New online learning portal 'could cut need for tuition'

Ng Chee Meng joins Admiralty Secondary students to learn how to use portal.ST VIDEO: JONATHAN CHOO
Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng (centre) checking out the use of the Singapore Student Learning Space with Secondary 3 student Jannsen Low Yu Heng and classmates at Admiralty Secondary School yesterday, accompanied by the principal Toh Thia
Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng (centre) checking out the use of the Singapore Student Learning Space with Secondary 3 student Jannsen Low Yu Heng and classmates at Admiralty Secondary School yesterday, accompanied by the principal Toh Thiam Chye.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Students, teachers will benefit from access to quality resources

A new online learning portal, which is set to become a major part of the education system from next year, is being described by observers and parents as a move that will "level the playing field" and hopefully, reduce the reliance on tuition.

Through the Singapore Student Learning Space, students and teachers will be able to access learning resources and pedagogies from other schools as well.

Admiralty Secondary principal Toh Thiam Chye, whose school is one of 62 already putting the platform through its paces since last month, said: "With more schools coming on board, there will be more quality resources being shared, and it will help to raise the quality of education here."

Social studies teacher Tay Peiyong, 33, has already seen his students appear more attentive during lessons when using the portal, which gives everyone, including the "quieter ones", a chance to engage in online discussions.

"Everyone participates," he said.

This also gives him a better gauge of how well students are absorbing his lessons.

And if needed, they can revise the lesson at home.

  • Based on national curriculum

  • A key aspect of the Singapore Student Learning Space is that its online resources are based on the national curriculum, which means students will be learning what is expected of them.

    And beyond self-directed learning, it will also encourage teamwork and collaborative learning. Students will be able to share knowledge and ideas, get peers' feedback, work on projects together and showcase their work online.

    Examples highlighted by the Education Ministry include a lesson on water desalination. The resource includes a video developed with national water agency PUB to link what lower secondary students learn in class with developments in desalination technology. It also gives a glimpse into the work of a PUB engineer.

    Another example is an English lesson to develop critical thinking. Students will be guided to solve a mystery through an immersive story in which they will have to join the dots and come to a conclusion about what happened.

    After learning from a lesson package, students can take a quiz, which will be automatically graded to give a gauge of how much they have understood. Teachers will be able to analyse the results and reassign appropriate resources to address gaps.

    Calvin Yang

 
 

Dr Timothy Chan, director of SIM Global Education's academic division, said the portal could reduce students' dependence on tuition. "Students can learn at their own pace," said Dr Chan, adding that parents can also help guide their children at home.

Singaporeans are spending $1.1 billion a year on tuition, according to the Household Expenditure Survey released in 2014. This is nearly double the $650 million in 2004.

Parents who spoke to The Straits Times hope the portal will live up to its aim of encouraging students to "take ownership" of their studies, and allow them to learn at their own pace.

"If they do not know something, they can review their lessons at home and find the answers on their own," said Mr Julian Tan, who has a 14-year-old son.

"It is a good way to get our young ones to make lifelong learning a habit," added the self-employed 45-year-old who is in the food and beverage industry.

But some raised concerns that overeager parents may push children to cover more topics ahead of their peers.

Housewife Helen Lim, 43, who has two children in primary school, said: "Some may see the portal as a chance to give their kids a head start over their classmates, by getting them to learn more in advance. Students may end up having less free time because they have to study even more."

Experts believe this is unlikely to be an issue.

National University of Singapore lecturer Kelvin Seah said: "Even without the portal, kiasu parents will still be able to make their kids learn in advance if they wish, by making kids read textbooks beyond their grade level."

He pointed out that a more obvious issue is that the online platform may not suit some students who are reliant on external help.

"The portal may be less effective for more dependent and less-intuitive learners, who may fail to draw the connections between the activities in the portal and the concepts that these activities are meant to illustrate."

Schools here are given the autonomy to decide how they want to provide students with devices that can access the learning portal.

Experts such as Dr Chan said needy students need not worry as there is financial support available if they cannot afford such devices.

Admiralty Secondary student Kioko Chin, 15, likes the portal's real-time monitoring feature, as it gives teachers a sense of students' understanding of a certain topic. "If we have doubts, our teacher will know immediately and can address them," she said.

Her schoolmate Tan Ying Shan, 14, said that previously, lessons were less engaging as students merely listened when the teacher spoke in class. "Now, with the videos and discussions, we all can take part."

 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline 'Online learning portal 'could cut need for tuition''. Print Edition | Subscribe