Saturday, 8 October 2016

Secondary schools to offer 7 new hands-on subjects

Secondary curriculum to include robotics, sports science and drama
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 7 Oct 2016

Seven new subjects, ranging from robotics to sports science, are set to become part of the O- and N-level tracks to give students a chance for more hands-on learning.

These subjects, which will be rolled out over the next two years, will be available in more than 60 secondary schools.

O-level electronics and computing will start next year, along with three Normal (Technical) subjects - smart electrical technology, mobile robotics and retail operations.

In 2018, drama, as well as exercise and sports science, will be added to the O-level curriculum.

These subjects are different from traditional subjects such as mathematics, for instance. The key focus will be to expose students to applied learning, which integrates classroom learning with real-world situations, said an Education Ministry spokesman.

This will also allow students to make better choices on courses to pursue after secondary school.

The spokesman said that the ministry worked with industry partners, as well as the polytechnics, the Institute of Technical Education and universities to ensure that the new curriculum is "relevant and engaging".

Subjects which focus on applied learning have been available since 2008. But these six subjects, which include the fundamentals of electronics and design studies, are offered only to O-level students.

On average, a total of 310 students have taken these six subjects each year in the last five years.

Polytechnic lecturers also teach the students and help to develop the curriculum. Most of these subjects will be phased out by next year, except for biotechnology and design studies offered at the Singapore School of Science and Technology.

The seven new applied subjects will be taught by teachers at the secondary schools themselves, and this could allow more students to take them up. Teachers are currently being trained to teach the new subjects.

Under the current curriculum, 20 students in each cohort study the fundamentals of electronics each year at Hong Kah Secondary, which has offered the subject in partnership with Ngee Ann Polytechnic since 2008.

"It is a fixed number because of the polytechnic's capacity and how many other schools and students they can accommodate on campus," said physics teacher Wee Jin Yi, who will teach electronics.

Hong Kah has already refurbished a few classrooms to set up an electronics lab and several rooms for project work.

The new subjects will have a refreshed curriculum. Electronics, for example, will cover the digital circuits in devices such as computers and television sets.

Parents and teachers believe that the new subjects will give students a chance to go beyond traditional academic disciplines and discover where their interests lie. "We hope to catch students' attention in electronics at a younger age and, hopefully, they will be more receptive to a career in this field," said Mr Wee.

The seven new subjects
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 7 Oct 2016


• Electronics: Includes both digital and analog electronics. Covers theoretical knowledge of electronics and their real-world applications.

• Computing: Aims to help students develop solutions that are implemented with computers. This involves skills such as algorithmic thinking, or step-by-step solving of problems.

• Drama: Aims to foster an understanding of drama through practical and theoretical means, by studying the process of performance and its different stages.

• Exercise and sports science: To develop students' knowledge and skills in physical activities. They will also learn to plan, analyse and improve these activities. 


• Smart electrical technology: Provides students with a grounding in foundational concepts in home automation systems.

• Mobile robotics: The subject covers areas such as electricity, electronics and mechanical design. Students will learn to apply skills in designing and building robots to complete tasks.

• Retail operations: Gives students a broad grasp of activities in a retail business environment, including customer service. They will get hands-on experience in a simulated retail workplace setting.

Seven new applied subjects to pique students' interests
Courses from robotics to drama aim to help teens explore options and get on track for future
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 7 Oct 2016

A set of new applied subjects to be introduced in schools will give young people a head start in figuring out their interests, beyond traditional academic disciplines, said parents and teachers.

Seven new subjects will be offered over the next two years.

Electronics and computing for O-level students will start next year, along with three Normal (Technical) level subjects - smart electrical technology, mobile robotics and retail operations. In 2018, drama, as well as exercise and sports science, will be offered at O level.

Mr Billy Ng, 54, who owns an IT consultancy, said his Secondary 1 son would enjoy electronics and computing. "Since primary school, he's been into gadgets, technology and programming."

National Institute of Education (NIE) don Jason Tan said the new subjects are in line with the SkillsFuture movement to encourage students to discover their interests, especially in applied learning.

"The range of subjects sounds in tune with some of the polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) courses, and these will give students a head start in preparing for post-secondary education," said Associate Professor Tan.

He also said it is good that some subjects cater to Normal (Technical) students. "It will be helpful for them in deciding which courses to take in future."

Mr Ravintharan Palanisamy, who will teach mobile robotics next year at Woodlands Ring Secondary School, said: "We hope to make the subject come alive so that students will be enthused and pursue related courses later on."

Secondary 2 student Zikry Izzaniq Azizan from Hong Kah Secondary, who hopes to take electronics next year, said: "In primary school, I took part in a robotics workshop and started to like electronics."

The 14-year-old, who wants to study engineering at a polytechnic, said: "Hands-on learning gives more focus than just reading textbooks."

In addition, secondary schools work with post-secondary institutions to offer shorter courses in applied topics.

For instance, more than 6,000 students have taken advanced elective modules (AEMs) - offered by the polytechnics to give Express and Normal (Academic) students a glimpse at practical training through laboratory sessions and workshops by poly lecturers.

The AEMs began in 2006 with about 200 students. Now, there are about 150 modules to choose from, in areas such as hospitality, aerospace and digital animation.

Since 2007, about 5,400 Normal stream students have also taken up elective modules offered by schools together with the ITE.

There are now 31 such courses in areas related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The modules can count towards credit requirements when students join the ITE.

Laughed at, but they had the last laugh
10 students from Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School aced the competition at international robotics contest
By Rahimah Rashith, The Straits Times, 10 Oct 2016

A team of 10 students from Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School (Secondary) (PLMGS) remembers the "welcome" they received when they entered the competition area for a regional robotics competition in Indonesia.

They were laughed at.

"We were the only girls in a sea of boys," said Secondary 3 student Tan Jia Min, 15.

Pitted against over 300 boys from various Asian countries at August's World Robot Games, the girls set to work. "At first we felt intimidated," admits 15-year-old Ling Yin, also in Sec 3. "But we just kept trying."

After tinkering with wires and voltages, and putting their robots through various obstacles, the team emerged victorious four days later, clinching 15 awards across 34 categories at the annual competition.

For the girls, the wins showed how far they had come in a short time. The school's robotics group had been established less than a year before.

When Mr Indra Ahmad, the school's Mathematics and Design and Technology teacher received an invitation for an earlier robotics contest in 2015, he decided to put together a group of students who were interested to give it a shot.

"I didn't know anything about robotics then," said Sec 3 student Lee Wen, 15. "But I grew to love it."

After two months of preparation, the team ventured into the Asia Math & Engineering Competition 2015 with trepidation due to their own prejudices about girls and engineering. They came in second.

That made them hungry for more success.

Said Jia Min: "We exceeded our own expectations and our competitors' expectations of us."

The school went on to set up a robotics enrichment group this year. "Because of the success at the competition, they were spurred to do even more," said the school's vice-principal, Ms Cheong May Lan, 57.

"They were so motivated after seeing that there was nothing to stop girls from doing robotics."

PLMGS, which first opened its doors a century ago in 1916, started out as a school for boys. The school started admitting girls a year later. In 1961, it became an all-girls school.

The school was invited to participate in the competition in Indonesia after doing well in the Singapore leg where it won first and second places in the search-and-rescue category, ahead of Woodlands Ring Secondary School.

With two months leading up to the World Robot Games, the team would meet once a week to plan. "We had to start from scratch," said Mr Indra, 41, who joined the school in 2013. "I had to break the lessons down to the basics."

Competitors were given problems that had to be solved using robots. After weeks of brainstorming and trial and error, the team created three types of robots for the disaster recovery theme of the competition.

They created a search-and-rescue robot which could use a gripper to retrieve objects and pull and push things, a "sumo" robot that could simulate the pushing of big boulders and a robot that could follow floor maps to reach people that may be trapped or captured.

The competition in Indonesia, which saw 327 participants from five Asian countries, was not without hiccups.

"When we arrived, we saw that the competition track had slopes. We were not prepared for that," said Mr Indra. The girls stayed up late into the night trying to reconfigure their robots.

PLMGS was Singapore's only representative. "Students from other countries were also madly configuring their robots, plugging them in and out to test them. It was quite intimidating," said Lee Wen.

"When it was our turn to send out our robots, everyone was staring at us. We were the outsiders," said Sec 2 student Christina Tan, 14.

But they made sure that did not faze them.

In addition to three gold awards, two silvers and two bronzes, they won eight performance awards, plus a spirit award for showmanship and perseverance.

"It felt good to beat the boys, who people think are supposed to dominate robotics," said Ling Yin.

PLMGS has plans to venture deeper into the robotics arena, looking at future collaborations with tertiary institutions in the research field. Its robotics interest group has 35 students now. "The sky is the limit for these girls," said Mr Indra.

Building on their interests at school's robotics club
By Rahimah Rashith, The Straits Times, 10 Oct 2016

Since Woo Jie Lyn was in pre-school, she has immersed herself in the world of Lego.

When she was eight, she spent three hours building a Ferris wheel with the blocks. The creation got destroyed accidentally, but that did little to dampen her hopes of becoming an engineer.

Now 15, she is taking steps towards achieving her ambition. She is one of the founding members of the Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School (Secondary) robotics group.

"I have always been interested in building things, so robotics made sense for me," she said.

Mechanics fascinates the Secondary 3 student. Jie Lyn remembers in detail her trip to the Rolls-Royce factory with her school last year. "I was really amazed at how they put a turbine together. I enjoy seeing how machines work."

She wants to study mechanical engineering, believing it is where the future lies. "Singapore is becoming a smart nation... I think robotics will be able to help us with all the smaller parts in our lives to make things more convenient."

She and nine other students from the school travelled to Indonesia in August to take part in the World Robot Games. "We didn't think we would win, but then we did. It was a nice feeling to have won because it was really male-dominated."

Also in the robotics team is Angel Yip, 13, the only Sec 1 student in the enrichment group. Her foray into computers and robots began long before she joined the club.

When she was in Primary 4, she spent a year learning programming and coding. "My mother saw that I was very interested in programming and so she sent me for classes. I watched a lot of robotics videos."

In secondary school, she began to take an interest in the design and technology classes. "I spent many afternoons investigating how things worked."

Although students do not typically get invited to join the robotics team until Sec 2, she was approached by her teachers after her mother told the school of her interest.

Mr Indra Ahmad, a design and technology teacher at the school, said: "We hope that students like her can help groom the younger ones in the future."

Learning tuned to real world
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 10 Oct 2016

In an important step to make learning more relevant to real life, schools will soon offer new subjects such as mobile robotics, sports science and electronics.

Seven such subjects will be introduced in more than 60 schools over the next two years, to give upper secondary school students a taste of applied training.

Electronics and computing for O-level students will start next year, along with three Normal (Technical)-level subjects - smart electrical technology, mobile robotics and retail operations.

In 2018, two more O-level subjects - drama as well as exercise and sports science - will be introduced.

The changes are part of the Ministry of Education's greater emphasis in recent years to encourage students to explore their own interests beyond academic subjects.

Teachers said students inclined towards these niche areas can take these subjects, and get a head start in discovering their strengths.

Hopefully, this will also spur the students to pursue related courses at the post-secondary level, in line with the SkillsFuture drive to encourage Singaporeans to develop skills they are good at - something that will also meet the country's needs.

The new applied subjects are also part of a greater push in schools towards learning in a real-world context, as opposed to studying purely out of textbooks.

Making these practice-oriented disciplines as viable as academic examinable subjects - they can be used for entry to junior colleges, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education - may encourage students and parents to view both tracks equally without any bias.

The subjects also open up opportunities for Normal (Technical) students and may help them to make better decisions about their further studies.

After all, every student has his or her own strengths - some learn best with their hands, fixing a machine or building a robot - and Singapore's education system should cater to all kinds of learners.

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