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What skills do primary school students need to develop, in order to be great learners and future changemakers?
In the past, it was perfectly acceptable to set developmental goals around exams. For example, time management was viewed within the context of breaking down revision tasks before exams, or being able to complete an exam paper within an allotted time. Reading widely was thought to be necessary for writing better compositions and being well-informed during oral assessments. A good memory was an asset, since there was plenty of faith in “model answers” that could be memorised for a higher test score.
But, as Singapore’s education system moves away from ranking students by grades, some parents may find it hard to cast aside old mindsets and ways. For one, there is an element of predictability involved in preparing kids for exams, especially when we have a thriving ecosystem of assessment book publishers, tutors, and enrichment centres to rely on. Preparing a child for the future is far more daunting, and requires one to pay attention to what’s happening in the world, maintain an open mind, and develop a keen eye for spotting growth opportunities.
Yet, if we want our children to thrive as adults, we will have to adapt to the world’s changing needs. Although no one can provide a roadmap for future success, there are guides that parents can refer to for ideas. Shortlist the skills that resonate with your personal beliefs, and make these a priority for your child. Read on to get started!
21st Century Competencies
One can begin by looking at core skills that, in the local context, are considered part of a holistic education. In particular, you can refer to the “21st Century Competencies,” highlighted by our Ministry of Education as being necessary for the globalised world that we live in.
- Civic Literacy, Global Awareness, and Cross-Cultural Skills: Students should be able to discuss Singapore’s history and socioeconomic development, and work with others from different cultural groups within and beyond Singapore.
- Critical and Inventive Thinking: Critical thinking is the ability to break down a problem or an idea into parts and analyse them, while inventive thinking is a mindset of looking at challenges in a positive way.
- Communication, Collaboration, and Information Skills: This includes the ability to explain complex ideas, gather information for problem-solving, and use technology to facilitate collaborations.
Interested in how these skills are being taught in our local schools? This newsletter for local educators is a good read.
You can also take your cue from the World Economic Forum, which has identified critical characteristics for high-quality learning in the Fourth Industrial Revolution:
- Global citizenship skills: Having an awareness about the wider world and sustainability, and envisioning one’s active role in the global community.
- Innovation and creativity skills: This includes complex problem-solving, analytical thinking, creativity, and systems analysis.
- Technology skills: Digital skills, including programming, digital responsibility, and the use of technology.
- Interpersonal skills: Interpersonal emotional intelligence, including empathy, cooperation, negotiation, leadership and social awareness.
- Collaboration skills: This includes active listening and conflict resolution skills, as well as respect for diversity.
- Lifelong and independent learning skills: One needs to shift from a mindset where learning decreases over one’s lifespan, to one where there is a desire to continually improve on existing skills, and acquire new ones based on individual needs.
Science-Backed Learning Skills
Decades ago, highlighting and rereading were considered sound study skills, but we now know better. There is a wealth of information available about learning strategies that actually work, and as parents, we should tune in. Teaching our children to be effective learners will help them to maximise their time and energy, and they will have more bandwidth for non-academic pursuits as well.
Here are some research-backed learning strategies that you should get to know:
- Spaced practice: Learning a new concept over several sessions, instead of in a single session.
- Retrieval practice: Cementing the learning process through the act of retrieving information, e.g. by using flashcards or working on practice tests.
- Elaborative interrogation: This is a process of questioning what you learn, in order to develop a better understanding of new material, and to connect new concepts to prior knowledge.
- Interleaved practice: This is about switching between topics and ideas, and an example of “interleaved practice” would be working on a sample exam paper. The main justification for interleaved practice is that it improves the brain’s ability to distinguish between concepts, because one isn’t relying on a rote response.
- Make connections to reality: Asking the question “how does this apply in real life” and coming up with concrete examples to illustrate abstract concepts helps one to better understand and retain information.
- Dual coding: This refers to bringing together words and visuals to aid learning and retention.