The Next Chapter

The local education scene took a long, hard look at itself to make sure no child left behind. Be an Idea discovers individuals who are helping to write the pages.

Want to know which item on Singapore's agenda that - calls for a national conversation aside - is already jumping ahead by leaps and bounds? Look no further than Singapore's education scene. A number of key developments rolled out recently promise to help Singaporean students cram less and think more.

BETTER BUILDING BLOCKS

Stronger accreditation requirements; a renewed emphasis on child welfare; higher teaching standards; and improvements in curriculum and facilities - these are just some of the goals of the government's Implementation Committee for Enhancing Pre-School Education.

While there will be no immediate changes to the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), a rite of passage for generations of Singaporeans, what can be expected are fresh ways to help young students cope. A stronger consensus between educators, parents and students looks set to lift the weight off those young shoulders.

To go a step further, the government recently decided to abolish academic banding for secondary schools and focus on a more holistic education to help students realise their full potential.

"It is less about content knowledge, as content will have to be re-learnt and even un-learnt during one's lifetime," said Education Minister Heng Swee Kiat. "It is more about how to process information, discern truths from untruths, connect seemingly disparate dots, and create knowledge even as the context changes."

TAKING THE SPIN

Beyond the government's grand plans and aspirations, an active community of social entrepreneurs and educators has stepped forward to help shape Singapore's learning landscape.

Hearty SPIN, a new start-up that uses technology to create learning solutions for people with autism and special needs, is one such example. It recently released an app for low-functioning individuals with autism called Picture AAC that is used in more than 15 countries.

Founded by Koh Kheng Wah, a mobile technology and IT specialist together with his wife Carol, a special-needs teacher, who felt the need to give back to society after spending time with her students.

"I hope it encourages other passionate individuals and let young people know that there are other paths out there besides being a lawyer or banker," he said.

Although there is a long way to go, Koh is determined to help other parents cope with the challenge of bringing up a special-needs child.

"Everyone should reflect on their strengths and use it for the community instead of being keyboard warriors," he said. "There is a lot to be done."

Then there's Open Lectures, a fresh spin to online learning. The fledgling web platform, which went 'live' in August 2012, provides "free, online lectures for anyone who wants to learn." Supported by the North-East Community Development Council as well as three junior colleges, it is run by a team of 80 to 100 student volunteers and currently hosts around 300 free lectures on economics, chemistry, mathematics and biology online.

"Giving back becomes easier and more meaningful if you love what you do," said Kenneth Lim, project CEO at its launch.

Over at The School of Thought, its curriculum emphasises socially responsible education as much as it does test scores. Launched in 2002 by a group of ex-teachers who want to combat youth apathy by empowering students to bring about positive change. Through General Paper classes, where students discuss local and global affairs, it aims to make them more knowledgeable and empathetic.

"Kids, whether they were 'A' or 'F' students came out not caring about the community, only themselves," said Kuik. "We felt that education was meant to do much more than that."

Undergraduate Stanley Chia, who manages Envisage Education, often works with schools on community involvement programmes. He observed that most students were participating without a deeper conviction and involvement.

"It has to go beyond volunteering," he said. " Volunteering fulfils needs but with social entrepreneurship you become involved in creating solutions."

The educational enterprise committed to promoting compassion among youths, conducts programmes where students role-play to experience poverty, then come up with solutions for it. Students also get to work with non-profits on projects and learn how to do more for people from disadvantaged groups.

"Our culture is traditionally focused on academic achievement and it's not something you can change overnight," he said. "This is a way of showing students that you can be financially stable and do something for society at the same time."

"I hope that we can remind people that social change is not the sole responsibility of the government, but that of the community, and each and every individual."