The smart choice: Learning that links with students' lives

Amelia Teng
The Straits Times
Dec 1, 2016

Secondary 2 student Lim Yung Shan thought it was "pretty cool" when he saw how lights could be switched on and off with a mobile device.

The 14-year-old was watching his teachers demonstrate, using a kit, what a smart home would be like, controlling mini-lights and drawing the curtains with remote access.

"You don't have to walk to switch off things. You can control things wirelessly," said Yung Shan, one of 22 students from Chong Boon Secondary School who will be taking a new subject, smart electrical technology, that his school is offering next year.

Seven such subjects, ranging from robotics to sports science, will be offered by the Ministry of Education (MOE) as part of the O- and N-level tracks to give students a chance for more hands-on learning. These applied 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.

The new subjects, which will be taught by secondary school teachers who have been trained, are also in line with growing industry needs in Singapore, such as smart technologies and engineering.

MOE said it works with faculty members from the universities, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) to identify and develop these applied subjects to ensure they are aligned with courses offered by them. For instance, electronics was developed jointly by MOE with lecturers from the National Institute of Education, Singapore University of Technology and Design, Ngee Ann Polytechnic and Singapore Polytechnic.

The subjects developed with ITE cater to students who prefer learning through practice - they will have simulated physical environments such as a retail outlet or training aids like home automation kits.

Mr Larry Lim, who will be teaching smart electrical technology next year, said students will learn about electrical circuits and home automation systems, in a lab set aside for them. The room's lights can also be controlled by a mobile app, "to show students that it can be done in real life", he said.

"Smart home systems are gaining popularity," he said. "As a result, there is a growing demand for engineers trained in this field."

The subject, he added, aims to prepare students for post-secondary education in engineering disciplines.

Chong Boon Secondary student Ea Xin Jie, 14, who is taking the subject next year, said: "It sounds interesting. I like the idea of engineering and creating products for people."

Madam Helen Chin, who will teach O-level computing next year, hopes students will be encouraged to take up careers in computing or technology - in line with Singapore's Smart Nation push.

"They can be software engineers, system developers, skilled programmers, for instance," said the Junyan Secondary teacher.

About 60 students in her school will be taking the new subject next year at the Secondary 3 level.

To give them a taste of coding, her school took the current Secondary 2 students to the National University of Singapore for workshops on simple programming during the June holidays this year.

"Having interest in a subject and seeing how it's relevant to life helps them do well," said Madam Chin.

Students will learn about movement and motor skills in physical activities, and how to improve performance in sports, as part of exercise and sports science, to start from 2018.

Mr Suresh Sivakadacham, head of department of physical education and aesthetics at Maris Stella High School, which will offer the subject, said: "Students learn best when their learning experiences have context and are connected to their lives and experiences."

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