The recent Teachers’ Conference 2019 identified two key strands that are of particular relevance to educators today: designing holistic education and enacting innovative pedagogies. Deputy Director-General of Education (Professional Development) Mrs Chua-Lim Yen Ching tells us more about the focus of the conference and the benefits of bringing our local teaching fraternity together over the three-day teacher-led event.
As we continue our march into the 21st century, how is education evolving? For one, education is no longer defined solely by grades. Education needs to address an individual’s social and emotional capabilities as well – key competencies that will determine one’s success in life. Teachers also now play a crucial role in nurturing a lifelong love for learning in their students.
As Minister for Education Mr Ong Ye Kung mentioned during his opening address at the conference: “What we are seeing is that the mentality of competing for even higher scores in even more tests and examinations is giving way to a new movement to take a balanced approach in teaching and assessments, and bring about greater joy of learning.”
As such, it is timely that the ninth running of the Teachers’ Conference focuses on the theme of Maximizing Learning: Engage. Collaborate. Innovate. which reinforces the teaching fraternity’s emphasis on student-centric education.
Engaging Learners in the Age of Disruption
“As we face an increasingly uncertain future moving forward, the acquisition of knowledge alone is insufficient,” Mrs Chua-Lim Yen Ching, who is also Executive Director at the Academy of Singapore Teachers, shares. “Key competencies such as collaboration, communication skills, cultural awareness as well as critical and analytical thinking skills will become very important to students.”
In his keynote address, Professor Maurice Elias from Rutgers University stressed the importance of understanding how the education system is evolving to a full and explicit integration of social-emotional learning, and its connection to character, achievement and citizenship goals. (Read more about his keynote address in the article “Social-Emotional Learning: The Foundation of Future Success” in this issue.)
Mrs Chua notes that, “Teachers should be more aware of the key role they play in their interaction with students and in motivating them to learn. They should think of new ideas that can resonate with our learners.”
In line with these goals, the conference also highlights innovative and effective pedagogies. Providing teacher-participants with a greater insight into how innovation plays a part in education, the second keynote speaker Ms Janet Ang, who recently retired as Vice-President of IBM Asia-Pacific, addressed the issue of disruptive technology and how this disruption should fuel and drive us to innovate. She shared about how teachers can use technology to harness pedagogy in the classroom.
However, Mrs Chua cautions that “pedagogy is what drives technology, and not the other way round”.
She explains further: “While technology strives to build first class robots, as teachers, we must strive to build first-class humans. Values such as compassion and empathy as well as human relationships cannot be automated. A machine can give you the facts and information but human communication and social relationships are a different kind of connection.”
“While technology strives to build first-class robots, as teachers, we must strive to build first-class humans. Values such as compassion and empathy as well as human relationships cannot be automated. A machine can give you the facts and information but human communication and social relationships are a different kind of connection.”
– Mrs Chua, on the importance of engaging and connecting with students
Nurturing a Growth Culture
With about 3,900 participants (for both the Pre-Conference and Main Conference from 27 to 29 May 2019), TC2019 provides a platform for teachers to collaborate and synergize their efforts at the school and system level.
When teachers come together to learn in a group, the level of professional discourse is higher than when they learn as individuals. It can also strengthen the collegial culture of continual learning and improvement among teachers.
“It is important for our educators to see the nexus between theory and practice. For such a conference, it is not enough to just impart the skillset, it is also an opportunity for us to look into our teachers’ mindsets and see how we can develop our professional expertise,” Mrs Chua explains.
She is heartened to learn that at the last Teachers’ Conference in 2016, the teacher-participants had requested for more teacher-led concurrent sessions and so, this year, the number was increased from 79 to 126 sessions. This year, ExCEL Fest was merged with TC2019 and this also means that there were approximately 60 exhibition booths, with two-thirds of them related to teaching and learning, while the rest were about enhancing work processes.
“The conference encourages teacher participants to take an active role in developing their professional learning. Maximizing learning does not just apply to students, but to teachers as well,” Mrs Chua emphasizes.
Learning, Re-Learning and Applying New Skills
When asked what she hopes teacher-participants would benefit from the conference, Mrs Chua shares: “The success of a conference doesn’t just lie on what teachers have learnt, but what and how they have applied what they learnt into their classrooms.”
Due to the changing education landscape and how students learn differently today as compared to many years ago, it also becomes increasingly important for teachers to be able to design and enact new and innovative pedagogies. As such, Mrs Chua encourages teachers to remain open and be adaptable in terms of teaching strategies, especially when teaching students with different profiles. It is also important, she adds, for teachers to reflect on what they have done right and how they can improve, and whether their students have realized their potential.
“If we love our students and love the teaching profession, we will always continue to learn and become better teachers,” she adds. While there may have been a number of recent changes in the education landscape today, Mrs Chua is confident that one thing will remain constant–the mission and passion of every educator to help each student realize his/her greatest potential.