PSLE Study Tips

Recently, the parent of a new student shared how she feared for her daughter’s PSLE English result. Their family speaks mostly Mandarin at home and her daughter’s English has always been weak. She had engaged a home tutor but all the tutor did was to force her daughter to memorise model essays. At first, there was a bit of improvement, but since then, her daughter’s English results have plateaued. She confided that she regretted changing teachers so late.

All the tutor did was to force her daughter to memorise model essays…

Read More…

Secondary English Made Simple for First-timers

For secondary one students in 2014, the experience of transitioning between primary to secondary school will both be exciting and challenging. It is a new environment with new classmates and new teachers.

While most children adapt to new environments quickly, one area that takes some time is the increase in the number of academic subjects. Not only that, these once familiar subjects become more difficult. Read More…

PISA tells only half the story

First of all, congratulations to Singapore for doing well in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests which is run by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) every three years. In the 2012 test, Singapore ranked very near the top. We ranked second place in mathematics, and third in both reading and science.

This results do show that the Singapore education system has been largely successful. PISA results also tally with other international educational tests. To me, this shows that most Singapore students have strong fundamentals in reading (English), mathematics and science.

However, some people are critical of PISA. For example, the top performing education system in PISA is Shanghai, China. Shanghai is course not reflective of the entire Chinese education system. Shanghai’s wealth is generally twice of other cities in China, and the Shanghai parents do participate heavily in the private education sector. On the other hand, United States did badly in PISA. However, individual American states like Massachusetts was only outperformed by only three education systems, and Connecticut by four. It might really not be fair to compare cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore to entire countries like the United States. Despite these criticism, I am not putting down PISA. As a comparative study, I think it is lacking. It does have its merits in measuring competency in reading, mathematics and science.

What I think PISA has not been able to measure is the real life skills necessary for success in the future. It is merely a test of reading, subject mastery (in two subjects only) and simple inferences. They are not able to measure more complex skills like problem solving, creative thinking and collaborative skills. Even the Singapore Ministry of Education agrees. MOE’s Deputy Director-General for Education Loh Khah Gek said, “But there are still limitations to such tests, in that there may be specific skills and competencies that cannot be tested in this way — skills like cross cultural understanding, the ability to connect with people, the ability to collaborate with others.” She later emphasised that these are the skills that really matter.

So, while Singapore students have a firm foundation to work on, they still need to learn and strengthen these skills. It is indeed something schools and parents need to think about when they are deciding on the direction of their children’s education.

How to choose an English language school

Wait! Don’t go away yet. I know what you are all thinking. An enrichment centre trying to give tips on how to choose one. Wouldn’t this post be totally biased? Don’t worry, I am going to be objective here. I am going to offer a series of questions you need to ask yourself when choosing a centre. This is an unbiased view as a parent myself.

Teachers

The quality of teachers is also an important criteria. Do the teachers have the required qualifications? It would be great if they possess degrees beyond the minimum required. Ask the teachers to show you their certificates. Also, does the teacher interact well with their students? Always choose a passionate and caring teacher.

Quality of Programme / Materials

You might want to ask the centre about their teaching methodology. Is the programme systematic and follow tested pedagogy? Do they have proper lesson plans? Are their materials all commonly found in assessment books in Popular bookstore? Needless to say, centres that show they know what they are doing, and have their own materials are preferred.

Learning Environment

Take a look at the learning environment. Is the entire centre very cramped. Are there other facilities available like a study area? Or are computers available to the students? Even how well the owners maintain the centre shows how much pride they have in the school and how much effort they will put in to ensure that students learn.

Track Record

A good track record might be an important consideration. Certainly, no centre will tell you that their students keep failing. But take care to look at the track record closely. Does the school select students? Some schools only allow the best students to join. Of course these centres produce great results. Also, look out for centres with huge student intakes but few students who do well. It might mean that their star students are only a few.

Cost

In a country that is very expensive, cost is certainly a factor. Of course, the general advice is to enrol in a centre that you can afford. But take note that while some centres charge very cheaply for their lessons, they tend to have many students in one class. Also, are they not confident that their programme works and need to charge low fees to attract students? Therefore, it is probably the best to go for a centre that has the best value for the fees it is charging.

Location

Location is an important criteria as well. Is the centre near your home? Is it easily accessible by public transport? However, do consider other criteria as well. A great centre that is not too far away might be worth the trip rather than a lousy centre that is just a stone’s throw away.

Review Process

Other than the progress report from school, how do parents know that their children are improving? It is important for centres to give some sort of feedback to the parents. Can parents view the materials, worksheets and assignments given to the children? Any additional reports giving more feedback to children would be great.

Teacher/Student Ratio

What is the teacher/student ration? There are some centres that squeeze 18 or even more children in a classroom. In this situation, you might as well just rely on MOE schools only. After all, their teacher/student ratio is not too far off.

Timing

Does the timing of the class if your child’s schedule? If it does, then great. If it does not, I will still look at other more important criteria like quality of teachers and programme. If the school is really good, I will reschedule to fit the school’s lesson timings.

Terms and Conditions

We all know that schedules change. People fall sick and schools plan events that coincide with lessons. How flexible is the school in changing classes? Do they need a Medical Certificate before changing? Will they be willing to pro-rate the course fees? You might want to take this into account.

Conclusion

Before I end this post, I would like to share a personal story of mine. I was looking for a martial arts school for my son. We found one. They had highly qualified teachers and they seem to have a great programme. However, I did not like the cost of the programme. It was structured in such a way I would not get value for my money. The criteria that killed the deal was the terms and conditions. It was so restrictive that I felt all the school wanted to do was to take all my money upfront and make it impossible to get the money back if I needed to withdraw my son for any reason.

Certainly there is a lot of consideration when looking at which centre to enrol. Choose the one that ticks most of your boxes and do look out for the terms and conditions if you ever need to switch a school.

Changes in MOE schools

MOE Workplan Seminar 2013

The MOE Workplan Seminar 2013 just ended a week ago. Some interesting new programmes were announced. Let us do a quick recap of the initiatives announced.

Applied Learning Programme

The Applied Learning Programme connects academic knowledge and skills with real-world thinking skills. It spans many different disciplines, and stretches the imagination of the student in applying knowledge in authentic settings.

Learning for Life Programme

The Learning for Life programme is designed to give students with real-life experiential learning to develop their character, values, and people skills. According to MOE, this will be the approach of Character and Citizenship Education (CCE).

Integrated Online Learning Space

An online resource library will be made available for both teachers and students. This library will consist of materials specially chosen by experienced educators. The student can refer to the library to understand concepts they did not understand in school. The teacher can also use this as an additional way to teach the students.

Student development teams

Student development teams will be formed in schools to better oversee and support students’ learning and character development. Year Heads will be appointed to oversee the Form Teachers, and together, they will plan, monitor and assess the effectiveness of the various programmes in schools.

Conclusion

Overall, MOE has launched quite a few interesting programmes. What we like was their attempt to put in real-world learning into schools. As Minister for Education, Heng Swee Keat emphasised, the 21st century environment will be ‘volatile, uncertain, complex and ambigious (VUCA)’. This is precisely what RG Channel Future School is all about. We have always tried to teach English in a way that relates and will help students in the future. An example of this is our Problem-Based Strategic Thinking Concepts programme.

The online learning space is also something that we have already implemented in our school. All our students are able to see the resources that we teach in school, as well as other supplementary reading material. We are sure MOE’s online resource library will prove to be as useful to students as ours have been to our own students.

Problem Based Strategic Thinking Concepts

The Strategic Thinking workshop equips today’s young people with both the vision and skills needed to anticipate, comprehend and solve the problems of today and to build better tomorrows.

Why did we design this course?

This course came about as a result wanting to create a programme that helps students to learn critical and creative thinking, problem solving and decision making.

We wanted a ‘real-world solution’, one that students might be able to benefit when they reach tertiary education or when they are working. Using my experience when I was working in the ministries as well as my partner’s experience as a consultant, we developed a programme that merged Problem-based Learning and scenario planning into what we call the Problem Based Strategic Thinking Concepts programme.

The goals of this programme is

  •  enhance the development of student leadership skills. At the same time, the programme is designed to improve the cognitive level of its participants through scaffolded but rigorous activities.
  • think more strategically by becoming involved in activities to increase the flexibility, fluency, originality and elaboration of their thinking;
  • develop research skills needed for the collection of data;
  • relate effectively with others as members of a small, cohesive team; and
  • improve oral and written communication skills for the better understanding of their ideas by others.

Cognitive Rigour

One feature that we always have in our programmes is the development of cognitive rigour. We believe that it is really important for our students to be challenged and stretched because that really engages and develops them. Our programme has a six step problem solving model that progressively challenges the student as it gives the them increasing complex tasks.

The six steps and cognitive rigour is summarised in the table below:

Progression Graph

1. Identify Challenges

Understand 2: Understand and explain concepts and challenges.

2. Select an Underlying Problem

Analyse 2: Deconstruct and select relevant problem.

3. Produce Solution Ideas

Create 2: Generate hypothesis based on prior knowledge.

4. Generate and Select Criteria

Analyse 3: Analyse and use understanding of information to create criteria.

5. Apply Criteria to Solution Ideas

Evaluate 3: Compare and contrast solutions and justify choice.

6. Develop an Action Plan

Create 3: Synthesis information and develop alternate solutions.

National Day Rally 2013

It has been nearly a month since the National Day Rally 2013. I am sure that everybody has heard and read about Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s announcements. In addition, the Ministry of Education has followed up by giving some additional information regarding these announcements.

Let’s do a quick summary of the main changes and what do we think of these changes in RG Channel Future School.

Extended Edusave Accounts

From 2014 onwards, all children of ages 7-16 of Singapore citizens between the ages will receive Edusave contributions. This includes students who are in Madrasahs, privately funded schools, home-schooled or residing overseas.

This is definitely good news for children who are not studying in mainstream schools. While there are still some questions, like what educational opportunities are MOE going to allow to be funded, this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Broader admissions under the Direct School Admissions (DSA)

The number of students that can be admitted under the Direct School Admissions (DSA) scheme will broaden. The original aim of the scheme was to allow students with special talents in sports, arts or technology to be admitted in secondary schools. Students with leadership skills or show good character could also be admitted.

The good thing about this scheme is that it allows students who might not be academically excellent but have a special talent, to enter good secondary schools. Extending this scheme seems to make sense in stressing that success in education is not just based on academics.

However, there are two caveats.

First, is a system problem. How does one measure character or leadership? Can we give a grade to a student’s leadership skills? How can we even compare the character between two students? The processes schools go through to select their students will have to be thought out carefully.

Secondly, a note of caution to parents who push their children to these schools. I have seen many examples of students that take part in the scheme only to discover that they struggle academically in school. A minority of these even get retained. So parents need to ensure that their child is ready to enter a school where the majority of the students have generally scored higher PSLE scores.

Removal of the T-score in PSLE

In the future, PSLE students would not know their PSLE T-score. They would only know the banding of their subjects, just like the O and A levels.

While some teachers and parents interviewed by the media praised this measure as reducing stress, I do not think it is effective in reducing stress to the general school population. While it is true that with this change, students need not to be so obsessed in chasing the one mark which could make a difference in their T-score, it does not change the fundamental reasons why there is stress. The real reason of stress is competition to enter brand name secondary schools. As long as this competition is not removed, there will be stress.

Reserved places for P1 Admission

Another change is that every primary school in Singapore will now be required to set aside at least 40 places, or between 10 and 15 per cent of their enrolment, for children with no prior connection to the school. Subsequently, MOE announced that the places will go to Phases 2B and 2C.

These changes don’t seem to have any impact in many schools. Of course that being said, many schools don’t have lots of parents trying to get in. Some of the more popular schools will be affected as there will probably be less spaces in the earlier phases. However, these students who did not get in the earlier phases might join in in 2B and 2C instead. Therefore, while there is a higher possibility that children with no connection with the school might be able to enter, it is not a guarantee.

In conclusion, the government has tweaked certain policies to make it seem somewhat fairer, like the reserved spaces for P1 Admission. However, alumni still get priority. Some changes are great and the government should be given credit for them. The Extended Edusave accounts and the increased number of DSA places are great schemes. So is the removal of T-score in PSLE. It does not remove stress completely, but it does reduce it. Removing stress completely is silly and unrealistic, if you ask me.

The government has made good steps in its education policies. The government can do more and we will address this issue in our future blog post.

Bloom’s Taxonomy – A better way to learn

Our CAL2 methodology is based on Bloom’s Taxonomy. We believe that the success of a student’s learning is reflective of the quality of the teacher, as well as a effective teaching pedagogy and that’s why we use it. Interestingly, the Dean of the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore mentions that Duke-NUS uses Bloom’s Taxonomy in their teaching as well. Read More…

RG Channel Future School is in SmartKids Asia!

On 15-17th March 2013, RG Channel Future School will be at SmartKids Asia, the World’s Largest Educational Kid’s Fair.

Join us for our Free Trial Class on 15th March from 1.30 – 2pm, or come get a free assessment for your child.

We also have goodie bag giveaways and a special “25% discount for life” during the fair!

We can’t wait to see you there!