CRPP’s Life Pathways Project looks into the overall life and well-being of young people in Singapore
It is easy to tell when someone is proud of their work. And the Panel 6 team from the Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice (CRPP) is definitely no exception.
Described as “the first project of its kind in the history of educational research in Singapore” by CRPP Dean David Hogan, who is also one of the project’s principal investigators, Panel 6 (or the Life Pathways Project) is a massive 4-year study on how schools in Singapore are contributing not only to academic but to the overall life and well-being of our young people.
Definitely a daunting task given that it deals with questions about schooling which are never easily answered: Are students prepared for new labour market? How do they see themselves in Singapore society? What are their life goals beyond doing well in school?
Two years on, and more than 100 schools and 30,000 students down the road, SingTeach talks to the project’s co-principal investigator Assistant Professor Trivina Kang and lead Research Associate Melvin Chan about where Panel 6 is now.
Doing well, being well
Panel 6’s research is rooted in a philosophy about schooling and education that we all know well – that there is more to life in school than getting good grades.
“Going to school, getting good grades might allow one to get qualifications, get a job to provide for oneself, but that’s just one aspect of what schooling is about,” says Trivina. “There are many non-academic aspects of schooling that are just as important. Schooling affects students in ways that go beyond grades or subject mastery. It builds capacities, dispositions and skills in social, civic and psychological domains as well, and this needs to be explored.”
This is why, for the Panel 6 team, questions such as how students develop a sense of self, develop identities, relate to others and view citizenship are as important as what influences them to perform well in examinations. These questions provide insights into important qualities that students need to possess as they find their place in economy and society, especially as the pressures of today’s globalised world continue to grow.
In order to help schools develop these skills among their students, Panel 6 aims to provide information on how young people in Singapore perceive themselves in terms of their life skills and aspirations while monitoring how these perceptions change over time. The study’s methodology is what Trivina jokingly calls an “administrative jungle”, as researchers have to deal with multiple forms, multiple schools, and a staggering number of students from three cohorts (Primary 4, Secondary 2 and post-secondary).
In a series of surveys administered every year, these students report their own strengths and weaknesses on a wide range of scales that attempt to capture different aspects of their life experiences. “For example, from our findings, we know that students generally think they’re good at collaborative work, work well in teams and are orientated towards lifelong learning,” explains Trivina. “But they also report that they’re not so good in things like time management, persistence or orientation towards competition.”
While critics might consider survey data inadequate in understanding how students make sense of their lives, the Panel 6 team feels that that such broad descriptions do provide a broad first-cut picture of how students think about their lives, their goals and capabilities.
“I think such descriptive data is useful because for the first time, we get to see how students perceive themselves on a wide range of outcomes measures. This is not just the view of one student but of thousands,” says Trivina. “With longitudinal data, down the road we will be able to provide more information about how these perceptions change, and what influences their change. This will definitely provide a more comprehensive picture than what we have now.”
“To some extent, I think teachers have their own suspicions about what’s happening in the classroom,” adds Melvin, “but they don’t really have evidence to back that up. Through our research, I hope they will have more confidence in fine-tuning their pedagogies in school.”
Making school meaningful
While Panel 6 has another year to go before the study’s conclusion, preliminary analysis has already brought about some interesting results. One such discovery is the relationship between student voice (students saying that they have opportunities to speak up/express themselves in class) and the possession of new economic capacities (as reflected by some of the scales in the survey, e.g., lifelong learning, collaborative learning, adaptability).
“Although we need to explore this further, preliminary data suggests that allowing students to give opinions in class is linked to the development of other capacities and life skills,” explains Melvin.
Initial findings also show that when asked how important a list of 33 life goals are to students, the most important appear to be goals that are existential in nature (e.g., being able to chose the kind of life to lead, having a sense of achievement) together with goals that pertain to the family (i.e., supporting their parents, getting married and having children).
Surprisingly, consumer goals like buying new gadgets or clothes, or being viewed as “cool” or popular in school are near the bottom of the list. “What we’re hearing from students is that what is most important to them is the ability to able to lead the kind of lives they want, and this doesn’t necessary entail students abandoning ‘traditional’ values that are related to filial piety,” says Trivina.
Currently, the Panel 6 team is in the process of conducting the last round of surveys in schools. For Melvin and Trivina, the following months will be a time to finally discover the research study’s implications, not only for students and teachers but for the rest of society as well.
“In the new workforce, people have to be able to manage relationships with others under different circumstances,” says Melvin. “Where do students actually learn these skills? Can the school actually teach them these skills? Are certain things that happen in school influencing such development? This has been what Panel 6 has been investigating.”
But beyond contributing to the economy, Panel 6 provides us an important reminder about the broader purpose of school. Says Trivina, “If we desire to provide students schooling experiences that make going to school meaningful on a broader existential level, we need to consider what students are telling us and think hard about how and what schools can leverage on in order to enhance the overall learning experience for all.”
> Panel 6 is part of CRPP’s Core Research Program.