Wanted: Joy of learning, entrepreneurial dare in students

In this edited excerpt from a parliamentary speech on Tuesday, Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng highlights the need to nurture these two qualities in students.

JOY OF LEARNING

We believe in nurturing the joy of learning so that every child can discover his interests, grow his passions, and love what he is doing. School should not just be about doing well in exams. It should be an exciting place to acquire knowledge and skills, where learning is fun and with the necessary rigour.

How are our schools changing our teaching practices and methods to foster this joy of learning? We have taken two key approaches:

One, we are encouraging learning through play at the start of every child's education. When I visit schools, I am always delighted to see how engaged and energised our primary school students are, when they learn not only in the classroom, but also out in the school gardens, through field trips, outdoor games.

The Programme for Active Learning in every primary school provides varied and fun learning experiences, combining classroom learning with outdoor activities to stimulate interest and curiosity.

Two, we are encouraging more applied learning among our upper primary and secondary school students, so that they do not just learn theories, but get to apply learning to real-world contexts. This makes learning come alive and sows the seeds for innovation from primary school onwards.

Beyond the classroom, students can explore further afield through Applied Learning Programmes, such as in robotics, food sciences, media communications, the arts, music and many other areas. Through hands-on activities, sometimes employing modern technologies, students' learning takes on real-world meaning and relevance.

In these ways, students find joy in learning, and are more intrinsically motivated to learn, not just for exams.

I share (the) concern regarding tuition. Excessive tuition, especially when the child is already doing well, can erode the joy of learning. Children need to have more unstructured spaces to play, to grow their imagination, creativity and socio-emotional skills. If a child spends too much time on tuition, his holistic development can be impacted. Excessive tuition can also develop a crutch mentality in our students. This stands in the way of self-management and self-responsibility in learning.

I fully understand that parents want to give the best support to help their children do well in their studies. But we need to find a balance, at each age. As a parent, I too am learning when to step forward to assist my children when needed, but also when to step back, so they learn independence and self-reliance.

Making this paradigm shift towards a more holistic education for our children is not easy, and will not be easy.

While schools will do their part, parents will also need to make judicious choices, taking into consideration the child's total needs. I am glad to see a gradual mindset change in our parents. More are starting to see the value of creating informal, unstructured learning spaces for their children.

ENTREPRENEURIAL DARE

Finding passion is good but we need to do more. We need to help our students develop an entrepreneurial dare so that they will apply what they learn, act on their passions and pursue them.

Our students are exposed to business and entrepreneurship through CCAs (co-curricular activities) and applied learning. But my vision for entrepreneurial dare is broader and goes beyond encouraging entrepreneurship.

It is not simply about promoting businesses or start-ups. Rather, entrepreneurial dare is an attitude, a mindset of pushing boundaries, of wanting to innovate and finding a breakthrough. It applies across all domains, not just in business and enterprises, but also in scientific research, engineering and the arts.

It is not about the mechanics of entrepreneurship, but the broader foundation of encouraging our students to have entrepreneurial dare.

Being "entrepreneurial" is about having a spirit of enterprise. An enterprising person is able to quickly analyse complex issues and identify problems and gaps, develop new ideas, seize opportunities and take action.

To "dare", resilience is key. Because it is often the fear of failure that holds many of us back. If we are confident of being able to bounce back, more of us will have the resilience to "try, fail, try again…" until we succeed.

To "dare", adaptability is also key. Adaptability enables us to quickly innovate to seize the opportunities available or respond to the challenges ahead.

Some employers I have spoken to tell me they want to see more entrepreneurial dare in our students. They say our students are smart, but some are afraid to embrace risks in trying new things, or new ways of doing things. Because it is easy to become hemmed in by our own successes, we must help our children venture out of their comfort zones and fail-safe modes. Having entrepreneurial dare is all the more important as we enter uncharted waters ahead.

To cultivate this entrepreneurial dare, we need to infuse it into our students' education journey to create an environment where trying is encouraged and failing is accepted as a step towards success and as part of our overall learning.

Outdoor education is one key way to nurture this entrepreneurial dare. Apart from being fun, outdoor adventure experiences build character and qualities such as resilience, tenacity, leadership, teamwork, grit and adaptability, all of which help foster entrepreneurial dare.

Applied learning is another key way to nurture entrepreneurial dare. We will continue to create more informal, less structured learning spaces, both within and outside of the classroom, for our children to explore and discover the world.

Last year, Teck Whye Secondary celebrated its 50th anniversary. When I visited, Teck Whyeans proudly showed me a golden orchid that they had developed for the special occasion.

It took them five years and five different graduating cohorts to breed the golden orchid, and in the process learn the science of plant genetics. It took leadership and teamwork across cohorts, with seniors passing the project on to their juniors when they graduated. It took many rounds of trying and failing. But when the students eventually succeeded, they were thrilled and immensely proud to present the golden orchid to the school.

This showed me what our students can achieve when they combine academic rigour in genetics, with the joy of learning, and a dose of entrepreneurial dare. This simple project of experimentation goes to show the important role that schools can play in nurturing these qualities. MOE (Ministry of Education) is studying how to build on these good practices, to further infuse the joy of learning and entrepreneurial dare in our curriculum and teaching practices.

However, there is no silver bullet or any easy way to foster the joy of learning and entrepreneurial dare, and reduce our overemphasis on academic results. But as we move in this direction, I hope our parents and the wider community and this House will continue to support us in helping our young to discover and pursue their passions.

It is passion that will sustain our children throughout their education journey. Fuelled by passion, our young can better meet their aspirations and contribute to the future economy as holistic individuals and lifelong learners.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2017, with the headline 'Wanted: Joy of learning, entrepreneurial dare in students'. Print Edition | Subscribe