This is the future of teaching in Singapore

By Justin Tan

Interview with Chua-Lim Yen Ching, Deputy Director-General of Education (Professional Development) and Executive Director, Academy of Singapore Teachers, MOE.

Even as astronauts on Apollo 11 prepared to leave Earth for the moon, they could not prepare themselves for every single circumstance. When a key switch was broken off during the mission, astronaut “Buzz” Aldrin improvised a solution on the spot with a felt-tip pen.

As the pandemic continues to disrupt society, the same agility is required of us today. The Academy of Singapore Teachers (AST) at Singapore’s Ministry of Education is looking to data to support students better.

GovInsider spoke to Chua-Lim Yen Ching, Deputy Director-General of Education (Professional Development) and Executive Director of the Academy, to find out how it is preparing students for uncertain futures with tech and data.

Using data to understand students

Data can pick out hidden patterns in the classroom. Sociograms that map each student’s relationships with their peers are helpful here, Chua-Lim says. Teachers could use them to plan discussion groups or identify students with special education needs.

Teachers could also use data to keep track of how well students are learning. If many students choose the same wrong answer in a quiz, the teacher could spend more time going over the concept in a specialised lesson.

Tech and beyond

Tech will be a useful tool to reduce the burden on teachers. For example, they could use software to catch simple grammatical mistakes in an essay. They could then hone in on stylistic problems.

This would free up teachers’ time to “connect with the students”, Chua-Lim shares. The next generation will “need to be very adaptable, and they need to have empathy. So many of these things the teacher can spend more time developing.”

This will be the focus of teaching in the future, she believes. “The knowledge itself is no longer premium because we can always Google,” she points out. Teachers will remain the essential human link to adopt new methods and prepare students for an uncertain future.
”The knowledge itself is no longer premium because we can always Google.”

Tech will also help create a more personalised learning experience, says Chua-Lim. Finland already uses digital programmes to give different tasks to students in the same classroom to match their abilities.

Teachers may also collaborate to tap on each others’ strengths. A teacher who is better at explaining a difficult topic could record their lecture and upload it onto an online portal for all to learn from, she shares. This would cut down on the time teachers need to create online teaching materials.

Increasing student engagement

Singapore will also place more focus on increasing student engagement in the classroom. MOE’s SkillsFuture Educators programme helps teachers develop their skills in six areas.

One method is to involve the student more in class discussions. Teachers may let students complete an assignment before the lesson, Chua-Lim says. They can direct the discussion to encourage reflective learning so that they will emerge with more learning insights.

Other aspects include providing access to an online resource portal for teachers and students to collaborate on e-learning, as well as training teachers to impart soft skills that will prepare students for an unpredictable future.

Professional development on the go

The world is shifting quickly, and teachers need to constantly build up their skills to take students into the future.

The Academy of Singapore Teachers has launched an online micro-learning unit platform, which aims to provide a convenient way for teachers to learn new skills. The platform has more than 450 units, and is accessed by 35,000 users.

It has published bite-sized units on topics such as staff well-being, mental wellness and research skills - and are even open for school support staff to explore. They include visually-appealing animations, and are made to be watched on the daily commute, Chua-Lim says.

The demands of the economy can shift in a blink of an eye. Educational policies need to strive towards preparing students for the unpredictable.