When rote-learning can no longer promise success, or be relied on to meet the new expectations of the 21st century, we know it’s time to challenge those prized model answers.
A different approach that might just yield better results in today’s context, is one that fosters a spirit of inquiry, nurtures critical thinking skills, encourages strong communication skills and develops resilience in problem-solving. We are talking about an inquiry-based learning (IBL) approach.
IBL isn’t a new concept or pedagogical approach. It rides on the belief that everyone is innately curious.
For instance, infants turn towards voices to discover sounds, grasp things to discover texture. Adults push boundaries and create new inventions through experiments; improve living by questioning the status quo.
Likewise, children are a curious bunch. They love to ask questions, sometimes incessantly – and an inquiry-based approach precisely harnesses this spirit of investigation.
Their ideas and interests mark where a meaningful learning process starts, for both academic content, as well as life skills much needed in the 21st century – critical thinking, the ability to communicate ideas clearly, team-play and problem solving.
Understanding the need for your child to acquire these skills isn’t all. Getting her into a good IBL-focused pre-school is where you get started. If you are still hazy about how IBL works, here are some useful facts that might address your concerns:
Myth #1: The absence of a structured curriculum means my child isn’t going to learn what she needs to learn.
Fact: Schools do track the child’s learning outcomes and developmental milestones, and all local pre-schools have to be registered with government agencies (ECDA, MOE). The difference is, IBL-focused pre-schools deliver the curriculum with flexibility.
Visualise this - instead of an instructor simply presenting facts and telling the children what to do, the teacher, in an IBL environment, piques the children’s interests through the use of provocations and questions, and facilitates discussions which may lead to more questions, motivating the children to think, to communicate, and to explore. Children are motivated to engage with these experiences, contribute more effectively and take ownership of their learning process.
Teachers are spontaneous, respectful and responsive in their approach, so they can support the children’s interests and develop their skills in the learning journey.
Good pre-schools will also be able to set learning goals unique to every child because every individual develops differently. You will be comforted to know that your child is learning what she needs, when she needs it.
Myth #2: It’s difficult to track my child’s progress as there are no worksheets or tests.
Fact: Tests and worksheets aren’t the only way to keep track of your child’s development. Work samples, journal entries, photo narratives, video files documenting the child’s thinking, language development, social skills amongst others are a more meaningful way of tracking your child’s progress. (They are certainly more interesting to go through too!)
By encouraging children to pen meaningful entries in a dedicated journal, write a letter to their family members, or draw up a shopping list in a pretend play environment, they are motivated to express themselves in a fun and enjoyable way. In the process, they learn about different forms of writing, pick up literacy skills and learn language through a “whole language” approach with a focus on building their vocabulary. This method really beats filling out worksheets on simple grammar rules which may thwart their interest in learning.
Myth #3: It will not adequately prepare my child for primary school or excel academically in future.
Fact: The education landscape is evolving – schools are gradually moving away from rote learning, towards application of knowledge and grooming critical thinkers.
In lieu of this, the IBL environment is one which discourages ‘spoon-feeding’, designed instead to help children build the confidence to express their own ideas.
Here, the teacher is a facilitator, observing, posing questions and guiding the child to arrive at her own conclusions. The child learns to be independent, apply her knowledge meaningfully and make inferences – these are valuable skills that will help your child thrive in the new environment when she progresses to primary school and hone her ability to answer upper primary comprehension questions later on.
Programmes like the International Baccalaureate (IB) and Integrated Programmes (IP) are also getting more popular - a reflection of tertiary institutions and 21st century employers trending towards recognising talents as holistic individuals.
The IB programme is a broad-based, holistic learning approach, while the IP allows students to proceed to JC without taking the GCE ‘O’ Level Examinations, so that time can be freed up to stretch students for greater breadth in both academic and non-academic curriculum.
Since IBL runs on the principles of nurturing the inquiring mind, sharing of opinions, fostering innovation and developing the child holistically, introducing your child to IBL from pre-school years will give your child a very strong foundation for academic success in the future.
Myth #4: IBL is not relevant in Singapore’s context.
Fact: IBL raises creative individuals and resilient problem-solvers. The Higher Order Thinking (HOT) concept pushes children to make meaningful connections and visualise beyond what is presented at face value. These HOT questions are also prevalent in the Primary School Mathematics syllabus which introduces children to Heuristics and Maths Word Problems.
They are certainly skills useful to your child not just in school, but at work and in life. They are relevant anywhere she goes.
Research indicates that what happens in pre-school and kindergarten is long lasting and powerful. The decision isn’t too hard if you just focus on preparing your child for the 21st century.
Fast-forward into the future, she will need the ability to think critically, assess her options and make sound decisions on her own. She will have the desire to learn and explore, and always be prepared to think out of the box. Uncertainty and challenges may appear daunting, but she will be resilient and find her way out. She knows what pertinent questions to ask, what relevant information to sieve out and she will be able to express her ideas effectively. She will be a discerning and responsible individual, caring for others in a diverse environment.
Now, back to present state, is the 21st century parent ready to take the leap of faith?