Preparing students for life in real world

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 28, 2013

SHARIFAH Naqie might be just 15, but she has set her sights on becoming a food and beverage entrepreneur.

The Outram Secondary School student said she was inspired by Ya Kun Kaya Toast's executive chairman, Mr Adrin Loi, who gave a talk at her school.

"I know it won't be easy," said the Secondary 3 student. "But he told us we have to take risks and persevere."

Her school has already set her and other students on the right track by exposing them to the business world through talks by entrepreneurs, and getting them to write business proposals and even run a mini-mart in school.

For instance, as part of the school's business and enterprise programme, Sharifah came up with brochures to market attractions such as the panda zoo in Chengdu in China's Sichuan province, after a two-week school trip there last year.

This year, she learnt to be an "eco-preneur", designing eco-friendly bags and writing business proposals to market them.

Outram's programme is an example of what schools have been doing to make learning more "authentic", and help students apply what they learn from textbooks.

Schools will take on more such initiatives - Education Minister Heng Swee Keat announced this week that all secondary schools would have two new programmes by 2017.

The first is an applied-learning initiative that will help students see the relevance of what they learn in the classroom. The second is a learning-for-life programme that will help students develop character and values.

Principals said the schemes, which will involve all students, represent a more concerted push to promote teaching and learning in an "applied" manner.

Said Outram Secondary School principal Loh Cheung Ming: "We're getting students ready for the world - hopefully, after they leave school, they will have some understanding of business."

About 60 per cent of students at the school, which has a history of offering commerce subjects, take O-level subjects with an "applied" focus such as introduction to enterprise development. The school pairs up with Singapore Polytechnic to design curricula for the subjects, and students attend lessons conducted by the polytechnic's lecturers.

Other schools say they plan to build on what they have been doing in the past few years when they design the new programmes.

Students at Ngee Ann Secondary, for instance, use maths to solve real-world problems.

In one exercise, they evaluate local telcos' mobile-phone plans using graphs and equations, and come up with their own. In another, they use principles of trigonometry to design carparks that will optimise space at the school.

"This makes maths come alive. You don't just solve and memorise equations," said the school's principal, Mr Adrian Lim.

Schools say the new programmes will be conducted mostly within school hours, for instance, during lessons and co-curricular activities. Meeting friends for projects or outdoor learning trips could require extra time.

To deliver these new programmes effectively, teachers will also need to think creatively.

Said Mr Loh: "It's not straightforward teaching any more. Teachers have to work with industry partners to design lessons.

"If we teach students to be life-long learners, teachers must also make themselves relevant to students' current needs."

Mrs Hilda Tang, 50, who has a 16-year-old son, said she is glad schools are shifting towards "authentic" learning.

"Some students might not really understand topics in classrooms, so it's useful for them to apply what they learn."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 28, 2013

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