The Straits Times says

An education in online possibilities

Singapore students are no strangers to online learning. Navigating the Web is second nature to even primary school pupils as they scour it in search of information and knowledge. In education, as in other areas of life, cyberspace is not a distant frontier but a seamless extension of living, thinking and learning in the world here and now. However, issues of reliability dog sources of information on the Internet. Also, the substantial amounts of screen time that young people spend, often unproductively, could be reduced if their attention were to be diverted to online space in which they could further their education both enjoyably and profitably.

This is where the inauguration of a resource-rich online platform, on which students can learn at their own pace anywhere and at any time, could answer to the evolving needs of the young. Flexibility is a key feature of the Singapore Student Learning Space initiative. Being piloted now, it will be rolled out to all schools from next year. It is nothing if not ambitious. It will provide students access to videos, games and animation that will reinforce their learning of subjects, including English, mathematics, history and physical education.

This initiative could further the democratisation of education in Singapore. Technology can be a great leveller, but only when it is put to that social use. This is what the portal seeks to do, by leveraging information technology to give all students the same access to quality learning resources regardless of their school. Admittedly, "better" schools could continue to provide their students with academic resources outside the learning space available to all. That is their prerogative, and one to be copied by other institutions. At the least, however, the goal of every school being a good school would draw closer in an environment where basic online sources point all students towards common standards of excellence at the same time. What is essential is to engage and hold their interest, exciting their curiosity about how the world works. The initiative would succeed by making learning not a chore to be endured but a choice to be exercised by the young as they come to terms with the reality of having to compete and survive in the real world.

Educators, parents and, of course, students themselves must seize this new opportunity. It is a resource and not a "correct answer". It cannot help pupils to game the education system because that is not its objective. It is not private tuition: If anything, it is public tuition. The initiative would serve its purpose if it united stakeholders in Singapore education to embrace a future in which technological possibilities produced a new generation of learners. Learning needs to be creative and adaptive if it is to serve young Singaporeans in a world of economic disruption.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2017, with the headline 'An education in online possibilities'. Print Edition | Subscribe