Sunday, 17 July 2011

MOE Masterplans for ICT

Masterplan 1

The introduction of ICT Masterplan 1 into the curriculum seemed like a massive task for MOE. It would not be an easy feat as people generally liked to feel safe in their comfort zones, and some would not be so adaptable to change. I remember how it was like to be a student from 1985 – 1994. PC labs were almost non-existent, and teachers were already comfortable using the chalk and board method to conduct lessons.

However, change is the only thing that is constant. Like it or not, we are living in a world where technology is easily made available to the masses. For Singapore not to embrace such change, she would have fallen behind her peers in terms of progress and development. MOE recognized the need for schools to harness ICT into pedagogy, so as to enhance the learning experience of the students. As educators, we should also realize that we should adapt our methods to fit the current mentality of students. As a parent, I would want my children to be well-versed in the use of ICT, so that they are equipped with the proper skills in order to do well in the future.

Java applet showing motion of electrons
With the wide range of ICT resources now available in most schools due to the basic infrastructure being provided, it has been made easier for teachers to introduce concepts to the students. The use of 3-D technology in showing students the structure of a nucleus for example, would enable students to have a better visual image, rather than a 2-D image from a textbook. The use of java application (another example) would allow students to “see” the flow of electrons in a closed electric circuit.

Teachers would also have an easier time with other aspects of teaching and assessment. For example, a teacher can use portals such as mconline, to conduct an online MCQ, and the system would be able to grade students immediately upon submission of the assignment. Even essays can be marked within seconds according to a ST report, (14 February 2011) although it still had its limitations.

In my humble opinion,  I feel that MOE has taken the right steps towards equipping our students and teachers with the proper skills set, so as to prepare us for a world that is constantly shrinking, due to technological advances. The journey however, has only just begun!

Masterplan 2

In Masterplan 1, MOE had already set a strong foundation for schools to harness ICT, provide the basic infrastructure in schools, as well as equipping teachers with the basic ICT skill sets. Masterplan 2 would see that ICT become part of the pedagogy, and that its use would be strengthened amongst the schools in Singapore.

I remember sometime back in year 2005/6, I was doing some free-lance work with an educational service provider known as Edublitz Pte Ltd. They had provided enrichment courses for the schools in Singapore and I was part of a team that conducted music enrichment courses for the students.

Amongst one of the courses however, there was a course which taught Primary One students on the usage of Microsoft Word. Some of the students were from poorer backgrounds and thus, would not have the opportunity to even touch a computer back home. Back then, schools were then already willing to spend extra money on such courses which I believe was part of Masterplan 2 to integrate competency in the use of basic ICT tools. Fast forward to the present, and I feel that no longer is there need for schools to outsource trainers for such courses. It is a major step in which MOE can now use funds for other purposes, instead of something trivial such as learning how to use Word. This shows that schools are now better equipped with resources to teach students basic ICT skills.

I would like to share also, why I too believe it is important that ICT become more pervasive in our school education system. Many of us have children, who even before they turn one, have fiddled or played with a smart phone. Parents these days are now more savvy about the type of educational tools that are prevalent in the market, and made available on devices such as the iPad or iPhone. I would like to share one video in particular:

My son enjoys the educational apps that are available on the iPad and I believe it has enhanced his learning to some degree. Some might argue that such devices limit a child’s imagination, but that is an argument not for today. The point is, the children of today are very much exposed to different types of technologies and media, unlike days of old where books were the medium of choice. Even today, some children’s books are more technologically advanced than others as they come with codes that can be scanned by devices, which play music or give out different animal sounds.

Our children will thus be brought up in a technologically advanced environment. To not embrace this change, would mean that our children would also lose out to their peers. ICT can increase productivity and learning, and the students of today are more often than not, more interested in ICT infused lessons rather than the normal chalk and board ones. I recall also, one particular assembly where the speaker was giving a talk about food hygiene and cleanliness. During her power point presentation, the students got a little restless but during the video presentation (which essentially made the same points, albeit more visually appealing), the students were more focused.

Masterplan 3

With the implementation of Masterplan 3, MOE's goal is that students would become self-directed learners, as well as develop skills for collaborative learning through the use of ICT tools. So what does this mean for us as an educator and a teacher?

Parent practicing together
with her children
It is often been said that aside from parents, teachers are often looked upon as a role model for the students. If we expect our students to become self-directed learners, we too, must embrace the fact that learning is a life-long process, and strive to acquire new knowledge not just for our benefit, but for the benefit of others as well. A similar pedagogy exists in the Suzuki method of learning an instrument. In this school of thought, if parents are to expect that their young children are to learn an instrument, then they must first show support by taking up the instrument as well. Children learn from example, and hence will be more receptive towards learning a new skill, or adopt a certain behaviour.

We then, as teachers, must enter the system with an open mindset. In order for us to plan meaningful ICT infused lessons for our students, we must first be familiar with the tools used for the lesson first. It is not enough to just throw a website link at our students and then expect them to follow through by themselves. We need to be able to cater to different students of various academic abilities, and guide them through the process accordingly. For this to be true, we need to be intimately familiar with the tools that we are going to be using.

 There is also a need however, in disciplining our students towards the safe use of ICT to enhance learning. Cyber space can be an extremely intriguing limbo, and there are often serious repercussions if a student's use of ICT tools are left unmoderated. I feel that the inclusion of charting the cyber wellness of students are hence, a very important part of Masterplan 3. The role of a teacher as a moderator, becomes apparent in any lesson plan which includes the use of ICT tools. Even in collaborative learning, where students make use of forums to discuss project work, a teacher should be participate actively, so as to act as a guiding hand cum chaperone for the students.

I think that it simply wonderful today, that I can whip out my smart phone, and Google up an answer to any questions or doubts I might have. I think it is fantastic, that in the future, all schools in Singapore will have access to wireless networks, and that all students may even have access to iPads and can look up anything they want, when they want it. As teachers then, we would need to guide our students into using these ICT tools for the right purposes, and to teach them to differentiate what is right and wrong. The web, for all its infinite wealth of information, can also lead students to get the wrong answers as well. Have you ever had a student tell you,

"'Cher.. the textbook cannot be wrong lah..."?

This only tells us that, our knowledge of the subject needs to be strong, and hence again, the need for constant learning and upgrading.

Finally, there is a need to cultivate in our students the habit of learning outside the classroom. As I mentioned earlier, the pervasiveness of ICT tools in our current society, leaves us with a tremendous amount of options when it comes to learning. The existence of Wikipedia, iTunes University and even Youtube, are just but a few platforms in which students can learn from. Even Facebook can be a source of learning when used correctly. I had experience with a group of students who created a Facebook group, and they invited their teachers into the group. Teachers were then able to communicate with the students, as well as even teach occasionally, when students posed questions online. These are good learning habits, that I believe we as teachers, must first set examples.

Overall, it is exciting to see what the future has in store for us. There are infinite possibilities in which ICT tools can enhance learning. My son will be Primary One in 5 years time, and I look forward to see how ICT can continue to enhance his learning. The world is a classroom, and I for one, am looking forward to being part of it.

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