Tech Me to School

What the tech revolution means to parents

You know your IM from iN2015. You have a family blog, and you play Warcraft like a pro (almost). So you think you’re tech-savvy? Your kids are light years ahead, riding on a technological supernova in schools.

All around the island, educational institutions are harnessing the power of IT for everyday tasks like homework, as well as ground-breaking projects.

Take, for instance, Fuhua Primary, which has used Pocket PCs (PDAs or Personal Digital Assistants) and Flashloggers (integrated data logging systems) to promote an inquiry-based approach in the learning of science.

It started with the Primary 5 and 6 cohorts in 2004 and extended it to the Primary 3 and 4 cohorts last year. The pay-off: it gave pupils more time to plan and design experiments, as well as analyse data.

Meanwhile, pupils at Hong Kah Primary School publish their learning journals online at a blog site (www.multiply.com). “Blogging adds value to the learning process as pupils are captivated by the new form of writing and communication,” says Leslie Lai, the school’s IT head, in an article published on the Ministry of Education’s website.

“Pupils also make use of the online discussion tools that are available on the website to discuss topics posed by the teachers.”

Students in River Valley High, Monks Hill Secondary, Crescent Girls’ and Catholic High have access to tablet PCs so they can study in a digital classroom environment and download information from the Internet wherever they may be. They are part of the BackPack.NET Pilots and Trials initiative (a strategic collaboration between IDA and Microsoft).

And early this year, Anglican High bought 5 SMART Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) — a tool that combines a projector, computer and whiteboard, and which operates much like a touch-screen device.

Jimmy Tan, the school’s science teacher and IWB coordinator, says this means students are no longer passive learners. “Students are able to learn better and faster. It changes the dynamics of the entire class,” he says.

The future of school
Expect even more changes in the next nine years. In June, the government unveiled Intelligent Nation 2015, or iN2015 — a 10-year, multi-billion dollar infocomm masterplan to transform Singapore into an Intelligent Nation and Global City by 2015.

Its plans for homes and schools include:

 

  • At least 90 per cent of homes will have broadband access (up from 54 per cent now)
  • Every household with school-going children, no matter how poor, should have a computer with Internet access.Students will have anytime, anywhere connectivity and access to digital resources
  • 15 to 20 per cent of schools will be designated as Experimental Schools, which will try out innovations applications in teaching.
  • Another five per cent will be Schools of the Future, leading the technology charge.Does IT work?
    But how have parents reacted to the fast-paced changes? “It’s almost like something out of a science fiction novel… at least the ones I read during my childhood days,” laughs Cynthia Tan, a teacher in her 30s and mother of two preschoolers.Rita Tan, on the other hand, was impressed when her son’s Primary 4 form teacher set up a class website last year.”It allowed the students to put in their blogs, and used it to remind them of their daily homework. This also served as a tool for parents to monitor their children’s work and happenings in class,” says the 37-year-old brand manager.

    Now in Primary 5 at Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Primary School, Randal subscribes to a programme developed by LEAD, which is recommended by the school for supplementary/enrichment purposes. LEAD, or Learning EDvantage is a company that develops and provides e-learning solutions like Digital Textbooks, e-programmes and –syllabuses.

    “He’s now a more confident learner, particularly since refresher and quick reference materials are also more readily available,” says Rita, who has a younger son aged three.

    Angela Quek,  whose sons are in Primary 3 and 6 at St Andrew’s Junior School, also thinks IT has helped her kids learn. “My children do not really like to read books. But when it’s on the computer, they have no problem reading and searching for more information. My older boy, Mathias, is also able to do simple class presentations using  PowerPoint.

    “During the June and December school holidays, the school will usually give out a ‘Holiday Homework Package’ for every level. It’s usually printed worksheets. But they are required to go to the Internet to search for answers. It keeps them occupied during the holidays.”

    The statistics bear her out. The Ministry Of Education’s Evaluation of Implementation of Masterplan for IT in Education Report 2001 showed that more than two-thirds of the pupils surveyed agreed that “the use of IT increases their knowledge”.

    But while technology is fast becoming an intrinsic part of school, it is ultimately only a tool. Rita says, “Honestly, [e-learning] has not had much effect on my son’s academic performance in school.  Tuition and assessment books are, by far, still the most effective tools.”

    Those who will succeed in the 21st century are those who can “learn, unlearn, and relearn”, said futurist Alvin Toffler. To this end, teachers and parents still have an important role to play in developing the ‘heartware’ of the 21st century child – the EQ and CQ factors that determine true winners in life.