Major policies affecting education in singapore

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Discuss the purpose(s) of education in society. Explore the implications of this purpose(s) for students and teachers in Singapore school.

1. Introduction

Education is the process where the society imparts its accumulated skills, values and knowledge from one generation to another. The role of the teacher is not limited to enlightening a child academically, it entails ensuring the child is an all rounder in his mental, moral and aesthetic developments.

In third world countries, the education plays a lead role in breaking the country out of the poverty cycle. On the other hand, in developed countries like the United States of America, educational institutions aim to be at the forefront of technology to innovate and patent new products. Therefore, although education plays different roles in different part of the world, it remains the most basic criterion for expansion of capitalism. The world has evolved. It is urbanized and industrialized now hence it is essential to equip everyone in the world with the necessary skills and knowledge which allows them to remain competitive in the knowledge-based economy.

Singapore, a country devoid of natural resources, has a greater need to ensure that there is a robust educational system in place as human talent is the country's only resource. It is therefore imperative to ensure that Singapore's education system achieves its goals through the incorporation of many ideals in to the system.

In the National Day Rally Speech in August 2010, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterated the importance of education, that "Education is the most lasting gift which we can give to the next generation. But education has to imbue the next generation not just with knowledge but also with the Singapore spirit. This is the core value which we shall pass down to the next generation through community involvement. This is why there is the CIP, overseas CIP, whereby we Singaporeans can be gelled up as one when faced with crisis, i.e. the economic recession we braved through together."

2. Benefits of Education

As the society transforms from industrialization to a knowledge-based economy, an individual who is armed with higher knowledge and better skills will receive better chances of achieving upward mobility. The success of an individual depends on the level of education he or she attains, this is based on the assumption that the individual is of righteous character and competent in his work.

The arguments for the government dedicating huge resources in education can be justified by the fact that the benefits of education accrue not only to individuals but also the Singapore society as a whole. These benefits which are reaped and enjoyed by the society cannot be bought or sold. It is the direct outcome of education that gives rise to the Singapore spirit. Such benefits include (i) reduced crime rates and better health outcomes due to increased public awareness, (ii) improved functioning of economic markets and workings of political processes as both are now driven by the most capable man leading the helm, and (iii) increased social cohesion and more productive leisure time.

3. Major Policies Affecting Education in Singapore

Two major policies, i.e. the IT Masterplan and Learning Plan and PERI will be analyzed to understand how they complement the education system in Singapore.

3.1 IT Masterplan

Singapore has one of the highest Internet penetration rates in the world. Singapore is ranked 25th in the world with 77.8% of the population using the internet. According to IDA Singapore, Singapore has more than 2 million residential households subscribing to broadband internet. Our students have grown up together with the access of technology and are very familiar with the power of online collaboration. These 21st century students are expected to be very tech-savvy, allowing the policy makers to leverage on technology to enhance the teaching pedagogy.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) launched IT Masterplan for schools as early as 1997 with the aim of integrating information technology (IT) into the Singapore education system. It laid the foundation by providing all schools with the basic infrastructure, such as hardware, computer laboratories and essential learning software packages. Moreover, it trained all teachers with basic skills in the use of word processing and presentation software to begin the process of integrating Info-comm Technology (ICT) into their lesson plans. MOE aims to equip every child with computer skills and to benefit them from learning in an IT-enriched environment.

With the basic infrastructures present in all schools, the second Masterplan started in 2002 with the aim to deepen the integration of ICT into daily lessons in schools. Some schools made use of ICT to venture into pedagogies such as problem-based learning and inquiry-based learning. An example of a school using that it the Republic Polytechnic in which students find their solutions via the internet instead of lecturers providing with answers all the time. Students were able to exhibit what they had learnt through blogs, wikis, podcasts, video productions and even animation. Moreover, there're no longer mundane class excursions. Instead, it had been enhanced by the mobile learning such as the using of PDAs, data loggers and even mobile phones. With that, the second Masterplan had been accessed as successful as it has definitely gone way beyond the mere usage of Powerpoint Slides.

Ever since, schools had started to creatively involve the usage of technology in class. Teaching and learning had been transformed with technology. Today, MOE had launched its third IT Masterplan and it aims to prepare every child for the world, with the aim of greater engagement of students to encourage more self-directed questioning and learning. Hence the third IT Masterplan seeks to improve the learning outcome of every student.

Moving forward, IDA is coining an iN2015 Education and Learning plan to foster an engaging learning experience through the use of infocomm so as to serve the needs of diverse learners in Singapore.

3.2 Implications of the IT Masterplan

The IT Masterplan reaped the following major benefits through more interactive learning using smart board:

3.2.1 Strengthen competencies for self-directed learning

Self-directed learning is imperative in cultivating a student's independence while assimilating resources. It is noted that most students usually do not advance beyond the first page of the search engine when researching for information. It is thus necessary for students to sieve and digest relevant information with the use of ICT.

3.2.2 Tailor learning experiences according to the way that each student learns best

Every student possesses different learning capabilities and customized teachings would allow for more effective learning, resulting in better outcomes. As such, lessons plans and quizzes will be customized in accordance to the students' learning abilities.

3.2.3 Encourage students to go deeper and advance their learning

For academically inclined students who wish to have a more in depth understanding in any subjects, ICT is a powerful appendage to learning. For example, technology can be leveraged on to allow protein or atomic structures to be better understood by the use of 3-dimensional projection instead of the traditional 2D drawings. The use of ICT also allows for flexibility in learning, allowing students to learn anywhere at their convenience, freeing them from the confines of classroom.

3.3 Primary Education Review and Implementation (PERI)

PERI refers to the Primary Education Review and Implementation Committee set up by the Ministry of Education in October 2008. PERI is a set of recommendations recommended by the committee to steer the current curriculum framework towards moulding our pupils into confident children, self directed learners, active contributors and loyal citizen as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: 21st Century Competencies & Student Outcomes

The committee aims to emphasis on the development of lifelong skills and values to ensure that pupils are well prepared for the future. The committee believes in developing well-balanced and confident children who are equipped not just with content knowledge, but also with the necessary skills and values to thrive in a fast changing and globalised future.

The committee builds on strengths of our current system, and seeks to raise primary education to a new level by balancing knowledge with skills and values. Programme for Active Learning (PAL) is implemented for all Primary 1 & 2 students in Sports & Outdoor Education and Performing & Visual Arts. Quality of Art, Music and PE will be enhanced through deployment of qualified teachers. Schools will also be provided with funds to hire trained coaches, instructors and service providers to conduct PAL activities and also to acquire equipments for Art, Music and PE.

MOE is doing these as they want students to step out of the box. Education is not all about examination and grades. Instead, it is about building the child holistically in both academic and non-academic areas. Schools are now encourages to move away from the rigid 'spoon-fed' learning environment. Instead of emphasizing heavily on examinations since Primary 1, examinations will be taken off so as to smoothen the transition of child from pre-school to primary school. This will help in building the child's confidence and desire to learn. Students will assess through rubrics. This will provide pupils with richer and more holistic feedback on their skills and development both academically and non-academic areas.

With that, it would mean that MOE is to recruit more Arts, Music and PE teacher in order to raise the quality of instruction in these subjects. Moreover, all educators will need to have a minimum of bachelor degree by year 2015. This is done to maintain the calibre of the teaching service. Teachers will also be well equipped through trainings and professional development in order to encourage subject specialization for students of all levels. Furthermore, single-session primary schools will be implemented by 2016 so to provide schools with more time and flexibility in organizing the school day to achieve a more holistic education.

3.4 Implications on PERI

There were notable improvements since the introduction of PERI. Two areas will be assessed:

3.4.1 Physical Education (PE)

PE develops students physically and equips them with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to pursue an active healthy lifestyle. As such, it is vital for MOE to increase the curriculum time for PE for all primary and secondary school students.

Table 1: Changes in PE Curriculum

Level

PE Curriculum

Primary 1- Primary 2

1.5 hr  2 hrs (in addition to 2 hrs of PAL)

Primary 3- Primary 6

1.5 hr  2.5 hrs

Secondary 1- Secondary 4

1hr  2 hrs

Games which require students to think out of the box will be conducted. This aims to increase students' tactical awareness, in the process make appropriate decisions and improve their skill executions. This games in the long run aim to cultivate the Singapore spirit through fostering bonds and the ability to work with people of different races in our multi-racial society.

3.4.2 Arts Participation and Self Esteem

Teacher observation data has shown notable changes in attitudes in most of the students who participated in integrated arts classes. Troublesome students were turned round by the experience and exhibited positive behavior. This can serve as a very useful model for tackling recalcitrant head-on, in the process reducing social issues in Singapore. In addition, art can also be a powerful motivational tool to students who are successful academically. It can provide the impetus for these students to foster their leadership capabilities and excel in other areas.

Generally, participating in an art activity is a joyful experience for a child, regardless of his academic achievement level. Peer group acceptance through art work builds self-esteem in the child who feels accepted and important. As art transcends different culture, it allows students to appreciate our unique multi-racial society and preserve the distinctive culture that Singapore enjoys. This helps to boost racial harmony and improve social tolerance when the students grow up.

4. Conclusion

It is evident that education plays a fundamental role in cultivating and defining the Singapore spirit as envisioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. In addition to fostering better social cohesion in our multi-racial society, the desired outcomes of education aim to shape the socio-economic landscape of Singapore through the policy of meritocracy, where the best is chosen to lead the helm. Such is the importance of education in Singapore that it has become evident that the scope of education policies is not only restricted to the purview of the Education Ministry. Inter governmental agencies are working together to aim to shape the best possible educational landscape in Singapore. Education is especially important in Singapore's knowledge based economy and will play a major role not only in ensuring that Singapore will always be at the forefront of cutting edge technology, but also fostering the Singapore spirit to enhance the cohesiveness of our multi-racial society.

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