Malcolm Forbes’ simple quote above explains one important aspect of education which is that of broadening the mind. This could be one purpose of education but not the only one. A purpose could differ from one society to another or even from one time period to another. I shall illustrate this using the contrast between Singapore’s education system of the past and present.
In the 1800s under the British colonial rule, education was present “to make the social structure more efficient” through vernacular schools. Later in the post-war period (1950s), schools were re-established to ensure societal progress on the road to self-governance. From 1960s onwards, education was seen as an essential tool for gaining the technical skills and competencies needed to face a more industrialized Singapore. Education was thus necessary to gain employment and possibly alleviate the family economic status. In the late 1970s however, there was a change proposed by late Dr. Goh Keng Swee to embrace a more “efficiency-driven education” where the purpose was to cater to the different learning abilities of the students to make them learn at their own pace. The present education system however has evolved to be more holistic that prepares one to be a more globalised citizen. This ultimately links to globalised job opportunities. It can be clearly seen that the purpose of education has changed from that of improving literacy rate and getting a stable job to that of gaining the 21st century values, knowledge and expertise to work in a contemporary globalised world.
Purpose of Education The purpose of education does not have to be the same for each individual because it ultimately depends on what one gains from the education he receives. In my view, the purpose of education is to acquire knowledge, values and skills of the 21st century that would prepare one to face the challenges of a contemporary globalised world of today and to motivate one to pursue life-long learning.
John Dewey’s Philosophy This purpose which is largely relevant to the current Singapore’s context and time frame has been mostly derived from John Dewey’s philosophy of education. John Dewey, a famous philosopher and educational theorist, believed that education is a process that should enhance the quality of life. He conceived an approach to education that would equip individuals with the skills and outlook that he believed were necessary for taking on the hardships and possibilities of life and thereby for building a better world.
He introduced the idea of an informal educational approach whereby the teachers would centre on the curriculum, instructional settings and the physical setting of the learning experience. Hence, teachers could select and come up with innovative learning activities that would stimulate the students to process and apply their curriculum content in more creative and original ways.
John Dewey also states that education involves “reconstruction” of a student’s prior understanding and knowledge as he/she asks new questions and explores other perceptions of the like. This makes education a “transformative” process where one does not gain new knowledge but rather expands on his existing one. This “transformation” would continue so long as new knowledge and information is discovered and learnt.
His theories therefore suggest that education has to be practical, engaging and transformational on top of just knowledge acquisition. Since his philosophy is more in line with Singapore’s educational system and cultural context, I have used it as a foundation for developing my purpose of education.
Positive Implications – Students The educational purpose does have its implications on both the teaching and learning community in
Singapore, in particular to teachers and students in Singapore schools. The purpose can be split into two components, firstly the acquiring of 21st century competencies for a globalised world and secondly the motivation for life-long learning.
The former would allow students to become global players on an international platform. This would open the doors for better job prospects in the near future and thus render them internationally employable since job expectations have increased tremendously to include social communication, information technology, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
The latter would make individuals active learners as they are more independent of their learning process and will not depend on the teachers for spoon-feeding information. Thus when they are encouraged to find out for themselves, it will become a quest for knowledge.
How is this implied? The Ministry of Education (MOE) has shifted its focus to adapt a more holistic educational approach by introducing the 21st century competencies and desired outcomes framework which illustrates the skills and values that an individual would possess after completing his education in Singapore. My main focus would be the inner red ring which represents the socio-emotional values that students will develop together with their core values and the outer orange ring which represents the 21st century skills that the students will gain. These are similar to the purpose that I have pointed out above which is that of acquiring the knowledge, values and skills of the 21st century.
Schools have therefore revamped their teaching styles and approaches so as to equip students with these competencies. With the implementation of the “Teach Less, Learn More” policy in 2004, teachers have taken one step back from the traditional teaching approach and started taking the role of a facilitator in the classroom. For instance, there have been project works being introduced as part of the course curriculum as it enhances students’ knowledge and enables them to acquire skills like collaboration, communication and independent learning. They would also be making links across different disciplines and applying the knowledge without just memorising the facts and figures for regurgitation during examinations.
A simple example would be the Integrated Project Work (IPW) that has been initiated in Bukit Merah Secondary School. It is a group project assignment for the lower secondary students which integrates three different subjects together namely English, Science and Humanities such that the students use the content from their Science and Humanities and their language power of English to come up with a project idea based on the task assigned. The final marks would then be split equally for the three subjects. No doubt IT skills would also come into play during the research stage where internet is the main resource and the presentation stage where PowerPoint, video and other visual aids would be used. IPW has also been used in North View Primary School as well as Republic Polytechnic.
Another MOE initiative would be Information Communication Technology (ICT) in schools. I would use my own secondary school, Crescent Girls’ School (CGS) as an example. It was one of the first schools to introduce Mobile Learning (m-learning) through the use of tablet PCs in 2003. These PCs replaced the normal textbooks used by students as digital textbooks came into play and specialised software applications were installed as additional learning tools for Mathematics, English, Art and Geography. For instance, when preparing for our Oral Examinations, we recorded ourselves reading out a text and uploaded it as a podcast in our school’s web portal. Our English teacher then gave us her comments for improvement after hearing it. This method increased the efficiency as it could be done outside curriculum time with no individual consultations with the teacher while also making preparations for exams more fun. Group discussions were further facilitated by the portable PCs. These Tablet PCs allowed students to easily obtain information, expand their learning environment, find resources for innovative ideas and think critically.
Lastly, I will look at the Social Emotional Learning programmes that are in place in schools. Compulsory Community Involvement Programmes (CIP) and Service-Learning initiatives allow students to gain awareness of their community and possibly the global environment. They can hone their core values such as graciousness, courtesy, integrity, care and concern which define an individual. Values like resilience, perseverance and confidence which are needed to overcome the challenges ahead are also instilled and developed via workshops. Just focusing on the skills and knowledge alone does not guarantee success so one must not ignore the values that shape a person.
These 3 aspects help to explain how my purpose has actually been achieved through some policies and pedagogies being effectively carried out in the local schools.
1) Negative Implication – Students
On the other hand, there is the stress factor. As students have to learn the content as well as develop their other areas to face the globalised world, they would undoubtedly encounter the pressure of meeting deadlines and studying for their examinations. I believe that more time has to be set aside for revision for exams as these grades are clearly reflected in our academic certificates. When projects are assigned, more time should be allocated to prepare for the presentations and yet it has to be ensured that they do not clash with other deadlines and exam dates. Proper organization is of the essence here.
“Hate studying” attitude
Secondly, pushing the potential of students at a young age could possibly make them “hate” studying. An example would be the introduction of Science in Primary 1. Although this move was to allow students to gain an exposure before being formally taught the subject in Primary 3, it would only confuse students especially since they have only stepped out of kindergarten into a new territory, the Primary School. Being bombarded with new information at this age could terrify them. I feel that it is better to familiarise them with the foundational subjects such as English, Mathematics and Mother Tongue first and let them get a grip on these first.
2) Positive Implication – Teachers
Boost for creativity
Moving on, the next level of the school fraternity is the teachers. My purpose of education would give teachers the freedom to conduct their lessons in a more interesting and engaging way that is more effective for the students’ learning. Teachers can retain their formal role as an educator by imparting content knowledge but deviate from the conventional teaching method of reading from and writing on whiteboards to encouraging role-play and debates in the classroom setting. Thus, teachers come up with innovative indirect teaching approaches that will largely boost their own creativity and originality in planning lessons. It would give them the opportunity for trial-and-error as they try out new ideas to reach out better to their students.
As teachers motivate their students to be life-long learners, they themselves are motivated in the process to learn as they teach. This brings about professional development on the teacher’s part which can be seen as another positive implication as the former principal of CGS, Mrs Lee Bee Yann once mentioned that “Teachers have become more confident and reflective practitioners” when asked about the impact of m-learning on teachers. The teaching career would also seem more fulfilling and rewarding as they teach students important life skills infused with content knowledge rather than just English, Mathematics and Science alone.
3) Negative Implication – Teachers
Trying to mould each individual to acquire the required 21st century competencies and motive them to be independent learners can be seen as not an easy task since each individual differs in their own set of strengths and weaknesses. This may contribute to stress of a different kind that relates to the question of “How to teach as creatively as possible yet ensuring that the student gains the necessary skills out of it?”
Attending educational forums overseas could help teachers see how teaching is done in other schools on a worldwide scale and implement them in their schools. Also via cooperative learning, ideas can be shared among colleagues. Moreover it will not seem to be a daunting task once the psychological behaviour of students are understood and their motivational factors are identified as these would aid in getting them to acquire the knowledge and skills while shaping their values.
Conclusion The purpose of education, which I derived from John Dewey’s philosophy, is that of acquiring knowledge, skills and values of the 21st century that would prepare one to face the challenges of a contemporary globalised world of today and that of being motivated to pursue life-long learning. However, the purpose has both positive and negative implications for the teachers and students in Singapore Schools but there are possible suggested solutions which can minimize the negative effects.
My purpose may not be the only purpose of education. As I mentioned earlier different individuals will have their own purpose depending on their future goals. It may be subjective but most definitely not wrong.
Difference between Teacher and Learner Centered Approach
The modern education tends to shift from the teacher-centered to the student-centered learning. In actuality, the development of the modern education stimulates educators and students to change their traditional approach to education and to learning. At this point, it is worth mentioning the fact that student-centered approach becomes particularly effective in the contemporary environment because students tend to become more and more autonomous in the course of learning. The latter results from the emerging need for students to learn independently of their teachers and, what is even more important, students need to carry on learning even after the end of their education. At the same time, many specialists (Sporre, 2003) argue that modern students have different needs and wants and educators need to use the student-centered approach to organize the learning process effectively. In actuality, educators need to develop their professional skills and abilities and extend their professional knowledge far beyond the mere education and training but they should also extend their professional knowledge, skills and abilities to the field of psychology and culture. In fact, educators should focus on the student-centered learning to reach success in their work with students and, what is more important, in such a way, they prepare students to the life-time learning because students grow more confident in their ability to learn, when educators use the student-centered approach to learning.
The shift from teacher-centered to student-centered learning In actuality, the shift from the teacher-centered learning to the student-centered learning has become obvious. In this respect, it is important to understand causes of the shift toward the student-centered learning in order to define clearly the major directions in the development of the student-centered learning. Basically, the teacher-centered learning was grounded on the position of educators as the highest authority. The main function of a teacher was to teach students, to provide them with information, to help them to learn the learning material and to acquire certain set of knowledge along with basic skills and abilities the education aims at.
However, today, such an approach to learning is out-of-date and it does not work effectively anymore. To put it more precisely, the modern technology and science keep progressing at the unparalleled pace. In such a situation, the provision of students with a rigid set of knowledge has little positive effects on the further professional and personal life of students because the rigid set of knowledge becomes out-of-date fast and by the end of the school or college, students need to start learning on and on to keep pace with the rapidly changing technology and science. In such rapidly changing environment, students need to be able to find effective approaches to learning to be able to learn autonomously of educators.
In this respect, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that each student is unique and educators should shift toward the student-centered learning, where educators perform the role of a guide, who helps students to develop basic skills and abilities and to acquire knowledge students need in their regular life as well as in their future professional career. Specialists (Doll, 2001) stand on the ground that the student-centered learning increases the effectiveness of learning because educators find the individual approach to each student. This means that educators learn the cultural background of students, their psychological peculiarities, individual characteristics, their academic successes and current level of development. In such a way, using the aforementioned information, teachers can apply the student-centered learning to meet needs and wants of each student and to prepare him or her to the effective learning.
Environment beneficial for student-centered learning The maximization of the effectiveness of learning is one of the major goals of the learning process. At the same time, to reach a considerable success in learning, especially using the student-centered approach to learning, it is necessary to create environment, which is favorable for the implementation of the student-centered learning. In actuality, this means that educators should focus on students needs and wants not only in a short-run perspective but also in a long-run one. Therefore, educators should understand that students will need to keep learning even after the end of a school, college, or University. In such a situation, educators should prepare students to the idea of the lifetime learning.
However, the idea of the lifetime learning implies that students should understand that they will need to learn on their own without the assistance of educators. Consequently, the autonomy of students should become one of the major elements of the student-centered learning. To create such environment, where students feel autonomous, educators can encourage the group work of students, work of students on different projects, encourage their volunteer work, and so on. However, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that educators should always assist students. They should be guides for their students, who can give a piece of valuable advice, who can show the way students should pass on their own.
In this regard, specialists (Doll, 2005) argue that the autonomy of students comprises an integral part of the student-centered learning. Students feel free in the learning process. They can choose the subject to learn, the time to learn, and so on. Educators, in their turn, develop the curriculum, guide and control students. The control is particularly important in the student-centered because students should not feel the pressure from the part of educators. Instead, they should feel the support and trust from the part of educators. At the same time, it is possible to recommend introducing self-control among students. For instance, students can work on certain projects and discuss them in their groups, whereas an educator just performs a role of an authority or expert, who express his or her opinion on the subject, but students define whether their work was successful or not. In such a way, students are engaged in the learning process, they become active participants of the learning process, instead of passive subjects to the learning process as is the case of the teacher-centered learning.
Active learning At this point, specialists (Hooks, 1994) stress that the studentsâ€™ involvement in the learning process should be based on active learning, which means that students participate actively in the learning process and they collaborate with educators instead of perceiving the learning material from educators. The active learning implies that students work on their own education and define their learning. For instance, students can choose subjects to learn. This is the manifestation of the active learning.
In practice, the active learning is often superficial and does not really provide students with freedom to participate in the learning process on the equal ground with educators. In this respect, it is possible to recommend engaging students in the development of the learning plan. For instance, students can have certain preferences and inclinations to issues which do matter for them. Therefore, educators, while working on the curriculum and planning the learning process, should monitor needs and wants of students. For instance, before or at the beginning of the school year, educators can conduct interviews or questionnaires involving students in the elaboration of the plan of learning. For instance, educators can ask students about their preferences and particular interests in their subject, or else they can students about issues they consider to be the most important in their subject, and so on.
Critical thinking The active engagement of students into the learning process stimulates the development of critical thinking students. For instance, when students work in groups or when they discuss the work of each other in the class on projects, they evaluate their own work, they learn how to think critically and analytically. In such a context, students start thinking not as students but rather as educators, not as subjects to the learning process but as active participants of the learning process, who do not just learn and work on assignments but who assess and evaluate critically the work of other students. Obviously, the critical thinking is crucial in this regard and educators can stimulate the development of critical thinking through role plays and creation of situations when students need to evaluate the work of each other.
Conclusion Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that the learning process is complicated and today it shifts toward the student-centered learning. The student-centered learning implies that students become active participants of the learning process instead of mere subjects to the learning process as used to be the case of the teacher-centered approach. The student-centered learning can become successful through the engagement of students in the learning process when they participate in the development of the plan of the learning process, when their interests and needs are taken into consideration by educators in the course of the development of lesson plans and curriculum, when students can evaluate and assess the work of each other and when they can work autonomously, whereas educators perform the role of guides.