What’s the big thing for Singapore’s education system? “I think increasingly we want experiential, immersive learning,” says Clarence Ti, Principal of Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
This move sees technology become just a fundamental part in education, rather than something used on the side to augment classes or manage a timetable. It’s a reminder that, as they say in Silicon Valley, “technology isn’t a tool… it’s the actual water we are swimming in.”
Ti notes that 17 to 19 year olds are already “likely to be very tech savvy”, so he wants to explore how they can use technology in their classes to tackle real world problems. Ti believes the way to do this is to immerse students in creative environments where technology can be trialled out. The school has outlined three methods to do this.
First, the school started an entrepreneurship programme where students can start their own businesses and get support from the school. “Let’s say you want to start up a company”, Ti says, “we will give you an entrepreneur mentor, and an academic mentor, and then between the three of you, figure out what you need to do for the next 15 weeks”.
The course spans three semesters, and the school pairs up a relevant entrepreneur mentor with the student based on what he or she wants to do. If the student wants to raise funds for his or her existing business, “then we will find an entrepreneurship mentor who has been on that journey before”, he says.
The school offers a grant up to S$10,000, and a loan of up to S$50,000 for students who need capital for their startups.
Second, Ti’s team has tapped into its pool of alumni, inviting those who have business experience to help mentor their students. So far, the school has gathered 114 alumni members to be on board, and out of these five of them “hold office hours on campus” every Wednesday. Students who seek advice on fundraising or business development can go to these entrepreneurs for guidance, he explains.
Third, the school also started a global internship programme last March, attaching students to six month internships with startups overseas so they can gain insight on entrepreneurship. “We are in three countries at the moment: Silicon Valley, Jakarta and Shanghai”, he says.
Ti has high hopes for this programme. 10 students were attached to eight startups in Silicon Valley, but his team is not stopping there. “We’re likely to be in 10 cities in two years. At its maturity, we expect to have about 200 students interning for six months on startups.”
Last November, the school also announced plans to build smart learning spaces for its ICT students. The new infrastructure will be rolled out this April, and include a cybersecurity ops centre, a dedicated user experience observation room, and maker zone for students to build 3D prototypes.
“Behind this idea of this smart learning spaces, what we want is to develop the mindset, the culture, and the talent to help us to produce the next generation manpower”, Ng Poh Oon – Director of the School of Infocomm Technology – told GovInsider.
Education trends move fast – chalkboards and dusters belong to the age-old classroom. It’s not just textbooks and assessments anymore, the school is preparing its students for reality. Now they’re out of their ivory tower, feet on the ground.