Unless students of today can keep their fingers on the pulse of contemporary issues that are in their world, and think critically about what they are reading, they cannot be lifelong learners or active citizens in society in the future.
This was one of Dr Janil Puthucheary's key messages in his opening address at the inaugural SPH Education Symposium last Monday. The Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, and Education, also participated in the launch of two education portals by The Straits Times and the Chinese Media Group on the sidelines of the symposium.
The best possible substrate for the discourse and learning of important life skills is the news that is happening around learners all the time, said Dr Janil, who called on educators to make use of current affairs to guide their students in making sense of their world.
Indeed, many educators in Singapore, and perhaps around the world, already recognise the importance and the potential of current affairs to give their lessons a dimension of realism.
When The Straits Times Schools (ST Schools) spoke to educators - as part of the design-thinking approach it adopted for building its new education portal - it found that a significant proportion of teachers already shared news content with their students. This way, they could not only hone their students' language skills but also help their charges understand where the subjects that they are learning fit in the real world.
And educators were resourceful in doing so - they were using various means such as compiling and printing out news articles for their students, and sending article links via messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and collaborative tools such as Padlet.
However, they also faced challenges that prevented them from engaging the students on current affairs more regularly.
The ability to access limitless amounts of information also means that curating and pinpointing which resources were most suitable for classroom usage become a chore.
Teachers also wished there were better ways to facilitate and track discussions on the news topics.
On the back of the findings, ST Schools started the development of NewsEd, a news portal that is tailor-made for teaching and learning.
More than a year in the making, NewsEd contains news articles that are curated and categorised into teaching topics and learning outcomes, such as 21st-century competencies as well as character and citizenship education values, by teaching specialists from ST Schools.
This categorisation and tagging, coupled with a search function, makes it easier for teachers to locate articles to teach specific lesson objectives.
NewsEd harnesses content from The Straits Times newsroom so teachers and students get text and multimedia articles that are constantly updated. Some articles are also pre-loaded with questions that hone the current affairs knowledge and thinking skills of learners. Teachers can use these questions as they are or customise them to fit their students' profiles.
Commenting and quick-marking features in NewsEd then make it seamless for teachers to engage their students on current affairs issues.
With NewsEd, The Straits Times hopes to integrate current affairs into the education of young people today to build skills that will prepare them for tomorrow.
Read on to find out how three teachers use current affairs in their schools.
Two of the teachers featured, Miss Mavis Ho and Mr Melvin Wang, were presented with the inaugural SPH Innovative Educators Award on Aug 28 for being champions of using current affairs in their teaching and for being creators of innovative lesson ideas and news-based learning resources in English to inspire their charges to be more curious about their world.
Two other teachers - who use Chinese news resources - also won the award last week. They are Madam Bek Su Ling from the School of Science and Technology, Singapore, and Madam Tan Wan Foon from Teck Whye Primary School.
Informative, user-friendly and engaging
Here are some of NewsEd's top features:
•The portal contains news articles that are curated and categorised into teaching topics and learning outcomes, such as 21st-century competencies as well as character and citizenship education values, to make it easier for teachers to locate articles to suit their needs.
•NewsEd's unique Learning Activity Creator (above) allows teachers to transform any news article into bite-sized learning activities for their students within minutes. Teachers can create questions from scratch or adapt the questions that have been pre-loaded within certain news articles.
•Students can easily respond to the news-based learning activities any time and anywhere using the Web-based NewsEd or mobile app versions of it. With the mobile app, students can use their mobile phones to record and submit photos, audio clips and videos as answers.
•In-built marking and commenting features allow teachers to provide instant feedback on their students' answers or use their answers for classroom discussions and reflection exercises.
•On school days, students will be sent three articles containing auto-marking, multiple-choice questions by the ST Schools team to keep in touch with the latest current affairs (above). These activities are meant to allow students to engage in self-directed learning, without any intervention from their teachers.
Secondary schools can try NewsEd for free until Dec 31.
Please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org for more details, or to arrange for a demonstration and trial accounts.