Singapore English teacher Sean Padman, 27, stays home most nights just marking student essays.
Based on one of Padman’s estimates, it could take 15 hours to get through a pile of 120 essays in a week.
On top of marking essays and test papers, teachers like him usually also have to shoulder responsibilities such as committee work and preparations for co-curriculum activities (CCA).
With that kind of load, Padman told Yahoo! Singapore he has little time to devote to inject more creativity into planning lessons.
“It seems impossible to do it for every lesson, as much as I'd like to,” he said. “The amount of work over time rises dramatically. I'm not saying it's a non-stop workfest, but teachers tend to cherish what free time they get as a time to relax and clear their minds.”
He can thus appreciate what a new website, Back to School (BTS), is trying to do. A project by publichouse.sg, the site aims to ease teachers’ workloads by allowing anyone interested in education to contribute lesson plans that teachers can easily download and use it as their classroom material.
The creator of the free site, Lisa Li, a teacher of six years, thinks that as a common platform of pooled resources, the site can help save teachers a lot of time.
From the perspective of a user, Padman said, “With at least the core ideas of what the lesson could entail, it provides us a good solid framework to work with while at the same time leaving enough room for further refinement so that the individual teachers and schools can fine tune it to focus on just what they want.”
Stimulating debate on varied topics
Li has tied up with several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like Migrant Voices and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for them to contribute lesson plans on their specialised topics as well.
Shaun Teo, 24, founder and president of Migrant Voices, said that while this idea of providing syllabus is new, it does “give people an idea of the issues on the ground and creates more awareness”.
The lessons plans act as a “source of open information for people to engage students and the public at large to get creative discourse on migration – not just foreign workers, but migration issue as a whole”. He added that the purpose is not about “changing mindsets” but rather “initiating discussions”.
Speaking to Yahoo! Singapore, Li said that sometimes while textbooks provide the fundamentals, even at the publishing date the book cannot possibly include news events of tomorrow. It is then the teachers’ jobs to educate and table discussions on current topics. This is where the website facilitates with the provision of a warehouse of ready, usable materials.
The site now has a broad category of lesson plans from business and economics to the media to even politics and law. The user-friendly site also includes search functions that can aid in anyone who wishes to find materials streamlined to the different levels be it primary or secondary or even higher tertiary education.
Users may also find lesson activity plans for debates, role playing, group discussions and others.
A refreshing lesson plan that caught this reporter’s eye is a lesson plan on medical ethics that was created by Dr Lee Hin Peng, a health specialist. The graphics are created by an illustrator.
“This site is the epitome of active citizenry," Padman said.
Padman also highlighted that teachers also face another challenge of cramming both the basic syllabus requirements as well as updating students on current affairs – and time is never enough.
Li believes that if the lesson plans are made readily available online, teachers may feel more “empowered” to tackle such sensitive issues “in a class at an appropriate level”.
She noted that when it comes to educating current topics such as the recent subject of the Bukit Brown cemetery issue and others, some teachers have engaged in self-censorship.
Li was inspired by the sharing culture at Anglo-Chinese Junior College and Singapore Polytechnic. She formerly worked at ACJC as a General Paper teacher and is now an Adjunct Lecturer at SP.
“I think that talking about current, controversial issues and/or culture wars is a great way to teach current affairs, critical thinking. It's a great way to engage students and make them realise they are a part of our society and they have the power to voice their opinions, critically examine the status quo and do their part in shaping society for the better. We want to encourage teachers to do this.”
Li is currently in talks with other NGOs such as Save Our Singapore! Bukit Brown, the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) and ONE Singapore and schools to pull them on board. She is also speaking to schools to boost participation rate.
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