Perspectives: The Future of Learning

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Credit: CNA Panel members- Mr Naveen Menon (Partner & Head Communications, Media and Technology Practice (Asia Pacific), His Excellency Mr Scott Wightman (British High Commissioner to Singapore), Ms Jessica Tan Soon Neo (Managing Director, Microsoft Singapore), Dr. David Leat (Director, Research Centre for Learning and Teaching (CfLaT), Professor of Curriculum Innovation, Newcastle University (UK)), Dr. Tan Thiam Soon (President, Singapore Institute of Technology) and Mr. Teymoor Nabili, Presenter and Executive Editor of Channel NewsAsia Pic Credit: CNA

The fourth season of Channel NewsAsia’s (CNA) ‘Perspectives’ is ongoing and being presented by Newcastle University, UK. The CNA flagship discussion programme features weekly panel sessions focusing on various global issues including energy, economics, ageing and education. We from Biotechin.asia attended this week’s panel discussion “The Future of Learning” at the Singapore Institute of Technology (Dover) Auditorium.

The well rounded panel included international experts from education related fields. The panel members were Dr. David Leat (Director, Research Centre for Learning and Teaching (CfLaT), Professor of Curriculum Innovation, Newcastle University (UK)), Dr. Tan Thiam Soon (President, Singapore Institute of Technology), Mr Naveen Menon (Partner & Head Communications, Media and Technology Practice (Asia Pacific), A.T. Kearney), Ms Jessica Tan Soon Neo (Managing Director, Microsoft Singapore) and His Excellency Mr Scott Wightman (British High Commissioner to Singapore).

The key question posed to the panel was on the role of technology in shaping education and the rationale for including computer programming at early stages in schools universally. The panel foresee a future where computational skill will join reading and writing as essential skills. Early on, Mr Menon noted that education is one of the very few areas which has not faced any major ‘disruptions’ and later suggested that future strategies should focus on the three C’s- Content, Character and Competencies. Professor Tan said that, “Till now, the teacher was teaching different dots (of knowledge) to the children, and now they must train the children to connect the dots”.

Speaking on technology, Ms Tan commented on the supporting and enabling aspects of modern technology in education. She noted that technology promotes information accessibility but emphasized that technology is not a substitute for good pedagogy. She elaborated on how technology can help provide real time feedback to teachers so they can refine teaching style and pace in class.

Answering a question from the audience regarding teaching programming, she stressed that the motivation is not to make every student an expert programmer. Instead, the idea is to empower them with logical and analytical thinking skills that programming could provide, which will help them personally as well as academically, across disciplines.

One of the questions from the audience was about the potential for misuse of technology and the ability of technology to impart life skills to young learners. The panel unanimously agreed that high standards of values and morals must be at the heart of any educational paradigm and that authentic learning environments and teachers cannot be substituted.

Another question was on the implications of introducing new subjects such as programing and financial literacy and the resulting increased student work load and time constraints. Mr Wightman noted that new subjects do not necessarily have to be taught separately and that they could be integrated with existing subjects for a richer understanding. The panel agreed that subjects such as arts, literature and history do not have to be removed at the expense of computer classes and that it’s certainly possible to infuse these subjects with other disciplines.

Professor Leat emphasized that the future of learning relies on project based learning with community centred activities leading to students constructing authentic products. He also believes that the current assessment system has to be re-evaluated to reflect the changing times. He envisions an education system without a conspicuous divide between formal and informal learning. When asked about radical policy changes, he said, “Political will and bravery is needed for change in schools. Right now people have only moments of bravery and then it vanishes”.

We asked Professor Leat about the problem of being overwhelmed by the enormous and often contradictory accounts of information available on the internet and how to help learners use the internet productively. He believes that it is important to teach young students to be both critical and creative; to not believe everything they are told and that they have to be equipped with tools to become discerning learners.

Professor Tan stated that Singapore is highly committed to pushing the frontiers in education as the people are the country’s best resources. He cautioned that any disruptive changes should keep both current students as well as working individuals in mind given the long tail effect of making policy changes. He believes that the 21st century learner should be equipped to learn, un-learn and re-learn concepts to keep up with the changing times.

Summary:

  1. Importance of technology in providing real-time learning feedback, improving information accessibility and promoting collaborative learning
  2. Advantages of acquiring computational thinking at an early age in developing logical and analytical thinking
  3. The need for project based learning with scope for engagement with community in real environments
  4. Caution in making drastic educational policy changes so as to not disadvantage graduates
  5. The need to preserve and foster creativity, promote critical thinking and self-directing learning