According to the World Economic Forum in 2022, “75 million current job roles may be displaced by the shift in the division of labour between humans, machines, and algorithms, while 133 million new job roles may emerge at the same time”.
It’s no longer about achieving the grades to get a ‘job for life’; education has to be focused on lifelong learning. Students need to learn new skills that will best prepare them for jobs which may not exist yet in our ever-changing world. And they need to have the skillset to continue learning from graduation through to retirement; they need to be capable of constantly adapting and constantly learning.
Unshackled from a single national curriculum, Singapore’s international schools have the freedom to redesign their curricula for the future. Here we look at the big changes happening now and in the future for Singapore’s students and ask educational leaders what we should (and could) expect from the classrooms of tomorrow.
As the World Economic Forum reported in 2020, “65% of children in primary schools today will work in jobs that don’t exist yet”. Today’s curriculum has to evolve to meet the demands of tomorrow. The old-fashioned methods of rote learning and basic recall of content are being replaced by inquiry and project-based learning, which encourages students to become independent workers, critical thinkers and problem-solvers.
While these teaching methods are not necessarily new, it is now more important than ever to engage students in deeper levels of thinking. John Ridley, Director of Learning at Tanglin Trust School, explains why.
“There has been a shift in emphasis in some parts of the curriculum but actually the keys to preparing students for the future are the same as they have always been at Tanglin. We have never been about 'teaching to the test'; our aim is for students to gain a deep understanding of important concepts and to be able to make connections between different elements of the curriculum.
“We have always stressed balance in our curriculum and pride ourselves on our holistic approach - so, no change here - but today this is even more important. All students will need that breadth of knowledge, skills and experience to help them navigate the modern world of work.”
Mr Ridley highlights three areas of the curriculum that have evolved quickly in recent years at Tanglin – life skills, research skills and technology.
“Our Lifeskills programme, which spans the whole three to 18 age range, is now based on a Positive Psychology model and supports students in harnessing their character strengths to build positive relationships (online and offline) and the resilience to flourish in the fast-paced, modern world.
“Research skills are not covered in a single programme but have become important in every subject, now that so much information is available online. Our Library team lead on this, teaching students how to evaluate different sources – being alert for bias and questioning the authors' authority. These skills are put to use in research projects of increasing scale and depth, culminating in an individual extended project completed by all our sixth form students over a 12-month period."
Tanglin is also engaging its students with evolving technology through courses in Information Technology, Coding, Media Technology and Design Technology, from Infant School through to Sixth Form; GCSE, IB and A Level courses are offered in these specialist areas.
Tanglin is one of many international schools across Singapore to be embracing change and offering a modern, progressive curriculum.
Describing itself as the School of the Future, GIIS SMART Campus is a ‘new generation’ school that was designed and built to offer skills-based interactive learning. There is a focus here on developing lifelong skills through initiatives such as a Global Student Exchange Programme between its different campuses and a Leadership Lecture Series.
GIIS SMART Campus Principal Melissa Maria says:
“In a 21st-century world, there is more demand for well-rounded students who demonstrate excellence in different skills, rather than students who excel in academics only. More emphasis is laid on skills such as communications, creative & critical thinking, and digital and global awareness.
"We understand the importance of problem-solving and critical thinking, and our students practice these skills by allowing them to play an active part in their learning. Thus, the students who can show a diverse set of skills are most well-prepared to be the leaders of tomorrow.”
Singapore American School has its sights set firmly on the future of education with several progressive project-based programmes and open-plan classrooms. A standout feature in the middle school experience is TRi-Time; similar to Google 20% Time or Genius Hour, this part of the school day is dedicated to independently working on a project of the student’s choice.
There’s also the option to complete a Quest project. This full-year, all-day, immersive programme encourages students to design, plan, and complete interest–based projects with the guidance of a teacher; it culminates with a project thesis paper and talk. The school explains:
“Being in Quest allows students to work at various job sites, make products, start businesses, conduct graduate-level academic research and pursue passions—all of which can help to differentiate a student in the college admissions process.”
There’s also been a steady rise in the number of bilingual programmes offered within international schools including SAS, Canadian International School, and One World International Schools. There are many advantages of learning a second language from a young age, which can help to build transferable skills for tomorrow’s workplace.
Huali Xiong, K-12 Principal for Chinese Language and Culture at Canadian International School, explains.
“Bilingualism gives young children huge social, linguistic and cognitive advantages over their peers. These include being more skilled at correcting errors in language meaning and grammar, reading at a higher level, thinking more creatively, understanding the concept of numbers earlier, superior visual problem-solving skills, being more tolerant towards people and cultures, and coping with change better.”
The future of education centres as much on what schools are teaching as how they teach. So, what is the future of the curriculum? Some subjects taught today will be less important in another 20 years’ time; the internet has replaced the need to memorise basic facts, handwriting is increasingly obsolete, and complex arithmetic can be done using technology.
STEAM - Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths - has become an increasingly important approach that focuses on inter-disciplinary learning rather than teaching independent subject silos. Schools are taking this cross-curricular approach to learning, and effectively combining subjects that, in the real world, cross over all the time.
Acronyms including STEM, STEAM and even iSTEAM are now common currency in Singapore’s schools. It’s not just about learning to be a scientist, engineer or games developer, it’s about getting students to solve authentic problems and build real-world solutions.
There are many examples of STEAM in the curriculum. For example, Dover Court runs challenges with MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to find innovative and creative solutions to real-world problems, while Dulwich College (Singapore) has an SE21 hub where students explore pitching ideas, phase one robotics, coding, CAD/CAM, graphic design, film, digital, and virtual reality. And Stamford American International School (SAIS) Stamford American International School has a well-equipped makerspace alongside an Innovation Centre with Bloomberg and Microsoft labs for high school students.
From a STEAM lab to an IDEAS Hub, The Hive to The Creativity Station, makerspaces have become a firm fixture in schools across Singapore.
In a school the size of UWC South East Asia’s Dover campus, it is hardly surprising to find a makerspace that’s as big as a small department. The IDEAS Hub is equipped with traditional and modern facilities and as well as being used during timetabled lessons, the hub is used for after-school activities such as eco-design masterclasses, competitions in coding, computer science and film-making.
UWCSEA says: “All students have timetabled lessons in the Ideas Hub, and this space gives teachers an opportunity to teach in different ways and engage the individual on different levels.”
Tanglin Trust School is giving students plenty of space to explore and discover new ideas at age-appropriate makerspaces in its infant and senior libraries. The school says, it is offering “opportunities for children to develop crucial STEAM skills through exploring, building, creating, and tinkering.” And at XCL World Academy, a Design Centre fully immerses students in a ‘zone’ where they can sit or stand, design or build, and look at the past to help create the future.
The school says:
“This inspirational space is equipped with the latest technologies in the field of design and gives students the inventive flair needed to become tomorrow’s innovators and entrepreneurs. Everything in a good IB school should be able to contextualise the learning and bring it back to the real-world.”
Entrepreneurship programmes can equip students with crucial life skills that will help them to navigate the uncertain future ahead. While entrepreneurship cannot be taught, schools can cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit in students from a young age – and many are doing just that. It’s not just about giving those who want to start their own business, a head start – it’s also about teaching students’ positive skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, leadership, ambition and time management.
Tanglin has an Enterprise thread in its Lifeskills programme, which helps younger students to start thinking about costs involved in simple business ideas. By Year 8, students are designing and pitching a concept for a hotel to a panel of industry experts.
GIIS SMART Campus has launched several entrepreneurial initiatives focused on developing solution-based thinkers, leaders and problem-solvers. The school group hosts an annual Real World Challenges Convention (RWCC) where students as young as five come together to create, innovate and brainstorm solutions to real-world problems – and then present them on a global platform.
Principal Ms Maria says:
“Another recent initiative is the #GIIS GEN- Z Challenge where, along with critical thinking, students are pitching green ideas, sharing plans for a sustainable city and sharpening their entrepreneurial skills in a safe and realistic environment in the presence of judges who know the world of entrepreneurship and sustainability well.”
Elsewhere, EtonHouse (Orchard) has an enterprise unit, where all students look at entrepreneurship, social enterprise, and social responsibility – and at "what does it take to start up a business that has a positive impact on society."
Entrepreneurship is also embedded at Nexus International School, which has a very innovative approach to learning. This is a school that has knocked down the walls (literally) to create open-plan, Google-style classrooms where students can sit, stand, write, create, and work independently or within a group.
Competing in the Junior Achievement Company of the Year competition has become part of the Nexus culture. In 2020 and 2021, a group of Nexus students won the Award for upcycling single-use banners that usually end up in landfills into bags and making old uniform into high quality caps. As the school says, this Award “prepares students for a global future by providing them with skills such as financial literacy, entrepreneurial and workplace readiness.”
University and careers counsellors in schools across Singapore play a key role in helping young people make informed choices about their future career routes. It’s about making sure that young people fully grasp the changing opportunities open to them.
At Tanglin, a key change has been talking to students earlier. Mr Ridley says:
“Formal career counselling starts in Year 9, before students make their GCSE choices. Each student has a dedicated counsellor so that by the time they are making their higher education choices they have had a chance to get to know each other. We also run our work experience programme earlier (in Year 10) and for longer (Covid-19 restrictions allowing, all Year 10 students will spend a full five days at a work placement.”
Former Tanglin student Omar Chaudhuri is now Chief Intelligence Officer at Twenty First Group, a bespoke B2B sports intelligence company in the UK. He credits the teaching at Tanglin for helping to prepare him for the relatively new role of using data and analytics in sport.
"I had no idea that a role like this even existed. There was nothing in the public domain to indicate that my passion for sport and for numbers could come together into a role in the industry."
Schools such as Tanglin are keeping up with digital developments, emerging job prospects and employers' changing needs to help their students become the robotics engineers, cyber security experts, creative entrepreneurs, app designers, and esports coaches of the future. (As well as all the other jobs that are likely to be in demand over the next two decades including doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants and many more).
As well as equipping students with a set of skills and attributes such as critical and creative thinking, global awareness and digital literacy, it’s never been more important for schools to deliver a broad and holistic education.
Mr Ridley (Tanglin) says:
“Our graduates are likely to have a more varied career path than many of their parents and grandparents; they need to be ready to adapt and learn new skills along the way.
“Our core curriculum ensures that all Tanglin graduates have had a holistic experience that is designed to equip them with the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful, whatever path they choose. More importantly, we aim to instill a love of learning and, as staff, to model what it is to be a lifelong learner.”
GCSE subjects that are unlikely to have existed a decade or two ago are now part of the curriculum. At UWC South East Asia (Dover), for example, students can study subjects including product design, dance or photography; at DPS International School, options include environmental management and accounting; at Tanglin, options are as varied film studies, psychology, economics and graphic communication. Most recently, the UK government has backed the interdiction of a new Natural History GCSE (to be launched in 2025) to put the focus on sustainability and climate change. Could this be another new subject for Singapore’s students?
There’s also been a slow but steady growth in vocational or work-based pathways offered to students, which can open doors to a range of careers and equip students with transferable skills. XCL World Academy and School of the Arts, Singapore (SOTA) both offer the IB Career-related Programme while Dover Court and Stamford American International School offer BTECs in business.
From August 2022, Dulwich College (Singapore) will be offering six different options in the IBCP, making it the largest IBCP programme in Singapore in terms of choice, with options including Business and Sustainability and Digital Technology.
Schools are also updating their co-curricular programme to include activities that can offer students continued benefits, long after their education is completed
GESS, for example, offers a unique two-year Junior Engineering Academy programme as an after-school activity for students who are really interested in engineering (GESS students have worked on a sustainable Tiny House that will be used as a classroom for tuition, a Drone Taxi, and a PC-Upcycling). Most recently, it has launched a BeyondClassrooms programme, which offers students internship opportunities, industry talks, mentorship and career guidance.
GESS Principal Stefan Pauli explains how the school is ensuring that students are fully prepared and equipped with the skills required for 21st Century jobs.
"BeyondClassrooms, a new exclusive GESS programme, offers internships, mentorship paths, project guidance, industry talks, plant visits, career counselling, and more – helping our students to reach their fullest potential and preparing our students for future studies, work life and giving them a competitive edge.
"GESS is fortunate to partner with world leading organisations such as BMW Group Asia, AI-driven fish farms specialist BluCurrent, global sustainable technology expert Danfoss, leading specialty chemicals company Evonik, Technical University of Munich (TUM) Asia and urban air mobility specialist Volocopter – just to name a few."
From makerspaces to open plan classrooms, there are various ways in which schools are creating future-ready campuses.
GIIS SMART Campus opened in 2018 promising to be a school of future, where lessons are held in virtual classrooms, sports lessons are analysed using digital technology, and robots move around campus. While it may not be as futuristic as it sounds, the school is dedicated to learning through technology, using facilities including skills labs, Smart classrooms, and innovation rooms – and is designed to “help keep our students up with the ever-changing world.”
At the much smaller EtonHouse (Orchard) school, there is a cluster of rooms that challenge the conventional classroom. Secondary students move between The Mountaintop, which has been designed for Dragon’s Den-style presentations and feedback; The Boardroom, where students can move between the sofa, beanbags and a conference table; and The Campfire, complete with beanbags arranged in a circle, designed for discussion, sharing ideas, analysing literature and problems.
XCL World Academy has recently opened a dedicated esports facility, The Garage, to host an esports programme where students learn skills such as game design and development, league organisation, broadcasting, streaming, and shoutcasting.
Brian Rogove, Group Chief Executive Officer of XCL Education explains why.
“At XCL World Academy (XWA), our mission is to prepare children for the jobs of tomorrow. Aside from just encouraging students to think about their futures early and trying to prepare them with the necessary future-ready skills needed to thrive, it is important to provide occasional glimpses of what tomorrow could look like. This ensures that they are aware of changes, familiar with new trends, well informed to make decisions on their futures, agile enough to adapt to future disruptions, and brave enough to challenge established norms.”
And coming soon to Tanglin will be an 11-storey Centenary Building, which will include a Design Technology studio, Lifeskills classrooms including a training kitchen, and the Institute@Tanglin, which will bring together academics and innovators from industry to work with the school community. It looks to be an impressive addition to an already well-equipped campus.
The school also takes advantage of its central location in Singapore where there are “examples of the modern workplace literally all around us”. Mr Ridley explains:
“We look for opportunities to invite experts in to support student and staff events – for example, a banking cybersecurity expert supporting a student hackathon; a digital animator supporting a film competition; and an Engineering Professor speaking at a Design Technology teachers' conference.”
It’s another excellent example of Singapore’s international schools thinking out of the box, looking to the future, and adapting to change. As we look towards an era where taxi drivers and builders could be replaced by computers and robots, and new roles such as AI engineer and augmented reality architect will be on the rise, education is changing worldwide. And Singapore is undoubtedly among those countries taking the lead and preparing students for a new world of work.