5 movies that are incredibly educational for students

Marcus Goh

By Marcus Goh and Adrian Kuek

Grade Expectations is a weekly feature on education in Singapore. Expect fun activities, useful tips and insightful news on learning. It’s not just about your child’s grades – it’s about raising a great child!

With the holidays just around the corner in mid-November, parents are scrambling to find educational ways of entertaining their children. Letting the kids watch a good movie is a great way to expose them to different forms of media (especially if you have got a good video-on-demand or streaming account on your hands), but what films are appropriate and educational for children?

Here are the top five films for students that check all the boxes – they are appropriate, teach good values and, most importantly, are entertaining. If you’re thinking about letting the young ones watch some fine films these holidays, consider these picks:

Zootopia (Walt Disney Studios)

1. Zootopia

“Zootopia” is a 3D-animated film that, in true Disney style, features talking animals as characters. However, it’s slightly more realistic in the sense that it depicts the harmonious relationships between predatory animals and their prey in the fictional city of Zootopia. It all goes south when disaster strikes, threatening to upset the delicate balance between predator and prey.

If the plot sounds more sophisticated than most animated films, it’s because the film also carries a strong message about the dangers of discrimination and, to an extent, racism. In today’s increasingly fragmented society, it’s ever more important to be more understanding and accepting of each other, and “Zootopia” is a good place to start. It gives parents the opportunity to discuss the concept of discrimination with their children, especially younger ones, in a way that both parties can understand.


Inside Out (Walt Disney Studios)

2. Inside Out

“Inside Out” is a 3D-animated Disney-Pixar film that uses talking emotions, rather than animals, as characters. It literally takes place inside a young girl’s head, with one caveat – that girl is going through depression.

Not only is “Inside Out” a tearjerker, it also depicts the reality of patients going through depression and the consequences of mental illnesses. In Singapore, where mental illnesses are still mostly stigmatised, “Inside Out” is a good way to heighten the awareness of such issues to students. It can also serve as a conversation starter for parents and children, allowing them to start exploring and discussing the importance of mental health.


Dead Poets Society (Dead Poets Society Facebook Page)

3. Dead Poets Society 

“Dead Poets Society” is older than school-going children now, but it’s a classic that is still relatable to students and teachers of all stripes today. It centres around a teacher who uses unconventional but effective methods to teach literature, thus awakening a love of the subject in his students. Unfortunately, bureaucracy gets in the way.

If there’s any film that can spark interest and passion in literature, it’s “Dead Poets Society”. Although it may seem rather old-fashioned for today’s tastes, it has surprisingly contemporary themes, such as carpe diem (Latin for “seize the day”), the equivalent of today’s YOLO (you only live once). You’ll be surprised to see how the struggles of students in the ’80s are still relevant and applicable almost 40 years later.


Long Long Time Ago (Golden Village Pictures)

4. Long Long Time Ago

“Long Long Time Ago” is a historical drama about Singapore’s early days and transition to independence from the ’60s to ’70s. It follows the journey of a kampung girl as she struggles to make a living amid the rapidly-changing society of Singapore, and offers insight into what life was like back in the ’60s.

“Long Long Time Ago” brings Singapore history to life by giving us an uncensored and sometimes visceral look at what life was like in the kampung. From unshaven underarms to hole-in-the-ground toilets, the film helps children to understand how difficult life was in the past and how much we have to be grateful for today. It gives adults, especially older ones, a chance to relive their kampung days along with their grandchildren.


Long Long Time Ago 2 (Golden Village Pictures)

5. Long Long Time Ago 2

The sequel to “Long Long Time Ago”, “Long Long Time Ago 2” might not have as much historical merit as its predecessor but breaks new ground by featuring an interracial marriage in a time when such pairings might not have been so favourably looked upon.

“Long Long Time Ago 2” is potentially another eye-opener for children, who might not have realised that modern HDB flats have much better amenities than those in the past (like lifts that stop at every floor, for instance). The intercultural coupling is also a good way to have open conversations about the differences between Singaporeans, and how we can and should learn more about each other.

Remember — don’t just let your child watch these movies and then forget about it! Take this chance to pique their interest in more mature issues, so that you can have more fruitful discussions with them.

Read also:


Marcus Goh runs Write-Handed, a creative writing studio. At the same time, he teaches Secondary English at The Write Connection. He has been a specialist tutor for English and Literature (Secondary) since 2005.

Adrian Kuek runs Joyous Learning, an enrichment centre that specialises in English, Mathematics, Science and Creative Writing for Primary. He previously served as the academic director of one of Singapore’s largest enrichment centre chains for over seven years.