WELCOME ADDRESS BY PROFESSOR CHEONG HEE KIAT, PRESIDENT, SINGAPORE UNIVERSITY OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, AT THE 2022 SINGAPORE EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION CHINESE SYMPOSIUM, 10 SEPTEMBER
Guests and friends from the industry,
SUSS students and colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen.
Good afternoon to all! I am pleased to welcome you to the 6th Singapore Early Childhood Education Chinese Symposium.
The theme for this year’s symposium is: Turning challenges into opportunities: Rethinking early childhood education amid Covid-19.
According to a study by UNESCO, Covid-19 is not only a global health pandemic but is also a global crisis for education. The pandemic forced schools to close, and transit to home-based learning. In some places, there was no continuation of learning. Studies from the UN Sustainable Development Group showed that 1.5 billion children in over 180 countries had been affected. That is equivalent to about 90% of the world’s learners.
The pandemic has resulted in a steep learning curve not only for students, but also educators and parents. We had to make changes in a very short time. Schools had to pivot from traditional face-to-face teaching and learning to digital online remote learning. Many were not prepared for the switch. Educators were also under pressure to deliver effective pedagogy as well as come up with ways to engage and motivate their students online. Classroom dynamics changed; so also the interaction between teachers and students. Students found they had to do self-learning a lot more. Some were left out because they did not have suitable equipment for online learning or did not even have internet connectivity. With increased digital usage, some children’s mental and socio-emotional well-being were affected.
Thankfully, with every set of challenge, there were opportunities and innovations. For example, online classes became the catalyst of change. It expedited the process of enabling disadvantaged families and students to have access to computers and broadband networks, with help and donation coming from different quarters of society. It opened new ways of learning.
For instance, in the past online learning used to be more asynchronous. That is, content is delivered through recorded video lectures, online readings, and online assessments. Now, we see more of a blend of both asynchronous and synchronous teaching and learning, which allows for more social interaction among students, and smaller group exchanges for learning.
Yet another positive outcome is hygiene habits. Students learn to be more vigilant, wash their hands more frequently, wear a mask when unwell, and become more community-minded. International studies reveal that for students who were bullied in school or were shy to speak up, they fared better in online classes.
What about early childhood learning? How has ECE gained from the pandemic?
Well, I hope that early childhood educators will be thinking about the curriculum – what to teach, what else to emphasise, how to get children to be more adaptive and more importantly, think about the delivery of curriculum - how to teach better? Is the traditional way of instructing, testing and reviewing the best way for online teaching and digital education? How can we unlock the power of technology to transform pedagogy? How do we handle difficulties faced by children in remote learning or when the physical nurturing personal touch of the teacher is reduced? We cannot remain the same after the pandemic, practising the same methods, treating our children’s ability and attitude to learning in the same way.
In Singapore, we have pushed to improve our ECE curriculum and delivery amid the global pandemic by revising the Nurturing Early Learners (NEL) Framework. With focus on strengthening social and emotional competencies, the updated framework reinforces the importance of holistic development of children, and learning through purposeful play and quality interactions. At the same time, it gives more prominence on the importance of inculcating values, developing social and emotional skills, and nurturing positive behaviours towards learning. Preschool teachers are encouraged to incorporate these key aspects across their children's daily learning experiences.
There were five key revisions to the NEL Framework, which seeks to ensure continuity of high-quality care and development for children from infancy right through their preschool years. Three of the revisions are particularly relevant to our symposium today.
Key revision one is Building on our beliefs about children. It reflects our aspirations for the children, and our understanding of who children are, what they are capable of, and how they learn. It influences and shapes our classroom practices and interactions.
Key revision two focuses on foregrounding values, social and emotional competencies and learning dispositions. This review helps children build positive relationships, which form the basis for their development and learning. It also sets the stage for character building, lifelong learning and how children can live harmoniously with their family, friends, teachers and people in their community.
Key revision three is integrating the NEL Framework for Mother Tongue Language (MTL) with the NEL Framework, which promotes the study of MTL as it plays an important role in affirming a sense of cultural identity among Singaporeans, ensuring the transmission of cultural heritage and values between generations.
This updated NEL Framework is timely. It supports our belief that preschool education is not just a preparatory phase for primary school education. More importantly, preschool education enables the holistic development of young children, and lays the important foundation for lifelong learning. With preschool education made available to all our children, every child has the best springboard to develop and realise potential, enabling progress in every sector of our population, be this in terms of ethnicity, social or economic status, family circumstances, and so on. We must not leave out any child from these opportunities.
Today, I welcome two keynote speakers who will be sharing on rethinking ECE amid Covid-19. Professor Jiang Yong from East China Normal University will share on the topic of why cultural existentialism pedagogy should be incorporated into preschool education and how it can holistically engage the young learner to reflect on how knowledge is constructed within cultures. The other keynote speaker is Dr Ge Hui, CEO of 3&3 International Education Corp. Dr Ge will share with us how schools can provide support and resources to parents by incorporating online as well as off-line activities to allow their children to learn better at home.
We also have two “guest sharing”. One by Ms Wu Ying, Principal of Shanghai Putuo Yichuan Yicun Kindergarten, and another by Ms Xie Meng, Curriculum Specialist (Mandarin) from Eton House International Education Group. Ms Xie is also a SUSS student with our Master of Early Childhood Education (in Chinese) programme. Ms Wu will share her experience on revamping the curriculum to focus more on her students’ social and emotional competencies; while Ms Xie will provide a local context and experience on how her preschool turned challenges posed by Covid-19 into opportunities. I look forward to all their presentations.
During last year’s symposium, I mentioned how SUSS intends to be a thought leader in adult education and applied social sciences. Through our efforts in education and research, we aim to create impact in the practice space, as well as to be able to inform policies pertaining to enhancing social good. And this includes the education of children in their early years.
For the past year, Associate Professor Sin Joo Ee has been working on this open-access ECE Chinese journal titled Xin You Yue Bao, which will present the latest development and theories on ECE, international practical experiences and studies in preschool education. I am pleased to announce that the first issue of this e-journal on early childhood education will be launched today. We hope this publication will serve as a platform for Singapore preschool educators to learn, share, and communicate, to promote their professional development and improve the quality of preschool Chinese education in Singapore.
In closing, I’d like to encourage all of us to turn challenges presented by COVID-19 into opportunities for the ECE sector. ECE will continue to be an important social leveller in providing opportunities for every child. At SUSS, we remain committed to collaborate closely with the government and industry partners to provide quality learning for practitioners to upskill and uplift the sector.
This event will not be possible without you, the attendees, for investing a precious part of your weekend with us! Let me also thank my colleagues from the Centre for Chinese Studies@SUSS, and SR Nathan School of Human Development for organising and bringing together this community today. I wish you a fruitful symposium with stimulating discussions, exchange of ideas and hopefully learn something new as well.