Pro-science Singapore to push for applied learning for science in schools

Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Ministry of Education, at the Grand Ceremony of the International Science Youth Forum 2018 at Hwa Chong Institution on Jan 24.
Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Ministry of Education, at the Grand Ceremony of the International Science Youth Forum 2018 at Hwa Chong Institution on Jan 24.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - There will be a push for applied learning methods in secondary schools and the institutes of higher learning to help bridge the divide between what is learnt in school and how it is relevant to the real world.

This was the message from Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Ministry of Education, at the Grand Ceremony of the International Science Youth Forum 2018 at Hwa Chong Institution on Wednesday (Jan 24).

He also made clear that Singapore as well as the government remained staunchly pro-science, and very much in support of the pursuit of scientific excellence in the nation.

Applied learning refers to the method of teaching where, instead of teachers imparting theoretical knowledge, students will get to see how what they learn applies to addressing issues and problems in the real world.

"We are, across secondary schools and all the institutes of higher learning, making a very determined push to take these fundamental building blocks of knowledge, or cognitive skills, of academic learning, and to be polite about it, encourage - to be rude about it, force - both the students and educators to think about how these skills must be applied to real world problems, industry challenges and social challenges, while remaining in the education space," Dr Janil said in his speech.

Industry players, such as start-ups and multi-national companies, would be engaged to work with schools, he said.

This could be in the form of shaping curriculums or finding solutions to real world challenges, and letting students "go outside the school gates and learn about science in the field" as a core part of their curriculum and not just occasional field trips.

Dr Janil stressed that there was no "anti-science movement" in Singapore, and that the government has a strong focus on moving forward in the area of science.

"Here in Singapore, we are anything but anti-science. We as a nation, government and society, fully believe in scientific methodology, principles that drive science and the pursuit of scientific excellence."

The government has been consistently dedicating significant funding to research, said Dr Janil.

"In Singapore over the last 25 years, we have had a strong, firm promise, a commitment to research and development, a year-on-year increase in the amount of funding that we provide for research."

He cited the record $19 billion budgetted in 2016 for science and technology research over the next half decade.

The amount, part of the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan, works out to about $4 billion annually or equivalent to around 1 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product.

Dr Janil said: "The principles behind science, the achievements, the expectations and the opportunities, provide a way for us to deal with our existentialism in Singapore - the difficulty that we have to even exist as a nation, given our constraints of land, resources and circumstances."

This year's forum saw 120 students from 46 different schools in 16 countries, such as Mexico, Poland and Estonia, participating.

Into its 10th anniversary, the forum sees Nobel laureates and Fields Medallists engaging the delegates on scientific issues. The five-day programme also lets students visit various industries, and try their hand at research activities at local universities.

The principal of Hwa Chong Institution, Mr Pang Choon How, said the forum has inspired many young scientists from around the globe over the past decade.

"I am confident that the seeds that have been sown for the past ten years will bring harvest in cultivating passionate scientists and researchers with the heart for humanity for years to come."