Applied learning in schools: Making lessons more in tune with real life

Hougang Primary pupils (from left) Neo Yong Jie, Noel Wong Jit Joon, Wayne Joo Jing Yao and Javier Yeo Kai Xiang conducting a science experiment on forces. Subjects from the sciences to the humanities have been refreshed by the Ministry of Education
Hougang Primary pupils (from left) Neo Yong Jie, Noel Wong Jit Joon, Wayne Joo Jing Yao and Javier Yeo Kai Xiang conducting a science experiment on forces. Subjects from the sciences to the humanities have been refreshed by the Ministry of Education to keep up with the times and equip students with skills for the future.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Changes to curricula signify shift from passive learning to training in skills like reasoning: Educators

Gone are the days of sitting in class and waiting for your teacher to feed you information.

There has been a greater emphasis over the past decade by educators to make learning more relevant to real life, across all education levels.

Subjects from the sciences to the humanities have been refreshed by the Ministry of Education to keep up with the times and equip students with skills for the future.

For instance, the junior colleges implemented a revamped syllabus this year for the first time in a decade. It is aimed at getting students to apply classroom knowledge to real-world scenarios and exposing them to more current content.

Also, the curricula for languages now place more weight on communication skills to help students use English and mother tongues more confidently with others. Instead of just reading passages from a book, children now learn languages through activities such as role-play.

BEYOND JUST KNOWING

It's insufficient just to have knowledge - we need to teach students to innovate and create knowledge.

MR CHEW CHONG KIAT, a lead mathematics teacher at Yuan Ching Secondary School.

Educators said these changes signify a move away from passive learning to training students in skills such as reasoning, analysis and making connections.

Mr Chew Chong Kiat, a lead mathematics teacher at Yuan Ching Secondary School, said: "It's insufficient just to have knowledge - we need to teach students to innovate and create knowledge."

Examinations have also been tweaked to require students to apply what they have learnt in the classroom to real-world scenarios, instead of just churning out facts.

Mr Sung Peir Yih, who teaches chemistry at Meridian Junior College, said exam questions for his subject used to be more topical, but are now "integrated" so that students see how concepts relate to one another.

For instance, a question on organic chemistry can test students' understanding of organic chemistry reactions and rates of reaction.

Mr Chew said: "Questions are no longer predictable - they require students to think deeper and make connections. It's a good sign because we're encouraging students to be thinkers."

Parents said they are glad that the education system is being updated, but felt it requires a "mindset shift" for many who are used to the traditional ways of learning.

Mr Billy Ng, 54, whose son Jia Jian is in Secondary 1 at Coral Secondary School, said most parents were slightly apprehensive when they were told that the Stellar curriculum for English did not have textbooks. Stellar, short for Strategies for English Language Learning and Reading, was extended to all primary schools in 2009 and is aimed at developing pupils' thinking and speaking skills.

"But over time, I observed that the programme helped my son to interact more with people and be a bit more creative," said Mr Ng, an information technology project manager in a bank.

Some parents said their children remember lessons best through applied learning or learning by doing, as opposed to being spoon-fed.

Madam Sara Husain, 52, a retired business planning manager, has five children aged 10 to 26.

Her youngest, Nawfal Ahmad Jailani, is in Primary 4 at Bukit Timah Primary School and enjoys going to school, partly because of the varied learning experiences. "Recently, he was reading recipes and making ice cream in an English lesson. He has also visited gardens and museums and is learning to use IT platforms," said Madam Sara.

"I don't want my children to learn for the sake of learning. I want them to get real and prepare themselves for life and work."


Internalising language through interaction

A group of Primary 6 pupils sit facing their classmates, waiting for the questions to come.

Acting as characters in a story about a Chinese girl who is adopted by a Malay family, they take questions from the rest of their classmates, who are posing as reporters in a mock press conference.

One pupil probes:"How did you feel when you met your long-lost daughter?" Another asks: "Who did you decide to stay with in the end: your foster or birth parents?"

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More emphasis in humanities on the how and why

Queenstown Secondary School students learning how to use a water test kit and data logger in a geography class. There is a greater focus on learning to collect evidence, analyse data, craft explanations and reflect on the process.
Queenstown Secondary School students learning how to use a water test kit and data logger in a geography class. There is a greater focus on learning to collect evidence, analyse data, craft explanations and reflect on the process. ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

When did Sir Stamford Raffles discover Singapore? What is an oxbow lake? What are the factors of urban growth?

In the past, much of the learning in humanities consisted of memorising huge chunks of facts to be regurgitated in exams.

These days, besides asking what, who and when, there is a bigger emphasis on getting students to probe and understand how and why. Lessons also incorporate more current topics, such as measures taken to improve Singapore's competitiveness.

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Seeing relevance of maths and science skills in real life

EcoPonics' Mr Ivan Sei conducting a lesson on terranium- making at Hougang Primary School. The primary school science curriculum now allows for pupils to have more room to understand and apply concepts.
EcoPonics' Mr Ivan Sei conducting a lesson on terranium- making at Hougang Primary School. The primary school science curriculum now allows for pupils to have more room to understand and apply concepts. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Mathematics in school is no longer just about adding things up, but more about getting students to think like a mathematician.

For instance, students could be asked to evaluate the most cost-effective mobile phone plans for classmates based on their different usage patterns.

"In the past, students were taught just facts and formulae. Now, we try to give them learning experiences that will allow them to formulate conclusions themselves," said Mr Chew Chong Kiat, a lead mathematics teacher at Yuan Ching Secondary School.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2016, with the headline 'Making lessons more in tune with real life Applied learning in schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe