Published on 01 Oct 2023

MOE, schools looking to improve primary pupils’ digital literacy skills

SINGAPORE – The Ministry of Education (MOE) and primary schools are exploring ways to better equip primary school pupils with digital literacy skills, especially as they mature and approach their transition to secondary school.

This is as device-mediated learning in secondary schools has accelerated in recent years, and as MOE announced in September a 2030 masterplan to develop digitally literate learners.

To determine if primary school pupils would benefit from owning personal learning devices (PLDs), MOE conducted a study between 2021 and 2022.

The pilot, which looked at the impact of the use of PLDs on pupils’ learning and behaviour, involved five primary schools: Chua Chu Kang, Frontier, Junyuan, River Valley and Yio Chu Kang.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, MOE said the teachers involved observed that PLDs enhanced pupil engagement, collaboration and content mastery. But there were also downsides, it noted.

“There were concerns about the pupils’ ability to regulate their use of the devices when unsupervised, which could result in issues such as more distraction from online media and games, and the potential of students being exposed to online risks,” said an MOE spokesman.

As the use of digital devices for learning should be developmentally appropriate, MOE said it will not be providing primary school pupils with PLDs for now.

PLDs have been issued to every secondary school student since 2021, after MOE brought forward its original 2028 target by seven years. This was largely because the Covid-19 pandemic made online learning more acceptable.

Since then, there has been a sizeable shift towards digital learning in secondary schools, with more lessons conducted in the Singapore Student Learning Space (SLS), MOE’s online learning portal.

Digital assessment is likewise becoming more prevalent at the GCE O levels: 60 examination papers are now offered in electronic modes, such as e-oral, e-written, computer-based practical and e-coursework.

On Sept 20, MOE said its EdTech Masterplan 2030 will be implemented in schools progressively from 2024 to strengthen students’ digital literacy, with a focus on AI literacy.

Primary schools here said they introduce digital learning gradually.

In Park View Primary School, teachers use tools such as the SLS portal and educational technology platforms such as Padlet and Nearpod to complement hands-on learning.

Mr Justin Luo, the school’s subject head of data management and acting head of department for information and communication technologies, said pupils gradually build up basic digital skills to prepare themselves for secondary school.

For instance, Primary 1 pupils are taught the basics of how to log into devices and the SLS, and to operate the Zoom video-conferencing software for home-based learning. By the time they reach Primary 6, they would have learnt how to create slides on PowerPoint and Google, as well as set up their own Google Site.

Education experts said the use of device-based learning at the primary school level should be geared up carefully as children grow older.

Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice (CRPP) assistant centre director Wong Hwei Ming said traditional learning is preferred at the lower primary level. Research has shown that writing by hand is linked to cognitive development, including honing fine motor skills and fostering creativity, critical thinking, memory retention and comprehension, she noted.

“For younger kids in primary school, we still want to focus on writing by hand, rather than shifting everything to typing, where they may not fully develop some of these skills that they are supposed to have by the primary school level,” added Dr Wong, who is also a senior education research scientist at CRPP, which is part of the National Institute of Education (NIE).

Agreeing, Dr Shanti Divaharan, who is an associate professor at the Learning Sciences and Assessment (LSA) department at NIE, said any move towards greater use of technology for exams at the primary level has to be done cautiously and with sufficient preparation.

This is because pupils largely use pen and paper to do their learning, and a shift to e-examinations may be overwhelming for some, while conferring an unfair advantage to those who have access to digital devices at home.

“These are the formative years, when their learning is very much focused on pen-and-paper class work. So the focus on the skills required for the different age groups varies,” said Dr Divaharan, who is also NIE’s assistant head of graduate education at LSA.

While some formative assessments in primary schools may be conducted online, end-of-year examinations and the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) are still conducted using pen and paper. There are no plans to shift the PSLE to an e-examination format for now.

MOE said its guidelines for primary schools on the use of digital devices for instruction is that lower primary pupils learn best through concrete, hands-on experiences and quality interactions with teachers and friends. As such, they do not require extensive use of devices.

The frequency that such devices are used for learning increases as pupils progress to upper primary levels, and their use should be under teachers’ supervision, the ministry added. A spokesperson said: “As part of a well-balanced school experience, the meaningful use of technology can bring about positive educational outcomes, including deepened subject mastery, increased student engagement and greater self-directed learning.”

Correction note: An earlier version of this article stated that Dr Shanti Divaharan is an NIE associate professor who teaches learning sciences and assessment. NIE has clarified that she is an associate professor at its Learning Sciences and Assessment department.

Read the original article here.

Source: The Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction 

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