Forum: Make school fun again

Students playing at the quadrangle of Farrer Park Primary School on 7 Feb 2020. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

I have been encouraged by the improvements to our education system over the last two years. The Covid-19 crisis offers an unprecedented opportunity to take this a step further.

Over the years, student workload has increased, through curricula from both schools and tuition centres, reducing time for child play.

The American Society of Paediatrics states that play is important for healthy brain development and allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive and emotional strength.

Undirected play, in particular, has been shown in multiple studies to allow children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts and to learn self-advocacy skills, all critical in the new economy.

The Covid-19 crisis creates an unintended real-world experiment that provides us with fresh data we should put to good use in a post-Covid-19 world.

The closure of tuition centres allows teachers to assess how much a child can learn at school without the crutch of additional tuition, while reduced school curricular time because of disruptions forces educators to prioritise learning that is "must have" versus "nice to have".

To this end, I offer two specific suggestions:

• Re-examine what it means for an exam to be age-appropriate. While it is always tempting to push a Primary 3 pupil in Singapore to perform at the level of a Primary 4 pupil in another country, we must realise that this comes at a cost. Balanced development means not building overly strong academic muscles at the expense of weak social and leadership muscles. Given the propensity of Singaporean parents and tuition centres to use exam papers of top schools as benchmarks, the Ministry of Education should ensure that exams at the top schools are age-appropriate.

• Provide more undirected play opportunities. In Singapore in the 1970s and 1980s, children would have undirected play before assembly, during recess and after school. In many primary schools today, children are not allowed to play before assembly or even during recess.

Never waste a good crisis. As we strive to strike the optimal developmental milieu for our children, let us look at what is important and make school fun again.

Jeremy Teo Chin Ghee (Dr)

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2020, with the headline Forum: Make school fun again. Subscribe