Learning from pre-schools abroad

Singaporean and Malaysian teachers on a study tour at Warrandyte Preschool in Australia in 2013.
Singaporean and Malaysian teachers on a study tour at Warrandyte Preschool in Australia in 2013.PHOTO: THE LEARNING CARAVAN
From left: Swedish teacher Gry Jacobsen with Ms Victoria Waring from Britain and Singapore teachers Cherilyn Lee, Lynn Xu and Shahidah Angullia on a study tour at Lange Erik Preschool in Sweden in June.
From left: Swedish teacher Gry Jacobsen with Ms Victoria Waring from Britain and Singapore teachers Cherilyn Lee, Lynn Xu and Shahidah Angullia on a study tour at Lange Erik Preschool in Sweden in June.PHOTO: THE LEARNING CARAVAN

More pre-school teachers are visiting schools overseas to pick up new skills

Overseas exchange programmes for students are common but, in recent years, pre-school teachers are also heading abroad to learn how to improve their craft.

Some organisations here have been arranging such trips in efforts to boost the skills of teachers, and help them connect with practitioners abroad.

Reggio Emilia in Asia for Children, or Reach for short, which was established in 2013 when private pre-school operator EtonHouse signed an agreement with Reggio Children to be its official network partner in Asia, held its first study trip in 2014 to the city of Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy.

It was attended by 32 educators. Another 33 people went on its second trip last year.

Ms Leanne Sunarya, Reach's director and EtonHouse's executive director of pedagogy, said these stints are opportunities for teachers to hear directly from educators there and see first-hand how projects with children are planned and carried out.

Ms Denise Teo, principal of EtonHouse Bilingual Pre-School, said the trip pushed her to rethink how children learn. "You're not just teaching them numbers and words, you're helping them build connections and relationships," said the 30-year-old.

BEING MORE FLEXIBLE

It's about being exposed to different ways of teaching, rather than just the traditional method of delivering content and being too structured in planning. There's a lot of advocacy in involving children's voices in planning, so the whole learning experience is more meaningful for them.

MS ALYNA CHONG, founder of The Learning Caravan, on pre-school centres focusing on children's interests and adopting different ways of learning.

SKILFUL TEACHERS

My takeaway from the trip was that beyond the (pre-school) centre itself, the country plays an important role in pre-school education, in providing a good teacher training system. A pre-school teacher, just like a doctor or engineer, needs to have specific knowledge to deal professionally with issues.

MS HELEN PHOA, a pre-school language specialist teacher who went to Finland on a trip organised by the Association for Early Childhood Educators Singapore in 2014.

"Teachers have to plan daily experiences by pulling children's interests together and finding a common big idea," she said.

"You have to plan for different physical spaces in a room to allow children to express themselves differently."

Ms Ivy Kok, general manager of Association for Early Childhood Educators (Singapore) (AECES), said about 20 to 30 educators join each study trip they plan, which takes place several times a year.

It had 50 participants on a Finland trip in 2013, due to a higher demand from teachers.

Ms Alyna Chong, founder of The Learning Caravan, which organises similar trips, said it increased the number of trips this year to five, up from two last year because of growing interest. She has arranged visits to pre-schools around the world, from Taiwan and Australia to Sweden and New Zealand, the number of people capped at 10 per trip.

She looks out for pre-school centres whose approaches are inspired by the emergent curriculum - a way of learning that focuses on children's interests - or the Reggio Emilia approach, which makes use of different ways of learning.

"It's about being exposed to different ways of teaching, rather than just the traditional method of delivering content and being too structured in planning," she said.

"There's a lot of advocacy in involving children's voices in planning, so the whole learning experience is more meaningful for them."

Not everything can be applied here, but the hope is that these trips will broaden educators' perspectives, said Ms Chong.

"Most of the centres in Australia have outdoor spaces that we might not have. But we try to show teachers that we can have alternative means, like perhaps carving out indoor space to create an outdoor space, putting in artificial turf or sandplay," she added.

Ms Nur Juliza, 29, a teacher at My First Skool centre in Sengkang, said it was "an eye-opening experience" visiting a pre-school in Perth in May and seeing how teachers were open to doing research, parents were very involved, and how children made use of resources like wood as part of their lessons.

She now tries to give her pupils more choice, by "letting them have initiative to choose their own activities".

 
 

Ms Therese Tan, 54, who went to Finland on an AECES-organised trip in 2014, said children at one pre-school spent a morning at a forest near their centre, listening to a teacher tell a story and exploring on their own.

"They were intrigued by something they picked up, and the teacher was asking them prompting questions," said the adjunct polytechnic lecturer who teaches early childhood education.

Ms Helen Phoa, a pre-school language specialist teacher in her 50s who also went on the trip, said she wanted to see how Finland was different from Singapore, despite both countries having a reputation for having solid education systems.

"My takeaway from the trip was that beyond the (pre-school) centre itself, the country plays an important role in pre-school education, in providing a good teacher training system," she said.

"A pre-school teacher, just like a doctor or engineer, needs to have specific knowledge to deal professionally with issues."

Ms Chong added: "It takes a skilful teacher to be observant and plan lessons based on children's interests, so that they learn better. That's the kind of disposition we are trying to encourage."

An Italian approach to early childhood education

Pat's new pre-school chain goes global

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2016, with the headline 'Learning from pre-schools abroad'. Print Edition | Subscribe