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!
The biggest complaint that students have when it comes to school subjects is: “Will I really use it when I grow up?”
When you look at topics like algebra in Mathematics or personal recounts in English, it does seem like students might not get much mileage out of them in the real world. After all, most people deal with actual numerical digits for everyday maths, and you’re not likely to be writing about personal recounts unless you’re a blogger (which is a tough career to embark on).
So here are some other subjects that students (and adults) wished they’d learnt in school. You could major in some of those subjects in university, but sometimes you’d just like to be exposed to them when you’re younger so you’d know how much you like them.
1. Financial literacy
Unless you’ve made a dedicated effort to learn about stocks and shares, investments, and money management, you’re probably not going to finish your education with a solid foundation in financial literacy. At best, you’d learn about the compounding effect of interest in Mathematics – but without actual money and tangible results, those lessons aren’t going to stick.
A dedicated subject to financial literacy, complete with a small budget to experiment with concepts like compounded interest, dollar-cost averaging, and diversification of investments would go a long way to helping students manage their money from a young age.
Younger students may not understand the word “entrepreneurship”, but many of them have thought about ways to earn money (and by a corollary, running a business) even from a young age. But, as most adults know, there’s more to entrepreneurship than just having a good idea.
Running a business takes much more than that, such as accounting for overheads, paying salaried employees, and checking out your P&L (Profit and Loss, or balance sheets). Students may not understand this at a young age, but exposing them to such ideas means that they won’t be shocked if they decide to become entrepreneurs as adults. SMEs are the life-blood of the country, and we should address the idea that many students are going to grow up to become entrepreneurs or small business owners.
3. Ancient History (like Greece, Rome, or even Ancient Singapore)
Quick – can you name the five kings of the ancient Kingdom of Singapura? Most people can name Sang Nila Utama, but the kings who succeeded him were (in order): Seri Wikram Wira, Seri Rana Wikrama, Seri Maharaja, and Iskandar Shah. After that, our island was invaded by external forces and came to prominence again only when Sir Stamford Raffles visited us.
The point is that these are interesting historical facts may not have immediate real world applications, but they’re interesting. That means that they’ll cultivate the interesting in learning and the spirit of inquiry (one of the MOE Science syllabus’ aims), and students will learn for the sake of learning. Although education is intended to have a practical application in adult life, sometimes we forget that we should get students interested in learning for its own sake, rather than trying to see a monetary outcome for everything they study.
4. Pedagogy/Teaching skills
This may sound like something teachers study at NIE (since they’re teaching, after all), but some students actually do practise this. For example, some lessons give students the opportunity to take charge of a topic and teach other students about it. Students who have younger siblings may find themselves tutoring their younger brothers or sisters in subjects they are stronger in. Basically, any time a student has to impart knowledge to others, they’re applying pedagogical techniques.
So why not formalise it as a subject in school? Some universal techniques apply, such as providing guided examples, scaffolding, and engaging learners. By equipping students with the skills to teach others, we’ll be showing them how best they can help others with their own expertise. At the very least, students can utilise this when they teach parents about social media.
5. Public speaking and presentations
English lessons already have an oral component (and students are tested on their descriptive and conversational skills in exams), but sometimes that doesn’t feel sufficient when it comes to presentation and public speaking skills. The number of enrichment courses that teach public speaking is testament to that, and being articulate is a teachable skill.
That being said, students could be given more chances to give presentations or speeches about topics they are passionate about. Not everyone will excel, but at least they’d have put in the practice necessary for such skills.
6. Resumé writing and interview skills
Primary students may not be looking for part-time or holiday employment, but some secondary students will. This is where resumé writing and interview skills will come in handy. It’s one thing to have a lot of experience, but it’s another thing to present it in a form that will be attractive to prospective employers.
It may seem like something that’s only applicable to tertiary education students, but let’s look at it more carefully. Scholarship applications, appeals to schools, and non-academic opportunities may very well hinge on a student’s resume writing and interview skills. Even primary school students will need to know how to present themselves in an interview if they’re applying to a secondary school via the DSA. So why not teach them these skills in a class setting so they’ll benefit from it?
Are there any other subjects that are on your wish list of subjects you wished you learnt in school?
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.
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.