Thursday, March 11, 2010

Let's hear it for art, music and PE!

I gave a little cheer when I read the headlines of yesterday's Straits Times: "Schools to develop 'soft skills' - Greater emphasis to be placed on physical education, art and music"

I can't provide a link as the online articles are deleted weekly and the full article is too long to post here. But for those who didn't read it, here's a condensed version reproduced from Straits Time online:

Focus on soft-skills

SCHOOLS will emphasise more on soft-skills such as creativity, innovation and global awareness to prepare students for work in a fast-changing and technologically advanced world.

The Ministry of Education on Tuesday announced that such skills will be stepped up through a range of strategies such as assessing them through project work other than pen and paper tests, increasing opportunities for co-curricular activities, more time for physical education lessons and placing greater importance on music and the arts.

The Ministry recognises that PE teaches student important life skills like team work and resilience and it will increase the time for PE lessons for Primary 1 and 2 pupils from 1.5 hours per week to 2 hours.

Primary 3 to 6 pupils will also attend 2.5 hours of PE, from 1.5 hours now. Sec 1 to Sec 4 students will attend 2 hours of PE from 1 hours now. These changes will be implemented in phases.

All new art and music teachers will be trained to teach only music or art so that they can specialise in the subject and improve lessons.

I think it's a step in the right direction. I'd previously mentioned how the Singapore education system is too overly focused on academic subjects, especially at the primary school level. It's not just about the number of hours allocated to art, music and PE. Right now, these are already at the minimal level but yet, they are constantly being cannibalised for more academic time. I've lost count of the number of times my kids have complained to me, "no art today, the teacher used the period for maths."

I've also heard many, many anecdotes of parents who enthusiastically start their kids on art or music lessons but gradually replace them with extra tuition or enrichment classes instead. Like it or not, these are generally still considered peripheral and almost always the first to be sacrificed.

A friend of mine once made a poignant comment on my Facebook account, which I'm taking the liberty to paste here: "I loved music and PE when I was in school but of course, they're never "important". I read somewhere 'when we teach our kids to draw, we're teaching them to see; when we teach them music, we're teaching them to listen.' Creativity and imagination are , in my opinion, far more impt than being able to spit out facts in record speed."

Isn't that what we need really? Not more kids who can work out algebraic equations faster than a calculator but creative individuals who can see beyond the end of their noses and listen amidst the cacophony of sounds.

As for PE, Education Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen acknowledged that sports allow students to acquire physical fitness and values such as self-esteem, teamwork, fair play and a can-do spirit. He also agreed to a comment from an MP that sports should be for all, not just for athletes who can win medals.

Sounds familiar? I've made all these points before on my blog. BUT the fact that they're finally publicly acknowledged by the authorities can only be good news moving forward. Hopefully with art, music and PE formally given more importance in schools, teachers, parents and kids will come to see these as so much more than just peripherals.


Lilian said...

Definitely a step in the right direction. Hope they speed up implementation. School's mindsets need to change too, no cannibalising of subject time allowed! No one subject should be deemed more important than another.

monlim said...

Yeah, it's definitely good news. Like you, I hope the changes will be soon!

Anonymous said...

i really hope MOE will implement soon but i do see my kids' school taking steps to increase art/music lessons. Right now, all the P4 kids in my son's school is learning CHinese comic digital art for one term. My son is really enjoying the lessons, especially since art is his passion and the only subject he excels in. But i'm wondering if it will mean more supplementary lessons or worse, parents are expected to "make up" for loss in academic time. Mrs Cheng.

monlim said...

Mrs Cheng: Wow, comic digital art? That sounds v exciting! You're right though, with the decreased academic time, I'm sure the school will look to make up for it somehow, probably in the form of supplementary classes :/

Alice Law said...

Whao.. I hope Malaysian goverment would place more importance in promoting soft-skills too!

Perhaps just have to "dream on"... :(

monlim said...

Alice: Don't give up hope, I think most Asian countries are realising the importance of these skills so it might just happen yet :)

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