News watch: Helping students think critically

At the rate the world is changing, today's students may not be equipping themselves for jobs of the future.

Just five years ago, roles such as "big data scientist", "social media marketing specialist" and "user experience manager" were not commonplace.

Today, they are among the most sought-after positions in business and employment-related portals such as LinkedIn.

To develop the adroitness to take on jobs of the future, it is important to include the teaching of lifelong skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving, as well as values such as resilience and empathy, in "traditional" academic content in schools.

Ultimately, it is these skills and values that will withstand the waves of disruption.

One of the most effective ways to inculcate the learning of lifelong competencies and values is to incorporate current affairs in education.


  • ST is running English classes that incorporate news-based learning for secondary school students in collaboration with Darrell Tan and Nicolette Ng.

    To sign up or find out more, please visit, or call 6319 5076

First, by infusing current affairs into classroom discussions, students can hone their media literacy and critical thinking skills.

Ms Nicolette Ng, co-founder of English-language learning centre The Write Corner, said: "When reading and discussing news events, students are not just absorbing information. They are analysing the text, evaluating opinions and learning to differentiate between fact and fiction."

With the amount of free information available, such media literacy and analytical skills are important for the students, not just in school but when they join the workforce.

Second, being adept at current affairs can help students with their academic subjects.

"When they read the news, they are expanding their vocabulary as they encounter words that are used to describe real-life issues.

"Knowledge of local and global issues can also help students to craft strong arguments in their English-language essays and oral communication examination," said Ms Ng. "When students are in touch with issues and feel for those topics, they write and speak with purpose. In essence, they become more confident and perceptive communicators."

Teachers can also leverage news-based resources as authentic examples to teach students how to interpret sources, infer messages from them and evaluate their reliability. These "source-based analysis" skills are vital in humanities subjects such as social studies, history and geography.

Third, by engaging with real-life issues, students can pick up values, develop a connection with others in society, and become active and involved citizens.

Mr Darrell Tan, an adjunct lecturer who teaches communication and critical thinking at Singapore Polytechnic, said: "When students read about other young people who have overcome difficult circumstances, they can better identify with the people in these stories and start to see the values of resilience and hard work coming to life."

Mr Tan said he weaves current affairs into his language and communication classes, and encourages his charges to harness their feelings about issues, and make a positive difference through their writing. His students write about topics ranging from how to stop littering to the impact of divorce on teenagers.

Many of his students' works - more than 15 over the past three months alone - have been published in The Straits Times' forum page. "When students are in tune with current affairs, they develop a connection with society and start to see themselves as being a part of a larger community. They also start to discover themselves and hopefully take responsibility not just for themselves, but for the society that they live in.

"Only when they learn more about the world around them and how they fit in, can they then find their passion and purpose in life," said Mr Tan.

There are many benefits when contemporary issues are infused in classroom teaching. Educators should be given more support in this regard.

The main challenges of using current affairs in education are: what resources to use, and how to use those resources. Teachers need to spend time, on top of preparing for the usual lessons, to curate news articles and craft lessons around these resources. They may also need help in identifying credible and usable resources.

With support from their schools, educators can explore innovative and effective ways to incorporate contemporary issues into their lesson plans, for the long-term benefit of their students.

• David Tay, a teaching specialist with The Straits Times, crafts news-based learning activities for ST Schools' print and digital platforms. He also works with educators to infuse contemporary issues into their lesson plans.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 23, 2018, with the headline News watch: Helping students think critically. Subscribe