006, it sought to foster new approaches to learning and develop a wider range of skills. It emphasised life skills to help the young become responsible adults and active citizens. Concurrently, the promotion of knowledge skills had the goal of enabling students to analyse information and communicate their thoughts cogently.
These two sets of skills were combined with subject knowledge in disciplines like the humanities, mathematics and the sciences. The goal was to produce students proficient in the three minimal domains of knowledge: What to know, how to know it, and why it's relevant to the workings of the world.
Unfortunately, the content-heavy syllabus for subjects perhaps overshadowed the objectives of life skills and knowledge skills. It is this imbalance that the revamped syllabus wishes to correct. In mathematics, for example, about 10 per cent of content has been cut to provide teachers with more time to discuss with students how the subject can be applied in the real world. In biology, some topics have been taken out of the syllabus because they are taught already in secondary school or are considered more suitable for study at university level. Overall, the goal is to give students more reflective time so that they can move beyond the mastery and retention of raw information - important though they will remain - to develop skills of application.
As always, teachers will play the main role in transmitting the values of any syllabus to their students. However, parents, too, must encourage their children to adapt to the new curriculum. Some students will take more easily to the changes than others, but the parents of the latter, too, must help their wards see the need to think and learn in new ways. Certainly, the introduction of a revised curriculum brings with it the potential stress of uncertainty for learners and teachers alike. Parents play an irreplaceable part in developing the psychological resilience that enables children to embrace change as the only viable way to the future.
That resilience will stand young Singaporeans in good stead as they further their studies and enter the world of work. New jobs are being created not by old knowledge but by the ability to apply the new and old across receding frontiers. For Singapore, where knowledge is to the economy what natural resources are to other lands, the ability to use knowledge well is of critical importance.