Thursday, March 13, 2008

RICE 2008, 10 & 11 March (part 2)

[From Part 1]

I had an epiphany of sorts from Day-one:

Education is about instructing students. And also about inspiring students to learn on their own.

What is 'Education'?
Professor Deborah Eyre, keynote speaker for Day-one, observed that as she travelled from country to country, there seem to be more common issues in education. Like the question of how the education system can maximise the potential of individual students.

Education, said Prof Eyre, is about Social and Emotional development.

I thought this slide summed it up pretty well: POTENTIAL + OPPORTUNITIES/ SUPPORT + MOTIVATION = HIGH ACHIEVEMENT
Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008

Prof Eyre also showed a slide, citing the Singapore Educational milestones 2004/ 2005 (which incidentally I remember reading from this book): "Our education system seeks to help our students to become creative thinkers, life-long learners and leaders of change."

The problem of Classroom Teaching
Which reminded me of a criticism (where I'd read from somewhere) about how typical classroom education didn't adequately prepare students for real-world problems.

The criticism went something like this: In schools, problems are handed to students to solve, with the problems having known answers. In real-world situations, we have to know how to identify problems, which may appear fuzzy. And solutions to problems are often fuzzy as well.

Now, I believe the "Here's-A-Problem-Please-Solve-It" approach still has a place in schools. You need to simplify such things in a classroom setting.

The thing is not to just rely on that approach alone.

Day-one of RICE 2008 convinced me that many teachers recognise this. And something is being done.

Some schools have done it through contests or competitions, to allow their students to experiment and explore academic subjects deeper (rather than just dictated by a strict schools curriculum). Some schools do it through Service Learning or Community-based Progammes.

Nan Hua High School's Community Programmes
I attended the presentation from Nan Hua High School, where they shared their approach and experience in implementing their Community Programmes. They've set up a Partnership Committee, whose approach is to tap on partners' resources and expertise, while they focus on pedegogy (makes so much sense, doesn't it?)

They have also moved from just a Community Involvement Programme (CIP) to what they call a Community Leaders Programme (CLP). I wondered if their Community Partnership progammes have resulted in attitude or behavioural changes among their students. Would be an interesting study, I'm sure.

I was impressed by their "International Immersion Programme", where they aimed to "prepare students for a global community" and to develop "cultural intelligences" in their students. Students get to travel overseas, on supervised trips planned by the school. Upon returning, the students write a report and present their learning points to other students.

Their International Immersion Programme started in 2003, with a long term goal of enabling every student to have gone for at least one overseas learning programme, within their four years with the school. And they said the school has recently achieved this goal.


During Q&A, I asked if it meant every student had a chance to go overseas. The teacher said, Yes. They send students in the third year (our of four). I think they have been able to do this with some funding scheme that paid half of the expenses.

Nan Hua High also host camps in Singapore, attended by international students. They've set up a Tourism Club, with their students conducting local heritage tours. When overseas dignitaries visit their school, some of their students get to plan and execute the event, even writing speeches for their school principal to deliver.

More than Exams
The teachers I met at the conference recognise that 'education' does not stop with exams or is something that's only achieved in schools. I was told that some schools are moving away from using examination results as the main benchmark.

The flip side, I realised, is that school-life is no longer as simple as it once was.

Students are not only expected to do well not only for exams, but also to do well in non-examinable areas like co-curricula activities, and taking part in community work. Hence the cause for complaints by some that students in Singapore have no time for themselves outside of school.

But I say life tomorrow is never as simple as it was yesterday.

Besides, I think the fault lies with some parents who continue to emphasise solely on exam results. I was told how some parents would hound the teacher if their child does badly in the exams.

I digress, of course.

I suppose one way to educate parents is to make them partners in the child's education. I know teachers have meet-the-parent sessions. But I'm thinking about something even more structured, like the Community-Partnership model.

Maybe each school should set up a Parent-Partnership Committee.

You not only give the child an education, but you also educate the parent in the process.

What is 'Education' again?
While reflecting on Day-one, I went back to the equation from Prof Eyre:

There's no "Exam" in the equation. Implied in "Achievement" perhaps. Which means "Achievement" is more than just good academic results.

The Singapore Education System is something that some Singaporean armchair critics like to take pot-shots at. Not that there isn't any legitimate cause for complaints. Our Education System isn't perfect. But which system is?

Hearing from, and speaking to, the teachers at the conference, I'm convinced change is in already in the air.

It's gradual. But it's there.

One question I had was, "How can public libraries be an integral part of that change?"

It's a question that I intend to address in a subsequent post.

[Next: Part 3]

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