Set aside time, space to let children explore and innovate, says Education Minister Ng Chee Meng

Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng mingling with newly appointed principals at the 20th Appointment and Appreciation Ceremony for Principals at Shangri-La Hotel.
Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng mingling with newly appointed principals at the 20th Appointment and Appreciation Ceremony for Principals at Shangri-La Hotel.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Every Tuesday morning, for one hour and 20 minutes, students at Tanjong Katong Girls' School can choose what they want to do.

They can spend the time, for instance, on rehearsals, projects or peer conversations, with teachers urged not to intervene.

This was cited by Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng on Thursday (Dec 28) as an example of how schools can set aside time and space for students to explore and to pursue their interests.

Such exploration can help to spark students' imagination and help them foster an "Innovation Quotient", he said.

Innovation is not about a single Eureka moment, he said, but an ongoing process of intentional exploration.

"We need to be intentional about it, because innovation requires certain skills and dispositions, hard work and perseverance," Mr Ng said in a speech at the 20th Appointment and Appreciation Ceremony for Principals at Shangri-La Hotel.

A total of 63 principals received their appointment letters from director-general of education Wong Siew Hoong, while 16 retiring principals were applauded for their contributions to the education service.


Dr Hon Chiew Weng, retiring principal of Hwa Chong Institution, is greeted by Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng on stage. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

In his speech, Mr Ng said it is important to nurture students with the capability to innovate, especially with the disruption in an increasingly globalised world.

He said an environment enabling innovation can be created in schools by nurturing what he called the 3Is - imagination, inquisitiveness and interconnections.

On imagination, Mr Ng said: "In our schools, I think we can free up some space to embrace some messiness and uncertainty of outcomes, as perfect structure and order can impede innovation."


Mr Chan Poh Meng, outgoing principal of Raffles Institution, at the 20th Appointment and Appreciation Ceremony for Principals. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Moving on to inquisitiveness, Mr Ng noted that computers can give answers, but cannot ask questions. That is why we have to foster inquisitiveness in students, he added.

On the last "I", he said students should be encouraged to join the dots and make rich, deep and unexpected interconnections.

"Much innovation happens at the borders of established fields, when unexpected skills collide," he added.

Mr Ng said schools should use applied learning to allow students to appreciate the relevance of what they are learning.

"Our students today have a great need for meaning, relevance, engagement and authenticity. Gone are the days where most of them will sit quietly in class, paying attention, trying to absorb whatever the teacher teaches them," he said.

At Queensway Secondary School, he noted, students built a sea perch and water quality sensor to collect and investigate the water, under an Applied Learning Programme in Environmental Science Education.

He also said teachers can foster lifelong learning in students by enabling the children to experience the joy of learning.