Senior Manager of Education at Resorts World Sentosa, Mr Gavin Lee, promotes bilingualism in his line of work on a daily basis. He gives us a brief insight into his work at the resort’s S.E.A. Aquarium and The Maritime Experiential Museum, and how setting the context of bilingualism is important for a learner.
The S.E.A. Aquarium – a large aquarium featuring over 1,000 species of marine life in a variety of habitats, and the The Maritime Experiential Museum – a museum featuring maritime artifacts and history, are two main attractions under Resorts World Sentosa (RWS).
Both these attractions fall under the purview of the Education team at RWS.
What kind of role does the Education team play at RWS, and how does Gavin fit the bill in heading the department?
“I was with the Ministry of Education (MOE) for a long time,” shares Gavin, who was a primary school teacher before he was posted to MOE’s Curriculum Planning and Development Department (CPDD) for a stint as part of his post-graduate scholarship.
“I gave inputs on the curriculum while I was there, and also helped with a couple of the Information Technology (IT) initiatives they were doing at the time,” he shares. Gavin then completed his Master in English Education and his last posting was at the English Language Institute of Singapore (ELIS).
During his time in ELIS, Gavin took up a part-time Master of Business Administration (MBA) course. Upon completion of his MBA and armed with years of education experience, Gavin joined RWS to head the Education team and has been there for more than a year and a half.
“A positive trend that we see is that there is an increasing number of language teachers trying to create their own learning materials. They also leverage on our attractions to design activities for their bilingual learning journeys.”
– Gavin Lee, Senior Manager of Education at Resorts World Sentosa
Bilingual Content for the Attractions
Gavin leads the Education team in developing programmes and activities for the S.E.A. Aquarium and The Maritime Experiential Museum.
“We develop bilingual content and activities as part of our educational initiatives. These programmes are tailored not just for schools, but corporate organizations as well,” says Gavin.
The team also develops content and activities for festive events such as Chinese New Year, Halloween and Christmas.
A large part of their work involves creating content for the galleries at both attractions that comprise visuals and facts, both scientific and observational. The content has to be developed bilingually due to a large proportion of Chinese-speaking visitors to the attractions.
Aligning the Programmes with the Curriculum
“When guests visit the aquarium, they will naturally learn about marine science and ocean conservation,” explains Gavin.
Thus, the team tries to align their content with MOE’s Science syllabus as much as possible. One example would be the topic of adaptation of animals which is part of the primary school Science curriculum.
“We then teach the students about adaptations of marine animals,” Gavin says.
When the team develops a programme, it is usually trialed internally with team members. “Usually it’s quite successful,” remarks Gavin.
“This year, we also aligned the programmes with other syllabi such as the education and career guidance (ECG) syllabus,” he shares. During ECG learning journeys at S.E.A. Aquarium, employees from S.E.A. Aquarium talk to upper primary and secondary students about possible careers at the attraction.
The team has also started working with teachers on the subject of Elements of Business Skills, where the attractions are used as examples and case studies to teach the subject.
Collaborating on Mother Tongue Learning Journeys
“A positive trend that we see is that there is an increasing number of language teachers trying to create their own learning materials,” enthuses Gavin. “They also leverage on our attractions to design activities for their bilingual learning journeys.”
One recent example that Gavin shares is of a Tamil teacher who approached him requesting to conduct a bilingual activity at the then-newly reopened The Maritime Experiential Museum.
“The teachers came down and took photos of the exhibits in our museum which are mostly accompanied by English interpretives,” explains Gavin.
These photos were then uploaded to iPads which the students brought around the museum. When they had successfully identified the photos of artifacts, they translated the English descriptive content to Tamil.
“We see that teachers are making the effort to make mother tongue lessons more fun and interactive,” says Gavin. “Even preschool teachers are getting onboard – they would take the time to prepare simple handouts in Chinese for the children as they walk through S.E.A. Aquarium.”
Setting the Context for Effective Learning
It is useful to create an interactive and engaging environment for language learning. A scenario or context could be given to make language learning more interesting and meaningful.
Gavin feels that it is useful to create an interactive and engaging environment for language learning. A scenario or context could be given to make language learning more interesting and meaningful.
“During my schooling days, it was all about memorizing Chinese idioms and phrases for the exams,” reflects Gavin. “Now, the focus is on moving towards an immersive environment of learning with more hands-on activities.”
For example, students can be asked to form sentences based on a context or scenario, such as marine animals eating plastic straws.
“Some preschool teachers will then ask the students to create sea turtles made out of craftwork,” says Gavin. “This brings the topic alive for the students.”
However, Gavin also cautions that language teachers ought to be aware of their students’ language proficiency. “You can’t give tasks that stretch them too much or use words that are too complex and difficult for them,” he explains.
“It has to be pitched at their level,” he adds.
By knowing their students’ language ability in terms of vocabulary and their cognitive academic language proficiency, teachers will then be able to repackage their teaching in a way that their students can understand, describes Gavin.
Other than reading and writing, another word of advice Gavin has for language teachers is not to neglect the students’ listening skills. “Don’t use words in your language that the students do not understand,” Gavin shares.
Teachers should be conscious and mindful of their own language use, so that they can engage the students and at the same time, reflect on their practice.