Inspired by her father who was a former teacher, Dr Munirah Shaik Kadir from the Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice (CRPP) at the Office of Education Research (OER) ventured into the world of education at a young age. Throughout her education and teaching journey, she has always been interested in helping students learn to the best of their abilities and inspired by research to make a difference. She shares with us her journey, her most recent research project and work she has been doing, as well as her thoughts on education research in Singapore.
Q. Can you share with us your educational and research journey, and what sparked your interest to embark on education research?
My passion in education research stems from my education and teaching journey. Motivated by my father who was a teacher, I did a teaching stint in a primary school while waiting for my ‘A’ level results in 1996. For one semester, I was a form teacher of a Primary Two class with students of varied abilities and needs. It was a challenge to manage such a class as a novice relief teacher, but it spurred me on to venture into the world of education as I wanted to help students. During my four years of Bachelor of Science with Diploma in Education studies at the National Institute of Education (NIE), Singapore, I learned a lot about different pedagogical approaches, educational psychology, and research. Upon graduation, I was posted to be a physics and mathematics teacher at a secondary school. I saw how students struggled with learning physics, so I used the basic research skills I learnt at NIE to make students’ learning fun and easy. I was also a key member of a research and innovation committee in the school I was teaching at, hence in 2002, I was sent to Finland to attend my first education research conference. I was awed by the multi-facets of education research that I embarked on my Master of Education studies part-time while teaching full-time in the following year. My passion for education research deepened as I saw how research and practice work hand in hand to impact teaching and learning. In 2008, I was given the opportunity to be a seconded MOE officer with NIE, taking on the role of a Teaching Fellow. The four-year secondment experience was a stepping-stone to my PhD journey in Australia. Professor Alex Yeung, who was a Deputy Director of the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education (IPPE) and Professor Richard Ryan, who is a co-founder of self-determination theory, served as my PhD supervisors and mentors. My PhD research focused on applying cognitive load theory and self-determination theory into the teaching and learning of science. Upon graduation, I was privileged to be given the chance to work at the IPPE in Australia. I worked on research projects specialising in positive education and well-being and got to interact with many prominent education researchers at IPPE such as Professors Herb Marsh, Ed Deci, Pekrun Reinhard, Andrew Martin, and Rob Vallerand who generously shared their wealth of knowledge. After gaining valuable education research experience in Australia, I decided to return to Singapore and work with NIE as an Education Research Scientist (ERS), specialising in positive education and wellbeing projects. I intend to conduct research and at the same time raise awareness of the importance of the non-cognitive, psychosocial aspects of education.
Q. Share more about the idea, the methods implementation and what do you expect to see from the results of your most recent research project: “Are our children feeling good and functioning well? Examining student well-being using a multi-dimensional approach”
Well-being is important as it is known to impact mental health and numerous life domains, not only from an individual but also from a societal perspective. Rooted in positive psychology, the importance of student well-being has, in recent years, gained enormous attention from policymakers and practitioners. The Ministry of Education (MOE) in Singapore has launched a Holistic Health Framework (HHF) comprising three guiding principles, one of which is “Total Well-being”. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on many students’ well-being, causing a downward spiral in their mental health. Therefore, assessing if students are feeling good and functioning well is important, valuable, and meaningful. Assessing student well-being requires using reliable and valid assessment tools with strong theoretical underpinnings. However, due to the scarcity and sparsity of research and assessment tools on the well-being of children, student well-being is under-theorised. It is crucial to develop a comprehensive, theoretically supported well-being instrument for children which reflects the multidimensional nature of well-being, especially in relation to the school, home, and general contexts. To this end, our study aimed to develop, validate, and apply of a comprehensive multidimensional well-being instrument for children in primary schools.
The children well-being instrument that will be adapted and validated in this study can:
- provide in-depth information of the different dimensions and profiles of well-being of children across multiple contexts (i.e., school, home, and general);
- be applied to examine the well-being profile of children to better understand how to meet their needs and help them flourish;
- be used to identify particular dimensions of well-being that will serve as the focus of well-being interventions tailored for children’s needs;
- provide schools with an alternative locally validated tool to measure children’s well-being that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the schools’ well-being programmes;
- address the gap in literature on the scarcity of theoretically grounded and comprehensive well-being instrument for children; and
- serve as a tool that can be used in assessing different dimensions of well-being, which can then be used as potential predictors of students’ educational outcomes (e.g., resilience, motivation, engagement, and achievement).
A comprehensive profiling of school well-being in children will also be conducted. The instrument will provide a nuanced and comprehensive understanding of well-being status in schools, such as in identifying the high and low domains of school well-being. The findings can inform curriculum design, programme development, and intervention approaches appropriate to students’ needs.
Q. Can you share some of the other work that you are doing locally?
The main part of my work is conducting education research in schools, carrying out research activities in my capacity as principal investigator and co-principal investigator, working with teachers, sharing my work and research findings with local and international audiences including researchers and practitioners, and publishing my work in high impact journals, books, conference proceedings, and reports. I also need to keep abreast of the research gaps in my field and prepare research proposals to secure grants to fund my future research projects. In addition to research work, I am also a lecturer for MOE courses and supervise research students in undergraduate and post-graduate programmes. From time to time, I get invitations to present my work in positive education and wellbeing with school practitioners, fellow researchers, and the public. Last year, I was a featured researcher in SingTeach (a publication featuring education research for teachers) where I discussed about fostering student and teacher wellbeing. In September 2021, I was interviewed by the local Malay radio Warna 94.2 for a discussion on teacher wellbeing. I was also invited to write a commentary for Channel NewsAsia (CNA) about how to deal with the stress of exam results. In addition to research work and lecturing, my work as an Education Research Scientist (ERS) includes service to the university, the academic community, and MOE. I have been leading the OER Writing Circle which meets weekly to attain our writing goals. I am co-leading the OER Professional Development (PD) Committee with my mentor Dr Imelda Caleon, which organises professional development courses including masterclasses, workshops series, and webinars. I also lead a special interest group (SIG) focusing on teacher emotions and wellbeing and am a member of several other SIGs where members contribute ideas for the conceptualisation of projects. As part of my service to the academic community, I am also a reviewer of journal papers and book chapters and serve as examiners for research programmes. As an ERS, networking is important to explore the potential of research collaborations with external organisations. I have been involved in research engagement sessions with external organisations such as the Ministry of Health Office for Healthcare Transformation, Artificial Intelligence Singapore, Google, KidsSTOP Science Centre and the Singapore Management University, to discuss work on potential projects.
Q. In your opinion, what is the value of education research in Singapore?
Education research plays a pivotal role in Singapore, offering invaluable insights and driving continuous improvements in the education system. As a nation that places great emphasis on knowledge and skills development and commitment to excellence in teaching and learning, Singapore understands the significance of evidence-based practices in shaping effective educational policies and strategies. The value of education research in Singapore is multifaceted, encompassing both immediate and long-term benefits that contribute to the nation's progress and prosperity.
One of the key strengths of education research in Singapore lies in its ability to inform policy decisions. Rigorous research studies conducted by educational institutions and government agencies provide a solid foundation for policymakers to make informed choices about curriculum development, teaching methodologies, and assessment frameworks. By examining the impact of different educational interventions, researchers can identify best practices and tailor policies that meet the specific needs of students and teachers. This evidence-based approach ensures that educational reforms are grounded in empirical data, enhancing the effectiveness and relevance of the education system.
Furthermore, education research in Singapore helps identify and address the challenges faced by educators and students. By investigating areas such as student learning, motivation, and socio-emotional development, researchers can develop targeted interventions to support students' holistic growth. For instance, studies on effective classroom management techniques or the use of technology in education provide practical insights to enhance teaching practices and engagement levels. This research-driven approach helps educators adapt their pedagogical approaches to meet the diverse needs of learners, fostering a conducive and inclusive learning environment.
Singapore's education research also contributes to the continuous professional development of educators. By conducting research on teaching practices and teacher training programs, researchers can identify the most effective strategies for enhancing teacher effectiveness and student outcomes. These findings are then disseminated through various professional development initiatives, empowering teachers with evidence-based methods and resources. As a result, educators can refine their instructional techniques, adopt innovative approaches, and collaborate with fellow practitioners, ultimately enhancing the quality of education imparted to students.
In sum, education research holds immense value in Singapore as it supports evidence-based policymaking, enhances teaching and learning practices, drives curriculum development and innovation, addresses educational challenges, contributes to a knowledge-based economy, and promotes international collaboration.
Q. Which area(s) of education research do you think merit more attention in Singapore?
While education research in Singapore has made significant contributions to the development of its education system, there are a few areas that merit more attention and research focus. These areas can help address specific challenges and ensure continuous improvement in the education landscape and include social and emotional learning (SEL), wellbeing and mental health, digital literacy, parent and community involvement, and workforce readiness.
Social and emotional learning (SEL)
There is growing recognition worldwide about the importance of social and emotional skills in students' overall development and well-being. Research on SEL in the Singapore context can help understand the effectiveness of existing programs and interventions, identify gaps, and develop evidence-based strategies to promote students' social-emotional competencies. This research can support the holistic development of students, fostering their resilience, empathy, and interpersonal skills.
Well-being and mental health
The well-being and mental health of students are crucial for their overall academic and personal development. Research focused on understanding the factors that contribute to student well-being, identifying effective interventions, and evaluating the impact of mental health support services can provide valuable insights. This research can guide the implementation of comprehensive well-being initiatives in schools and equip educators with strategies to support students' mental health effectively.
Technology integration and digital literacy
With the rapid advancements in technology, research that explores the effective integration of educational technology in classrooms is essential. This includes studying the impact of various digital tools and platforms, understanding the challenges and opportunities of technology integration, and identifying effective approaches for developing students' digital literacy skills. Research can also shed light on equitable access to technology and ensure that no student is left behind in the digital age.
Parent and community involvement
Strong partnerships between schools, parents, and the community have a positive impact on student achievement and well-being. Research can focus on understanding the most effective ways to engage parents and communities in the education process, exploring strategies to bridge the home-school gap, and evaluating the impact of different parental involvement initiatives. Such research can guide the development of sustainable and meaningful parent and community engagement practices.
Future skills and workforce readiness
As the nature of work continues to evolve rapidly, it is important to study the skills and competencies required for future employment. Research can focus on identifying the essential 21st-century skills, such as critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and adaptability, and explore effective pedagogical approaches to develop these skills. Additionally, research on the alignment between education and industry needs can support efforts to prepare students for the demands of the future workforce.
By prioritising research in these areas, Singapore can further strengthen its education system, address specific challenges, and ensure that it remains at the forefront of educational excellence and innovation.