All primary schools to offer hands-on learning by 2023

Teck Whye Primary School pupils engaging in role play during an English lesson. The Applied Learning Programme will be expanded to all primary schools by 2023.
Teck Whye Primary School pupils engaging in role play during an English lesson. The Applied Learning Programme will be expanded to all primary schools by 2023.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Teck Whye Primary School pupils engaging in role play during an English lesson. The Applied Learning Programme will be expanded to all primary schools by 2023.
Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng

Programmes which help young children learn through hands-on experience will be expanded to all primary schools by 2023.

The Applied Learning Programme (ALP), already available in more than 80 primary schools and all 155 secondary schools, will play a key role in encouraging students to explore ideas, try out new skills such as basic coding and be creative, Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said in Parliament yesterday.

Emphasising the importance of cultivating the joy of learning in students, Mr Ng rubbished the idea that hands-on learning is just a "separate track for vocational students". Instead, it is an effective way of understanding concepts taught in the classroom, he added.

"Students learn by applying and by doing, and they learn beyond the classroom. They see for themselves how they can apply what they have learnt to the real world," he said during the debate on his ministry's budget. "From all the interactions I have had with the students, they enjoy learning and are self-motivated. These are powerful learning experiences, and they stick for life."

In his speech, Mr Ng said the Ministry of Education (MOE) will also set aside a "significant budget" to develop the new Science Centre, which will play a key role in providing applied learning experiences for students when it is completed by the mid-2020s.

The centre will offer a range of programmes including hands-on maker workshops, specialised laboratory sessions and opportunities for mentorship and research.


I met one Secondary 4 boy Zee Cheen and together with his team, they designed and built from scratch a robot that could move on different terrains, even on water, to retrieve and transport objects. Zee Cheen told me that when they started, 'everything was in a mess'.

They had to learn to work as a team, and put in place a plan, work each bolt, gear and wire step-by-step to fulfil their design.

Surprisingly, Zee Cheen said that his biggest lesson was not just in creating the robot. You see, his team brought their robot to the Science Centre's Maker Faire and he had to practise his public speaking, which was not his forte. He had to explain their robot to each visitor. In his words, 'these are things that I cannot learn in a classroom'.

This is the value of applied learning in real life.

EDUCATION MINISTER (SCHOOLS) NG CHEE MENG, on how hands-on learning can impart skills.

More schools will also offer applied subjects, which are examinable, such as sports science, drama and mobile robotics.

There are currently seven such subjects, which give students a more hands-on approach to learning beyond the traditional academic disciplines.

By next year, more than 50 schools will offer such applied subjects at the O levels, and 30 schools will offer these subjects at the Normal (Technical) level.

In a speech filled with anecdotes about students and their passions, Mr Ng outlined the efforts taken by his ministry to go beyond grades and broaden students' opportunities. These include changes to the Primary School Leaving Examination scoring system, subject-based banding to allow students to take subjects they are good at, at a higher level, and exposing more children to a variety of sports.

He also spoke about meeting Primary 5 pupil Aaliyah Maisarah from Teck Whye Primary School, who had worked with her friends and teachers to make a three-minute video on what fake news is and how to tackle it, as part of the school's "Media Whiz Kids" ALP.

"We debated about fake news in this very chamber. Through applied learning programmes, our 10-year-old students are teaching it in their own way in school. It is a refreshing take on a very real concern," he said. "There are no tests or exams. Students learn through experimentation - they try, fail, learn from it and try again."

He also called on parents to play their part in changing mindsets.

"We cannot do this alone. We need the whole nation to move with us, and parents play a most important role," he said. "I strongly urge all parents to give our children time for their minds to imagine; space to experiment and learn to take risks; and the opportunity to learn from failing, trying and trying until they succeed."




A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2018, with the headline 'All primary schools to offer hands-on learning by 2023'. Subscribe