How we can learn better in schools with OPPi

January 11, 2021

Hands-on learning, collaborative discussions and a laptop for every student. This is what a future-ready classroom looks like. But how exactly do these elements aid learning and how are they a step up from the status quo?

Firstly, let’s take a closer look at the new norm in education today — home-based learning.

In 2017, the Ministry of Education (MOE) rolled out the Student Learning Space (SLS), an online learning portal that allows all students to have equal access to quality curriculum-aligned resources. Though it was a positive step towards inclusivity and further levelling the point of access to education, it was not until the rise of home-based learning happened in the midst of COVID-19 did the foresight of the government prove to be effective.

However, the system isn’t without its flaws. This approach is a lot more isolating than physical lessons held in class, and also places an unsaid pressure on students to initiate learning independently and to manage their time and space at home, where class is now held. Not every student has the luxury of having their own room or computer to study remotely, and they are the ones that will fall through the cracks of such a system.

The pandemic has pushed physical classes online, onto platforms like Zoom, but are virtual connections an adequate substitute for physical interaction?

So how then can we address these problems while still embracing the inevitable future of online learning? A good way to start is by emphasising values of community, care and empathy. Aside from teachers, parents and school staff, we should also pay attention to the interpersonal relationships and inclusivity between students themselves, and guide them towards the acceptance of alternative points of view.

Naturally, this demands an open-mindedness — one that is not unlike what our schools aim to inculcate. This open-mindedness will help push us to reinvent the practices, pedagogies and power dynamics within a classroom. What will students achieve if they are returned the power to be agents and directors of their own learning? What will happen if we hold conversations in ways that bring out the nuances of any given topic or speaker?

Creating a space that regenerates and energises falls not on the shoulders of learners and educators alone, but the culture and structures that pervade the system. After all, learning cannot be forced, it can only be facilitated.

Let’s take a typical junior college Project Work (PW) class for instance. According to the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) latest syllabus, “PW is a learning experience which aims to provide candidates with the opportunity to synthesise knowledge from various areas of learning, and critically and creatively apply it to real life situations”. Essentially, PW sees pre-assigned groups of four to five students working together to identify a problem, come up with a solution for said problem, deliver an oral presentation on their proposed solution, complete a full written report on their project and submit a written reflection at the end of it all.

And all of this is crammed into a mere 28 weeks.

Through Project Work, the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board aims to impart skills of collaboration, communication and independent learning in students.

Given that the project is mainly hypothetical and carried out through written and verbal means, how do we ensure that initial discussions held within each group are meaningful and relevant to society or communities at large?

This is exactly where OPPi comes in — to democratise the classroom and nurture students in a participative manner; to have them play with the connections in everything they learn, harnessing that and perceiving the world around them with new eyes.

Say a particular community is identified, and a number of problems that this community faces is raised in a PW class through an OPPi poll. For every two groups in the class, solutions to a single issue can be discussed in the style of a debate. Each group is randomly assigned a stance (i.e. either for or against), and ideas can be bounced off each other in front of the class.

Throughout this back and forth discussion, the remaining groups are free to share their own thoughts through the OPPi poll, or to just show their support for either side by responding to the given statements. These discussions will reveal distinct points of view and allow students to have their turn at perspective-taking and crafting opposing perspectives. This would in turn encourage students to really listen to alternative viewpoints with the intent to understand as opposed to merely shutting them down, building empathy and critical thinking in participants.

After these discussions, both students and teachers will get to see the nuances of the class through OPPi’s decision matrix. They’ll not only discover what tribe of thought they fall under, but also get the chance to see for themselves where their differences end and similarities in thought begin. They will also then get to start important conversations with each other by raising questions and clarifying their thought processes within the class or their groups, and ultimately reach the sweet spot of a common consensus, which is where the most meaningful PW topic will surface for each group.

At the end of the day with OPPi, we want to create a safe space — a space where tough conversations can be shared openly, and where students have full reign of their actions and learning. A space where there is no right or wrong in any discussion, and where every point of view is respected and heard. A space that unites anyone and everyone, and where the future of learning begins.

So do we have your attention yet? If so, you can find out more about what we mean here.

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