EcoPonics’ Ivan Sei conducting a lesson on terranium- making at Hougang Primary School. The primary school science curriculum now allows for pupils to have more room to understand and apply concepts.
Gone are the days of sitting in class and waiting for your teacher to feed you information. There has been a greater emphasis over the past decade by educators to make learning more relevant to real life, across all education levels.
Subjects from the sciences to the humanities have been refreshed by the Ministry of Education to keep up with the times and equip students with skills for the future.
The curricula for languages now place more weight on communication skills to help students use English and mother tongues more confidently with others. Instead of just reading passages from a book, children now learn languages through activities such as role-play.
Parents says they are glad that the education system is being updated, but felt it requires a “mindset shift” for many who are used to the traditional ways of learning.
Billy Ng, 54, whose son Jia Jian is now in Secondary 1 at Coral Secondary School, says most parents were slightly apprehensive when they were told that the Stellar curriculum for English did not have textbooks.
Stellar, short for Strategies for English Language Learning and Reading, was extended to all primary schools in 2009 and is aimed at developing pupils’ thinking and speaking skills.
“But over time, I observed that the programme helped my son to interact more with people and be a bit more creative,” says Billy, an information technology project manager in a bank.
Some parents says their children remember lessons best through applied learning or learning by doing, as opposed to being spoon-fed. Sara Husain, 52, a retired business planning manager, has five children aged 10 to 26.
Her youngest, Nawfal Ahmad Jailani, is in Primary 4 at Bukit Timah Primary School and enjoys going to school, partly because of the varied learning experiences. “Recently, he was reading recipes and making ice cream in an English lesson. He has also visited gardens and museums and is learning to use IT platforms,” says Madam Sara.
“I don’t want my children to learn for the sake of learning. I want them to get real and prepare themselves for life and work.”
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MATHS AND SCIENCE
Mathematics in school is no longer just about adding things up, but more about getting students to think like a mathematician. The curriculum for primary and secondary schools was last revamped in 2013 to give more attention to mathematical process skills. These include abilities such as making connections and application.
When it comes to the refreshed science syllabuses across all levels, inquiry is the new buzzword. The 2014 primary school science curriculum, for example, provides more room for pupils to understand and apply concepts. Take a task such as choosing a container that can keep food warm for longer – pupils need to know what are good and poor conductors of heat.
ENGLISH AND MOTHER TONGUE
A group of Primary 6 pupils sit facing their classmates, waiting for the questions to come. Acting as characters in a story about a Chinese girl who is adopted by a Malay family, they take questions from the rest of their classmates, who are posing as reporters in a mock press conference.
One pupil probes: “How did you feel when you met your long-lost daughter?” Another asks: “Who did you decide to stay with in the end: your foster or birth parents?”
In another class, Primary 5 pupils take turns to tell their classmates about their experiences talking to the school’s unsung heroes, such as cleaners, security guards and librarians.
Teachers now use more interactive methods such as role-playing, show-and-tell and reading aloud, as part of a move to boost students’ communication skills by helping them learn languages in context.
To this end, the English language and Mother Tongue curricula across school levels were updated from 2010 to last year.
Increasingly, students are taught using materials such as children’s books and newspaper reports, which aim to provide real-life contexts for them to learn the language.
Primary school pupils read and discuss a range of text types, from news articles to information reports and fiction. And in secondary school, the focus is on improving oral communication abilities.
This is done through giving them tasks such as preparing speeches and presentations, which hone their abilities to convey messages confidently and accurately.
Rezia Rahumathulla, head of English language at Da Qiao Primary School, says: “Language learning is meant to be engaging. It has to be contextualised, and is not about isolated grammar or comprehension texts.”
She says: “If the story is about bubbles, for example, students get to experience what and how it is like to blow bubbles and they are exposed to language through the experience.
“They also develop social skills in communication and they internalise what they learn better.”
The primary school syllabus for Mother Tongue languages was revised last year. Similarly, a key feature of the changes is the greater emphasis on interactive language skills, and getting pupils to apply their knowledge in a real-life situation.
In Chinese class, for instance, pupils learn the Chinese names of common stationery items by visiting the school bookshop and practising how to ask the bookshop assistant for these items.
Leng Kok Keong, a Chinese teacher at Tanjong Katong Primary School, says there is a lot of emphasis on conversational skills, with pupils given the chance to practise speaking with friends and asking each other questions.
He says: “We want to prepare pupils to use the language in daily life, not just for exams. We hope eventually that they can communicate with others around the world who also speak Chinese in the future.”
A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times.