A niche of their own

Nearly all mainstream primary and secondary schools here offer at least one distinctive learning programme, including the Applied Learning Programme (ALP). Through ALP, students see the relevance of what they have learnt in areas such as health sciences or electronics. Rahimah Rashith talks to four schools that have carved out a niche for themselves with their ALP.

Hong Kah Secondary

Not just any paper chase

Joseph Goh wakes up by five every morning for school as it takes an hour to get there on two buses and the train. He lives in Bishan and Hong Kah Secondary is in Jurong West.

Sometimes the 13-year-old bursts into a sprint to reach the gates on time. He does not mind the daily race. After all, he is chasing his passion.

He chose Hong Kah because it is one of the few schools to offer electronics as an O-level subject.

For the Secondary 1 student, electronics has been a long-time pursuit. He was introduced to it as a child at his father's workshop, and he has been tinkering with gadgets ever since.

"I was amazed at what electronics can do - transforming ideas into products everyone needs, like smartphones, drones and computers, and even used to make clothes."

Which is why Hong Kah is perfect for the likes of Joseph.

Hong Kah Secondary students testing out their car models during an advanced elective module on electronic product design held at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
Hong Kah Secondary students testing out their car models during an advanced elective module on electronic product design held at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. PHOTO: HONG KAH SECONDARY SCHOOL

Electronics is included in its curriculum for all students as part of its applied learning programme.

Students learn troubleshooting, programming and even coding to solve real-world problems.

To spark their interest, the school holds project work classes for lower secondary students where they conceptualise and create products, applying their understanding of electronics to try to make a difference in fields such as healthcare.

Hans Delano, now 15, worked with his friends to create a floor mat that would turn room lights on and off when someone stood on it. They were trying to solve an issue faced by many elderly people.

"When the elderly return home, they might have trouble finding the room lights, and could fall down. With the mat, the light comes on automatically," said the Sec 3 student.

In Sec 3 and 4, students can choose to study electronics as an examinable subject.

Upper secondary students also work on ground-up community service learning projects involving electronics.

Ms Chua Shi Qian, who heads the school's special projects department, said the programme aims to develop students into engineers who "improve the lives of others through electronics".

For students like Joseph and Hans, the programme is an attractive incentive to study at Hong Kah.

Hans, who hopes to be a programmer, said the school has helped to fuel his interest.

Parents too appreciate the courses. Joseph's father, Mr Joshua Goh, who is managing director of a technology R&D and manufacturing company, chose Hong Kah for him to encourage his ambitions to become an inventor.

Mr Goh said: "I don't believe in studying for paper grades. I believe in studying for knowledge."

Juying Secondary

Space for students to speak their minds

Sec 2 student Clara Lim speaking about animal welfare on stage. The aspiring vet’s five-minute speech on caring for animals this month received loud applause from her schoolmates. ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

At Juying Secondary School, students are encouraged to step up onto a podium to share their thoughts.

At their very own Speakers' Corner in the canteen, modelled after the one at Hong Lim Park, students voice their opinions on issues ranging from wildlife conservation to global poverty.

This initiative, in which all students are encouraged to speak their minds about things they care about, is part of Stand and Deliver - Juying's Applied Learning Programme (ALP).

The programme's objectives include helping students to think critically about topics and present them confidently. "As they grow older, they need to learn to be persuasive," said Madam Grace Tham, the school's head of department for English language and literature.

Stand and Deliver also develops their confidence, she added.

To prepare for the stage, students would explore an issue and piece it together into a speech.

And just as how the audience at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park have no obligation to stay on, students listening to their schoolmates speak can walk in and out of speeches that take place during recess at the canteen of the school located in Jurong West. The programme is "free flow and not staged", said Madam Tham.

Secondary 2 student Clara Lim said that the speech sessions give her "an opportunity to share what I am passionate about". The aspiring vet spoke about animal welfare on stage. Her five-minute speech on caring for animals this month received loud applause from schoolmates.

The school's emphasis on critical thinking is also seen in the way yearly overseas school trips are structured around the exploration of global issues, such as the killing of sharks for their fins and saving the environment.

Over the years, students have gone to the Indonesian island of Lombok to work on shark conservation. There, they spoke to fishermen and learnt from them.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2016, with the headline ' Not just any paper chase'. Print Edition | Subscribe