Charting the way for education

Contributed by Cheah Wenjie

This article was first published on 15 February 2016 in NUS News at http://news.nus.edu.sg/highlights/10013-charting-the-way-for-education

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Some 50 University Scholars Programme (USP) students enjoyed an insightful sharing of views with Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung at Cinnamon College on 2 February. Among the topics discussed were the merits and viability of a Flipped Classroom and a group discussion on “Where is Our Education System Headed?”.

The Flipped Classroom is a mode of pedagogy where students view video lectures prior to attending class, where they engage in assignments, discussion or project work debated. Year 1 Law student Cheah WenJie shared that the model might not work in certain situations, noting that a USP module which had employed a Flipped Classroom approach had since reverted to the lecture-tutorial system. “Being heavily tied to philosophical inquiry, I believe students had trouble grappling with the ideas without guidance. Discussions during class hence could sometimes be off-point, since a particular thinker could have been misinterpreted or misread,” he said.

For the group discussion titled “Where is Our Education System Headed?”, students who were divided into several focus groups deliberated how the Singapore education system could be defined and directed.

They queried the purpose of education and whether employability should be the main driving force of education. Questions were also posed on whether the system fostered a fear-of-failure mentality, and how social inequality was perpetuated by the current system which filters academically challenged students, especially with the prevalent tuition culture.

In response, Mr Ong said that the Singapore education system was historically rooted in fostering employment, particularly in its developmental years; as such, the emphasis on core competencies in the various vocations remained. Despite the increased availability of courses for students to pursue their interests, education must continue to serve as a tool which allowed for social mobility and act as a pathway for academically proficient students to access greater opportunities. He noted that students should not be put off by pursuing their passions, since passion would reap pragmatic benefits if one pursued and excelled in it. The education system, technical or specialised, must therefore accommodate varying aspirations.

Mr Ong also highlighted the importance of organisations looking beyond grades when hiring applicants. Grades are not a catch-all of a person, he said, and interviews must be done to ascertain whether the applicant was really the best, notwithstanding his/her academic qualifications.

Speaking of the sessions, Year 2 Arts & Social Sciences student Dorothy So said, “The Minister was engaging; not only with regards to educational matters but also current affairs that challenge our society. It was great that he was willing to discuss matters with us as equals, and was open to critical debates and questions.”

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