Thursday 25 September 2014

Growing Our Teachers, Building Our Nation

New measures to bring out the best in every teacher
They will get more training, support and mentorship: Heng Swee Keat
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 24 Sep 2014

TEACHERS can look forward to more training, support and mentorship, under initiatives to help them deepen their skills and encourage them to keep learning.

"Just as we bring out the best in every child, our education system must also bring out the best in all our teachers," said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday as he focused on teachers at this year's annual workplan seminar.

Primary 1 and 2 teachers, for instance, can go for a three-month advanced diploma course that arms them with the skills to help children transition smoothly from pre-school to primary school.

Currently, 13 teachers, who have each taught for about 20 years on average, are enrolled in the National Institute of Education-run course that started last month. More are expected to enrol in the next few years.

Primary school teachers will also get more training so as to master and specialise in two subjects instead of juggling three like they do now.

"Specialisation, where appropriate, will enable our teachers to master content and pedagogical skills more deeply," said Mr Heng. "This, in turn, will enable them to help our students to build a deeper foundation," he told 1,700 school leaders at Ngee Ann Polytechnic Convention Centre.

He also announced that educators who support students with learning needs can turn to a new advanced diploma course in special education for teachers and allied educators launched by the Ministry of Education (MOE).

More will be done to deepen mentoring for teachers, he said.

MOE will develop and appoint more role models for teachers. There are now 1,700 senior teachers, 100 lead teachers, 51 master teachers and five principal master teachers among the 33,000- strong teaching force here.

The ministry will also raise the highest career grade for those on the teaching track, one of three main career pathways for educators. The others are the senior specialist and the leadership tracks.

The apex grade for a principal master teacher will go from G to up to Superscale F, equivalent to that of a senior school principal.

To signal the importance it places on developing teachers, MOE announced the appointment of former NorthLight School principal Chua Yen Ching as the deputy director-general of education for professional development.

To help teachers as they go for professional development, MOE will look at ways to free up time for them to do so. It will look into simplifying some administrative processes and scaling up time- saving practices and innovations.

One of these is an e-system developed by Blangah Rise Primary, that allows pupils on its breakfast scheme to get their food simply by scanning a card against a reader installed at each canteen stall.

In a 90-minute speech punctuated with video clips showing the skilful and innovative work teachers do, Mr Heng called them "trailblazers" and said they were at the heart of MOE's efforts towards a "student-centric, values-driven education" - the focus of previous years' workplan seminars.

But Mr Heng also reminded teachers that the future of Singapore passes through their hands.

The message was not lost on Greenview Secondary teacher Muhammad Nazir Amir, 37, who teaches science by getting students to design toys. He said: "Students have so much potential in them and we as teachers have to unlock it."

Teachers to get help in lightening their workload
By Siau Ming En, TODAY, 24 Sep 2014

With Education Minister Heng Swee Keat acknowledging that some of the administrative work can at times overwhelm teachers here, several initiatives were unveiled at the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) annual work plan seminar yesterday to strengthen centralised support for schools and tap technology to simplify and lighten educators’ workload.

Technology will increasingly be used to help teachers take attendance and keep track of a school’s inventory, for example.

From this year, 50 schools will also have “finance partners”, who will guide them through more complex procurement and finance issues. Over the next few years, this will be progressively rolled out to all schools across the various levels.

In Mr Heng’s words, these measures — which are part of a slew of initiatives to grow and develop the teaching force — will provide “more time and space for our teachers to do things better, and to do better things”.

Another key thrust is to provide better professional development for teachers. On top of enhancing manpower support for schools so that experienced teachers can have more time to coach their juniors, the Ministry of Education will also grow the pool of Senior Teachers, Lead Teachers, Master Teachers and Principal Master Teachers in the teaching track. In turn, these teachers can mentor their younger colleagues.

In time, all primary school teachers will also specialise in teaching only two, instead of three subjects, to enable them to deepen their expertise.

Currently, at the upper primary levels, more than 80 per cent of teachers teach one or two subjects, on top of other non-examinable ones.

Social Studies will be an additional option for specialisation, on top of English, Maths and Science. Mr Heng noted that while Social Studies is not an examinable subject in the Primary School Leaving Examination, it is an important subject as part of Character and Citizenship Education.

A new advanced diploma course catered to Primary 1 and 2 teachers — which took in its first batch of 13 participants last month — will better equip educators to look after the socio-emotional learning needs of seven- and eight-year-olds and ease their transition from preschool.

Recapping the various initiatives undertaken in the past three years since he became Education Minister — such as a student-centric and values-driven education, and creating a deep foundation for lifelong learning — Mr Heng pointed out that teachers lie at the heart of all these efforts.

Noting that teaching is a complex job, Mr Heng said his ministry will, and must, continue to develop teachers here and give them its full support.

He recounted what a teacher told him about the vast amount of work needed to organise a learning trip for students. He also cited an example of a teacher having to fill up multiple forms to get another badge for her student in a uniformed group.

“While each step has a good reason behind it, when they are all put together, they can be overwhelming for our teachers,” he said.

Mr Heng noted that MOE has taken the lead to simplify processes. For instance, a revised form under the Enhanced Performance Management System (EPMS) — the appraisal process for teachers — has only five pages, reduced from 15 previously.

In June, the workload of teachers here came under the spotlight after a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that on average, Singapore teachers work longer hours — with more time spent on administrative tasks and extracurricular activities — compared with their overseas counterparts. Still, almost nine in 10 of those surveyed said they were satisfied with their job, comparable to the international average.

Over the years, MOE has rolled out various measures to provide teachers with better support, including an Allied Educators’ scheme in 2009. As of last year, there were about 2,400 allied educators. The target is to have 2,800 of them by 2016.

Victoria Junior College (VJC) and North Vista Secondary School are two schools that are using the Enhanced School Store Management System to keep track of school equipment and property.

VJC also uses automated systems to take attendance. Students simply need to scan their fingerprints at any of 10 different spots within the school, before the morning assembly.

Ms Daphne Huang, a music teacher at North Vista Secondary School, said that about twice a year, teachers, students and the school’s operations manager would previously need to spend between three and five hours to do stock-taking for musical instruments. With the ESSMS, the external vendors would take about 30 minutes to complete the process, she said.

More time and space 'to do things better and do better things'
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 24 Sep 2014

SCHOOLS will continue simplifying programmes and processes to relieve teachers of some administrative work, so they can make more effective use of their workday.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has already streamlined some processes, he added, including the School Excellence Model (SEM), an appraisal tool, and a system for teacher appraisal and career planning known as the Enhanced Performance Management System (EPMS).

The SEM has been streamlined into 24 sub-criteria from the previous 31, and 30 key measures of performance, down from 78. The revised EPMS form is now five pages instead of 15.

At his ministry's workplan seminar yesterday, Mr Heng spoke of teachers having to carry out administrative tasks that sometimes create "extra work", such as filling in multiple forms.

"Teaching is a complex job," he said. "Our teachers often go the extra mile to organise activities to develop our students holistically. This means organising learning experiences in school and outside of school, and even overseas trips."

Some tasks are necessary to create an "impactful learning experience for students", but he noted that altogether, they can be overwhelming for teachers.

The ministry's schools division "will engage schools and school leaders during their annual review of programmes and processes, to discuss how each school can simplify, scale and strengthen, and how MOE headquarters can support you in a systematic way".

This could be through technology, he said, in areas such as attendance-taking, parent notifications, consent forms, collection of money or booking facilities.

MOE will strengthen centralised support for schools. For instance, they will get help handling finance issues such as procurement in the same way they now get support in human resource matters.

A new online portal - the Student Learning Space - will also be set up in 2016 to give teachers and students access to digital teaching and learning resources curated by MOE.

Innovations started by schools will also be shared with others. One example is an e-system that relieves teachers of having to hand out paper meal coupons to needy students.

The system, which started in Blangah Rise Primary in 2011, will be in use in more than 100 primary schools by early next year.

Pupils "pay" for meals by scanning their ez-link cards at the food stall. The cash value is stored in the school's records.

Blangah Rise vice-principal Jackson Seow said: "In the past, staff had to print and cut the coupons. Then, form teachers needed to distribute the coupons to pupils every day, and canteen vendors had to collect the coupons and submit them to the school."

Now, just two people - the head of department for infocomm technology and a technical assistant - are involved in handling the system.

"We're glad to play a part in improving processes in schools in a ground-up way," Mr Seow said.

Toy-making, gadgets bring life to dry topics
By Pearl Lee And Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 24 Sep 2014

AFTER 11 years of teaching, Dr Muhammad Nazir Amir, 37, has amassed a collection of toys made by his students, such as a puzzle box, a candy floss maker and a solar car.

Each toy works on a scientific principle. For instance, the puzzle box seems to lock itself when closed, and opens only when spun on the table - demonstrating the concept of centrifugal force.

Dr Nazir, who teaches science and design and technology to Normal (Technical) stream students at Greenview Secondary School, asks his students to make such toys in its design and technology laboratory so they can better understand scientific concepts.

Similarly, Mr Yap Boon Chien, 41, a physics teacher at Tanjong Katong Girls' School, uses gadgets to bring life to what would often be seen as dry-as-dust topics.

He has jumped on a pogo stick to demonstrate energy conversion. The device uses elastic bands, which convert potential energy to kinetic energy.

He has also ridden a bicycle in class to introduce the concept of velocity and brought in a radio to teach electromagnetic waves.

Both teachers were lauded yesterday by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat at the Ministry of Education's annual workplan seminar.

Dr Nazir, who was among five winners of this year's President's Award for Teachers, received his PhD in science and design and technology education from the National Institute of Education last month. He said he marries both subjects to interest his students in science.

He believes that to engage them, lessons have to be relevant to their personal experiences. He also brings everyday items into his lessons to get his students to realise that science is everywhere, and not just in the textbooks.

"N(T) students can do well academically too, not just in sports or music or art," he said.

"We just have to find a way to make the lessons appealing to them."

Students say his innovative and enjoyable teaching methods let them enjoy science.

Student Fadiah Abu Bakar, 14, who used to fail science in Secondary 1 and often missed school, said: "In the past, it was all theories and everything was from the textbook.

"Now we make things, and I enjoy making things."

Mr Yap, who has taught since 1998, said: "I like to perform live demonstrations so that students can see the concepts, rather than show PowerPoint slides."

He even captures ideas when he travels overseas and shows students photographs of experiences - from temperature sensors to solar panels - that relate to lessons.

Secondary 3 student Pooja Bhagwan Singh, 15, said: "Physics used to be my least favourite subject, but now it's not so bad.

"Mr Yap comes into class with different gadgets to show us concepts, perspiring and with so much enthusiasm. We can't help but want to study hard."

Now a lead teacher, Mr Yap not only teaches students but also mentors newer teachers and shares his experiences with them, in the same way he was mentored by older teachers early in his career.

He is also part of the team of teachers in the physics subject chapter - a group which discusses good teaching practices at the Academy of Singapore Teachers.

"Our teaching force is very young, so it's important for experienced teachers to share their knowledge so that the community can improve," he said.

"It is also a two-way process. I learn from younger teachers and get their feedback, as they are closer to the ages of our students."

23 schools to be recognised for their efforts in promoting well-rounded education
By Chitra Kumar, Channel NewsAsia, 22 Sep 2014

The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced on Monday (Sep 22) that 23 schools will be recognised for their efforts in giving students a well-rounded education at the Ministry's Work Plan Seminar, which takes place on Tuesday.

Bukit Batok Seconday School, Si Ling Secondary School, and Yio Chu Kang Seconday School will receive the highest accolade - the Lee Hsien Loong Award for Innovations in the Normal Course.

This is because they demonstrated innovation in teaching and learning, school management and organisation as well as student development, the MOE said. This has led to significant benefits in the all-round development of their students in the Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) Courses.

For example, Yio Chu Kang Secondary School has incorporated dance, drama and robotics classes into its curriculum for the majority of normal stream students. 

According to Principal Janice Heng, the key motivation behind this initiative is to enrich the lives of the students beyond academic qualifications and cognitive development. "We actually hope for students to be able to have their interests sparked in some of these areas. And they are able to pursue it as their hobby, as a lifestyle when they grow up. Or even pursue it as their post-secondary education," she said.

The other 20 schools will be recognised for Best Practices in five key areas - Character and Citizenship Education, Teaching and Learning, Student All-Round Development, Staff Well-Being and Development, and Partnership. MOE said the schools' best practices have led to good education outcomes for their students.

One of these is Gan Eng Seng School, where technology-enabled learning is a way of life. Secondary Two students have their English lessons at the computer lab twice a week, and the school started using infocomm technology (ICT) in its curriculum in 1997. The school will be recognised for its Best Practice in Teaching and Learning.

According to Ms Serene Seetoh, Head of Department of Technology at Gan Eng Seng School, ICT has helped both teachers and students become more self-directed and collaborative in teaching and learning.

"Self-directed in the sense that teaching is no longer become inside the classroom but it goes beyond - anytime, anywhere. Collaborative in the sense that information exchange becomes so accessible and therefore students and teachers actually learn together, and are more active about learning," she said.

Said Nick Tan, a Secondary One student at the school: "Technology has taught me about copyright issues, as well as how to respect intellectual properties. And how we should use royalty-free music in our music projects to prevent any conflicts over copyright issues."


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