Pupils go on farm visits via virtual reality

ST VIDEO: WINNIE TAN
West Spring Primary School pupils taking part in a pilot virtual reality project, where they "visited" two farms while in the classroom.
West Spring Primary School pupils taking part in a pilot virtual reality project, where they "visited" two farms while in the classroom.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

A class of Primary 4 pupils visited an offshore fish farm and a dairy farm - all during one social studies lesson last Thursday.

The West Spring Primary School pupils were able to make the trips without leaving the comfort of their classroom, thanks to a pilot virtual reality (VR) project by the Government. The pupils donned VR headsets and were "whisked away" by a 360-degree video. The clip allowed them to look around in all directions as if they were there, with a virtual guide giving them key information.

The school was one of five involved from March to May in the pilot test on the feasibility of using VR for education, with almost 400 Primary 4 to 5 pupils taking part.

Fascinated by the instant transportation to different locations, West Spring Primary School pupil Nur Haziqah Abu Mansor, 10, said that it was extremely realistic, and that it was "a very fun experience for me".

Her principal, Mrs Jacintha Lim, was surprised by how much the pupils absorbed during the lesson.

She said: "The quality of answers given surpassed the normal, everyday responses they would be giving. The VR experience must have stimulated (them); it really helped them to give very insightful answers."

The Ministry of Education (MOE) worked with local virtual reality start-up Hiverlab and production company Beach House Pictures on the project.

The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) announced the schools' VR project yesterday at the Infocomm Media Business Exchange opening ceremony.

It also said it is partnering Tan Tock Seng Hospital and SideFX Studios to use VR technology for clinical training.

In his speech during the opening ceremony, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, said: "Virtual and augmented reality technologies can be used across various industries to improve processes, reduce costs and enhance outcomes."

MOE director of humanities Kenneth Lee said last Thursday that the Government was not replacing school field trips. "(VR) replaces textbook exploration," he said.

Mr Donovan Chan, creative director of Beach House Pictures, said his firm tried to transform "our storytelling platforms to converge with new technologies out there".

But emerging technology such as VR can be pricey. The VR headset's retail price is about $150, and the accompanying smartphones used with the headsets can cost between $500 and $1,200.

Beach House Pictures plans to loan the equipment to schools daily.

"We want to control the quality of the experience, and also ensure that cost won't be a barrier," said Mr Chan.

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Pupils try out virtual reality in class. str.sg/4uQo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2017, with the headline 'Pupils go on farm visits via virtual reality'. Print Edition | Subscribe