Channel News Asia 26 September 2008 – Primary school students in Singapore will soon get more space to learn and play, as the Ministry of Education (MOE) will move all the 179 primary schools into a single—session structure in a few years’ time.
This may also lead to another 25 schools being built.
Currently, four in 10 primary schools operate in single sessions. The rest are either partial single—session or double—session schools.
In a double—session school, Primary 1, 3 and 5 students would normally have classes in the afternoon while Primary 2, 4 and 6 students have classes in the morning.
In partial single—session schools, Primary 1 and 2 students have their classes in the afternoon while Primary 3 to 6 students are taught in the morning. This arrangement frees up some space for the latter to have enrichment activities in the afternoon.
Still, double—session and partial single—session schools find it challenging to conduct CCAs when they have to keep noise levels down because other pupils are having lessons. The lack of space also means they have limited time to use a classroom as they have to give way to another class for lessons.
So the MOE plans to have all its primary schools operate in single sessions in a few years’ time.
In a single—session school like Bukit View Primary, teachers will have more flexibility to plan timetables.
Jenny Law, principal of Bukit View Primary School, said: “The teachers don’t have to share classrooms, so the classroom is their kingdom! They can use it as and when they like, for extra learning activities, for remedial lessons, to have one—on—one interaction with the children.”
“And they can teach the children to really take care of the environment. So if you go to the classrooms, you can see that the children are really proud of their classrooms and their displays,” she added.
The change to single session may mean longer school hours for the kids. But some of that additional time will be spent on co—curricular activities. These are currently not compulsory in primary schools, but the MOE believes exposing children to activities like mini—tennis can improve their teamwork and leadership skills.
Above all, Education Minister Ng Eng Hen said, it is about retaining the joy of learning.
“Children should enjoy school and learn through play. Our children must grow up to be confident young people. They must be secure in their own identity, be able to form their own opinions, and communicate well to convince others,” he said at the MOE Work Plan Seminar on Thursday.
“We should guard against single—session schools becoming full—day schools with a heavier workload for students. That’s not the aim at all. It’s not more time to do work, but it allows you more time and space to more fully develop the child,” he added.
To help families pay for enrichment programmes, the government will spend more on the education funds of primary and secondary students.
From January 2009, primary students will get $200 per year in their Edusave Accounts, up from $180 currently, while secondary school students will get $240, up from $220.
MOE will also lift the existing age cap so that all secondary school students may be eligible for Edusave, regardless of age.
This will allow students who join school late or who take a longer time to complete their secondary studies access to the additional financial support.
With the changes, comes the need for more facilities and teachers. The MOE has set up a committee to study the details.
Called the Primary Education Review Implementation Committee, it is headed by Senior Minister of State for Education, Grace Fu. More details are expected in a few weeks’ time.
One plan is that from 2015, all new teachers will have to be graduates. This is in line with the expansion of university places to 30 per cent of each cohort by then.
MOE now recruits teachers from the top 30 per cent of each cohort.
The proportion of graduates has increased over the last few years, and some teachers have also got their degrees in—service.
Currently, 69 per cent of primary school teachers and 92 per cent of secondary school teachers have degrees.
But Dr Ng acknowledged that there are many good teachers in the present system who are diploma—holders, and that existing schemes to recruit A—level and diploma—holders for certain subjects, and to help them obtain degrees, will continue.
But he added that “the quality of the education system cannot exceed the quality of its teaching force. (…) As more of our diploma graduates and our university cohort participation rate increase to 30% in 2015, we should be able to recruit all teachers with a degree in primary schools.”
Lim Lan Chin, principal of Seng Kang Primary School, said: “With the tertiary exposure, they will be having enhanced training and exposure to pedagogies, to subject matters, at a deeper level. (But) We will not just look at qualifications, but we will tie in with attributes, whether they are suitable to be teachers.”
The MOE will also beef up its pool of allied educators, from 600 now to 2,800 by 2016. These include education associates, special needs officers and full—time school counsellors.
They will also receive competitive pay scales and more advancement opportunities.