Curriculum Setting And Development Division Education Essay

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This project is based on Task One, "That Eureka Moment", and is centred on the adaptation of the Finnish education model to suit the Singaporean school system, such that the arts are used as a means to meet the 21st Century educational needs of the community.

1.2 Aims & Objectives

The main aim of this project is to instil within the future generations the skills (Creativity, Objectivity, Critical thinking) required to survive in the 21st Century working world via the introduction of a new subject that merges primary school arts and science, such that through the learning of this, students:

Will not compartmentalise their information

Understand the intricacies and interconnectivity of arts and science in their everyday lives

Learn how to analyse and evaluate what they are taught

Are able to find creative solutions to a problem

1.3 Rationale

The arts are the basis of our cultures and fundamental to people being able to communicate effectively and are thus necessary, not just to the preservation of our cultures, but also racial harmony and daily functioning (Williams, 1995). The inculcation of the arts into an education system results in academic improvement and great development in areas such as a pupil's confidence, literary skills and desire to learn (Williams, 1995). They also are recognised as keys to nurturing creativity, analytical skills and open-mindedness (Chan, 2010). Chan also quoted Yale President Richard Levin as saying that the skills developed through an arts-based education are at their most vital in a world that is being ever more globalised. Singh [1] has also acknowledged that Singapore has traditionally been very pragmatic and geared towards science and technology, but that arts-centric education is integral to the maintenance of growth in our economy (Chan, 2010).

1.4 Target Group

Primary school children are being targeted here, as the younger the child, the more "suggestible" they are (Johnson, 1994). At primary level, students are more malleable, and would be able to pick up concepts easily. As ArtScience is a completely new subject, they may be able to adapt and manage it fairly well.

1.5 Key Players

Ministry of Education (MOE) - Curriculum Setting and Development Division

Ministry of Education is the main statutory board responsible for the planning and implementation of the school curriculum. Only they would be able to implementing ArtScience into the curriculum. The NIE would be able to prepare and give a head start to the teachers on how to teach the new subject through engaging and interactive manners.

National Institute of Education (NIE)

Primary schools across the country

Young Association of Muslim Professionals (YoungAMP)

Young Association of Muslim Professionals is an organisation that would be able to help us to engage

1.6 Research Methodology

We have obtained information from interviews and surveys conducted with primary school teachers. We also conducted research on the Finnish education system through reading official reports.

2 NEED IN THE COMMUNITY

2.1 Premise

In this 21st century where digital technologies afford access to a vast amount of information and ideas, there is a need for students to develop critical thinking skills. It involves important skills such as reasoning, planning, critiquing and making judgements. Students must be able to evaluate and understand sources of information and create new ideas.

Developing as a critical thinker involves questioning and reflecting on information based on its authenticity, accuracy and arguments. Paige (2004) states that the ability of arts to aid development of "cognitive and social development and critical thinking skills" has been proven through studies and that they help students aim higher. This makes it essential to start developing these skills early starting from the primary school level.

2.2 Main Issue

The education system in Singapore places more emphasis on math and sciences neglecting the arts and humanities. The Cambridge Primary Review [2] (2009) argues that (while) 'the basics' are traditionally protected, while 'the rest of the curriculum' is often seen as optional or 'dispensable'. Japan, New Zealand, Singapore are quoted as examples, although in each case, literacy and numeracy are still recognised as the 'core subjects'. (NCCA, 2010) Singapore's academic curriculum consist subjects mainly of math and sciences in the primary school level and are focused on more than the arts. "Some key success factors (are) greater emphasis on math and science." (Tan and Subramaniam, 2005).

2.3 Current Solutions

The Singapore government has recognised this problem and has come up ways to address it. Also as per the "Desired Outcomes of Education" of the Ministry of Education (MOE), students are to develop from being aware to being appreciative of the arts (MOE, 2009). As such, schools have an aesthetics department, like that of Princess Elizabeth Primary School, which aims to "nurture students in the arts and make it an integral part of their lives". One strategy introduced is the Programme for Active Learning (PAL) [3] system. It provides primary school students with the exposure in sports and visual arts. Another strategy was through making reforms to the system by a committee, the Primary Education Review and Implementation Committee (PERI) [4] . While such efforts try to refine the education system through MOE developed guidelines, the arts are still placed together with P.E. and Music lessons (Seen in the figure below). Besides that, the skills that can be attained through the arts are not being cultivated in such programmes.

Figure 1: Primary School Student Outcomes [5] 

2.3.1 Evaluation

As far as schools have progressed with the incorporation of the arts into their school system, the activities, which includes events like dance lessons, are viewed as frivolous and without real function. Such activities are often an after school affair, and is seen by many only as an enrichment/one-off activity. In addition only two hours is devoted to the PAL system which shows that not much importance has been placed on arts yet. The aspects that are focused on through such activities include culture and aesthetics and not critical thinking skills and creativity that the arts can provide. This is seen from Steve Wozniak's [6] controversial question about all the creative people in Singapore being missing.Helping students become more effective thinkers is a fundamental goal in education. In recent years societal demands for higher order thinking has generated a strong interest among educators in the teaching of thinking skills. (Choo, n.d.)

3 INVENTION

There are 9 years of compulsory, streaming-free education in the Finnish education system. Arts are highly emphasized on in Finland, culminating in a Basic Arts Education programme that is goal-oriented, teaches children skills necessary for self-expression and places great importance on individuality. The curriculum set by the government is more of a rough structure and the schools are given full autonomy to choose how and what children should be taught, provided the curriculum is met (Hancock, 2011).

3.1 Impact

Ranked in the top three in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) [7] since 2000

93% of students graduate from high school and 60% move on to higher education.

These are among the highest rates internationally, which indicate that Finnish students are motivated and desirous of learning, which is possibly an outcome of the schooling they are subjected to.

3.2 Lessons Learnt

Teachers should spend less time teaching students and allow more time for students to explore their creative side through play.

A combination of equity and quality is needed to produce the best results

3.3 Adaptation

The key concepts we wish to draw from the Finnish model are equity, a greater focus on the arts, liberty or teaching autonomy and compulsory basic education.

4 PROPOSAL

We aim to improve the approach Singapore uses in its education system, such that the arts form part of its foundation in the curriculum. This will be done in a way that will help students to acquire the skills such as creativity, objectivity and critical thinking.

4.1 Core Strategy: ArtScience

Our core strategy is to introduce a new subject, ArtScience, in primary schools, which will replace Science. The ArtScience syllabus framework is based on themes that students can relate to in their everyday experiences, and to the commonly observed phenomena in nature. The aim is to enable students to appreciate the links within different themes/topics and thus allow the integration of science and arts. The three themes chosen are: Wonders of our Universe, Life on Earth, as well as Let's Build a better World. These themes encompass a wide range of knowledge for primary school students which will help them decide the academic path they want to pursue in the future.

Wonders of our Universe

Students will learn the scientific and aesthetic aspects of astronomy, an interesting subject that is able to instigate curiosity and critical thinking among students. Students will learn the physics and chemistry of our universe and be propelled to link this knowledge with the age-old artistic approach to the beauty of the universe, making this theme a combination of physics, chemistry, history and art.

Life on Earth

Students will learn the biological and chemical interactions between humans, animals and plants and be able to understand the factors that help mankind to dominate the Earth. Students will learn how these scientific processes have benefitted society and be exposed to how these processes lead to the natural beauty found on our planet, which is a combination of biology, chemistry, geography and art.

Let's Build a Better World

In this theme, students will learn about technology and its growth since ancient times and be taught about its link to the growth of civilisation. A heavier emphasis will be placed on architecture, where creativity and critical thinking is abundant. Architecture is also an apt field of study that integrates the arts and sciences, i.e. physics, history, human geography and art.

Each of these themes has both elements of arts and science, allowing it to aid in skill application and promote deeper learning as asserted by Lipson (as cited by Lake, 1994). Apart from the difference in the knowledge imparted, there are other key differences between the primary science and ArtScience as shown in the table below.

Science

ArtScience

Science content taught using scientific analysis only

Science content taught using scientific analysis along with a basis of the arts

Solve problems from a scientific perspective

Solve problems by looking at and making connections from multiple perspectives

Incorporate information from different science domains (physics, biology, chemistry)

Incorporate information from different fields (math, science, arts, humanities)

Assessment based heavily on tests, assignments and examinations

Assessment based heavily on projects

Teachers would have to follow a standard timeline to complete teaching a certain part of the syllabus

More flexibility and liability given to teachers to conduct their lessons

Learn how knowledge from the arts can be used to further understand the sciences, and vice-versa.

Supplementary Programmes

Supplementary measures will also be taken to ensure the ease of implementing this new system. These measures ensure that primary school teachers are prepared and equipped for this system and the old mindsets parents have towards the arts are abolished.

For Primary School Staff:

New courses in NIE to teach primary school teachers how to teach students the ArtScience subject.

Biannual Arts inculcation workshops for primary school staff.

For Parents:

Mini project

Provide a platform for parents to engage in a project with professionals from various fields who became successful with the help of the arts.

These parents and professionals will come up with and carry out activities for primary school students of that school. Eg. Arts and science integration camps, Learning journey trips and Overseas community involvement programme trips (OCIP Trips).

Organisations where we can source for such professionals are:

Young Association of Muslim Professionals (YoungAMP)

Through such an activity, parents will be able to gain a first-hand experience of how the arts can nurture critical skills in an individual and aid in one's career.

Workshops

To show the link between the arts and today's education and to understand how the arts can nurture their child.

Hosting talks in schools for parents by various educational experts as to the importance of the arts, highlighting the fact that they are critical for survival in the 21st Century and no longer to be considered frivolous.

For Students:

Primary 1:

Learning journeys for the primary school students once every 3-4 months

Compulsory excursions such as walking trails to interesting/iconic places in Singapore, where students are propelled to think about how and why these places are iconic through worksheets they have to fill out.

The difference between such excursions with the ones that are currently in place is that heavy emphasis will be placed on the arts to cultivate creative and critical thinking.

Annual Arts appreciation week for primary school students

Booths set up by students showcasing the various arts (music, literary arts, dance, performing arts, visual arts and humanities).

Desired Outcomes

Through our core and supplementary programmes we wish to achieve the following:

Create an awareness and understanding among teachers and parents on the importance of the arts and the 21st century skills that the arts can offer to their students (critical/analytical thinking and problem solving skills).

Providing exposure, instilling curiosity and cultivating interest among students to the various arts on a basic level.

A summary of our plan is shown in the flowchart below. Figure 2: Flowchart of our plan

5 FEASIBILITY & MANAGEABILITY

There are several points which make this project both feasible and manageable.

5.1 Capacity & Affordability

Existing teachers can be trained for the new subject, so no new teachers need to be hired. Since the content required to for the new subject is an integration of both arts and science from the existing subjects, teachers need not re-learn their syllabus, but instead, adapt to it. Resources such as hiring experts and more knowledgeable professors regarding the art-science field will have to be factored into consideration for the new subject. Equipment would need to be invested in as the production of new syllabus guidelines and teaching references are necessary. However, this is a marginal use of resources, as these new equipment and resources are required even for change of syllabuses, which happen often in the Singapore academic system. "Educational reform in many nations is often promoted and popularised... Singapore is no exception and recent discourse on educational reforms and initiatives involves slogan such as "Thinking Schools, Learning Nation" (TSLN)…among others." (NIE, 2010)

5.2 Implementation & Sustainability

As we are introducing a new subject, it will have its challenges. According to Miss Janu [8] , "It will only be successful in the long run [and] yes I feel that it is feasible to incorporate arts into science and mathematics as it enriches the curriculum and also makes the learning of these subjects more fun and interesting." The long term benefits, such as increased creativity and increased critical thinking skills will be highly valued in the 21st century workforce. Regarding implementation, Miss Janu said, "For a start this project will be manageable in the primary and secondary school curriculum."

6 EVALUATION

By focusing on arts in the revised academic syllabus, we hope to enrich the students with better critical thinking skills, and realize that while sciences are important, the arts are just important as well, and have been undervalued. Through this, we hope students will see that there is a future with an arts education as well, not just a science one.

In order to achieve these two aims, we have created a system, through which it has minimised and solved the problem of the prevalent lack of appreciation for the value of arts in Singapore.

A strength of this project is that it is coursework based, allowing students to enjoy their learning. Teachers can also decide what way they want to teach and expose their students in relation to this subject.

A limitation of this, though, is the possibility that with the addition of all these extra time allocated to discuss the arts; the school time would be extended further and would be rather taxing, especially on younger children. However, since this is a model for the schools to follow, we give the schools the flexibility to decide on their own lesson timings and how they want to implement the models given to them.

A strength of this subject is that it aims to improve the skills for the upcoming workforce. Thus, people will be receptive to it as it ensures a more capable future workforce. However, two parties which may be dissatisfied and contest the new subject are parents and teachers. Parents may feel uncomfortable with the new subject, as the exams are coursework-based, and there is no way in which students can be fully prepared for it or be guaranteed a good grade. Miss Janu said: "Initial objection from teachers and educationists as to the practicality of this project" is something that will be faced. Teachers may feel uncomfortable with the new subject as it requires them to change their teaching style. However, as the long term benefits outweigh such initial objection, we are sure that our proposal is needed in Singapore.

7 CONCLUSION

Thus, we have shown through this report how we have come up with different solutions to resolve Singapore's drastic problem of a lack of critical and creative thinking, as well as place an emphasis on the arts. With the current system in place, a drastic lack of emphasis on arts is evident, and we sincerely hope that the ministry will consider this proposal for an implementation of a new subject.

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