Why It Matters

Stage set for holistic learning

The growing pool of physical education (PE), art and music teachers in recent years comes amid Singapore's push for holistic education.

The number of such teachers has jumped by nearly 20 per cent in the past five years. There are some 3,700 of them now, up from about 3,100 in 2012.

This perhaps reflects a much larger shift away from what has been a pressure-cooker system focused heavily on grades instead of holistic development.

And the recruitment of such teachers is ongoing, said the Education Ministry, even as the overall teaching force number remains stable. These teachers make up more than a tenth of the teaching force. Overall, the teaching force has stabilised at more than 33,000 trained education officers since 2013.

An eight-year recruitment drive since 2004 has helped build up the force significantly. Now, the ministry has switched gears and is focusing on replacing teachers who have called it quits and hiring those in specific subject areas such as art and music.

Today, a more holistic approach is taken to help students freely explore areas beyond academics. Subjects like PE, art and music are increasingly seen as vital to help them pick up desirable values and life skills such as perseverance, creativity and teamwork.

For instance, PE curriculum time has grown from one to 11/2 hours per week to two to 21/2 hours. Art and music syllabuses have been revised so students can better appreciate their links to history and culture.

As such, the recruitment of more PE, art and music teachers seems like a step in the right direction.

As one veteran educator puts it, the shift towards a more holistic education is inevitable. To thrive in today's fast-changing economy, individuals need a more diverse mix of skills than in the past. Literacy and numeracy are simply not enough.

This also ties in with the national SkillsFuture drive to get Singaporeans to think about lifelong learning.

But the mindset change has to start in school. PE, art and music teachers play crucial roles. Besides providing a well-rounded experience, they can help cultivate a love of learning - even when their subjects are perceived as not as significant as academic ones.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2017, with the headline 'Stage set for holistic learning'. Print Edition | Subscribe