Posted by: Principal/Editor | October 12, 2010

A proposal for Singapore schools: Why not allow our kids to “waste time” and “lose themselves” as approaches to learning and creativity?

In an interesting, provocative and experiential workshop delivered by Tim Brown, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of IDEO – a global design consultancy company, he discusses the plausible links between play and creativity.[1] He explains how allowing people “exploration through experimentation and play” allows individuals to tap into their creativity. He then cites examples of how this playful experience has contributed greatly to developments in designing and to the progress of the human race. Tim Brown frequently interjects in his presentation various ways of how some of these “playful experimentation” concepts can be adapted to specific school settings.

Prof. David Halpin echoes these ideas by explicitly critiquing how schools nowadays have been designed, as places that “prescribe and pressurize” students:

Certainly schools need to prescribe and pressurise less; and they need to become happier places in which pupils are regularly encouraged positively to ‘waste time’ on and ‘lose themselves’ in their interests and projects, and not to work mostly at what their teachers determine, which is a version of what the Government wants.[2]

Prof. David Halpin exhorts that schools need to be transformed into “happier places”.  Among the many specific suggestions he proposes is that students need to be allowed to “waste time” and in the process “lose themselves” as pathways to learning. Dr. Jude Chua reinforces this argument by proposing the use of “playful curriculum design”[3] in schools to encourage deeper learning and creativity. Dr. Chua advocates among others the notion of “goal-less design” and “playful folly” in the way that school curriculum is crafted. The approach that these practitioners and scholars are advocating is for schools (and curriculum) to be allowed an amount of flexibility and not to be overly restricted by pre-established goals that may somehow undermine the ability of our students to become creative and thus prevent them from becoming true and authentic learners.

Implications to Teachers and School Leaders

Taking into consideration the specific social context that teachers and school leaders encounter in Singapore, I propose some possible starting points for deep reflection:

1.      What are your opinions and reactions to the suggestions of Tim Brown, specifically the idea of allowing “experimentation through playing” as possible approaches to fostering creativity?

2.      What are your opinions and reactions to Prof. David Halpin’s notions of allowing our students to “waste time” and “lose themselves”?  Would these characteristics be consistent with how you see the role of teachers in Singapore schools should be?

3.      Is playful curriculum design or goal-less design in schools as espoused by Dr. Jude Chua — to be more specific in the preparation and implementation of the school curriculum – really possible? Can you identify some features of Singapore schools’ social context that could prevent these novel ideas from ever being tried and tested?

Posted by Dr. Jude Chua

[1] Brown, T. (2008). Tim Brown: The powerful link between creativity and play. [Electronic version] Retrieved from

[2] Halpin, D. (2008). In Praise of Wasting Time in Education: Some Lessons from the Romantics. Forum, 50(3), 377-381., p. 380.

[3] Chua, J. (2008). In praise of folly: Seriously playful curriculum design. Education Today, 58(44), 18-23.


  1. Dear Sirs,

    My thoughts as appeneded below:

    (1) The notion of “play” as a form of learning, while egalitarian in approach, may find it hard to gain acceptance in a largely Confucian Society in Singapore. This is due to the belief that education is in preparation for a citizen to be a productive, useful member of society and “play” as a form of learning is both intangible and hard to quantify.

    Having said that, with the advent of the knowledge based economy, what is needed are exactly the kind of thinkers that “play” as learning would engender. In short, what is needed is not so much a curriculum redesign, but a shift of mindsets from KPIs in education to the nurturing of the student as learner and person

    (2) With reference to the above, the major obstacle to Professor Halpin’s notion of allowing our students to “waste time” and “lose themselves” is again the mindset of all stakeholders. Are parents able to accept that their children may tell them that “we spent the whole of today designing our own board game” Will teachers, so steeped in the prevalent culture of pen and paper assessment that dots our educational landscape, be able to accept that our role is to facilitate learning rather than dispense knowledge in preparation for high stakes testing on a bi-annual basis?

    Ultimately, we may never be able to see Professor Halpin’s ideas implemented in full. Yet, even a modified implementation of his ideas may be beneficial. No longer do we require rote learners’ what is needed are individuals with the wherewithal to think on their feet, react to situations with ingenuity instead of blindly reaching for a reference text for a stock solution.

    (3) The Singapore education system, has been among other things, been described as “exam obsessed.” Indeed one only has to see the many placement exams that each student goes through at pre defined educational milestones to see that this is not far from the truth. Advocates of our system suggest that the placement exams act as a barometer of a child’s ability and allows the system to channel them where they may best excel. Letters to the Straits Times forum by parents in reaction to the implementation of holistic learning for lower primary suggest that the majority of them subscribe to the same beliefs; that an examination is the only accurate measure of a child’s learning. Until there is a shift in paradigm, it is unlikely that ideas such as playful curriculum and goal less design will gain mainstream acceptance in Singapore.

    • Dear Sirs and Mdms,

      Here are some of my personal responses:

      (1) Tim Brown’s idea of “exploration through experimentation and play” may work to a certain extent, provided that the curriculum is carefully crafted. Personally, I feel that the concept of free play does allow learners to explore ideas, however, most of the time, most people would not remember why they have done a certain process of experimentation. I would suggest that the learners could constantly note down their reflections during the processes, so that they could refer back to these ideas after they have completed their experiments.

      (2) Tim Brown’s concept of ‘waste time’ on and ‘lose themselves’ in their interests and projects may result in a certain positive effects and negative side effects. By focusing on their interests, learners may find happiness in learning and finding out more about what they are interested. This is a form of self-directed learning and probably will result in their own version of project-based or problem-based learning. However, the negative side effects can be a concern. Learners may be too focused on themselves that they refuse to learn the basic competencies that are essential when they enter the workforce. Focusing on their own interest may not be a bad idea, however, if the learners cannot find the connection of what they are interested to what part of their interests can help them survive, they will face major challenges in their future.

      (3) The playful curriculum design or goal-less design in schools as espoused by Dr. Jude Chua, may not be successfully implemented in Singapore schools at this point of time. Schools are generally preparing students with skills and competencies that will help them when they enter the workforce: secondary school students are learning design and imaging softwares that are commonly used in the professional industries. Most of the time, schools are quite result-oriented and encourage students to work hard for academic results. The playful curriculum design or goal-less design in schools does not seem ready for the Singapore schools at this point of time.

  2. My first thought is Tomoe Gakuen, a Japanese school in 1937 which was built on an educator, Mr. Kobayashi’s vision of an ideal school. I remembered reading of this school as one which allows the children to learn through experimenting and play. There was no fixed subject periods, meaning the children get to determine their timetable in class. This kind of schooling structure sure seems to develop individuality and foster creativity to a large extent. However, come to relate to Singapore, the idea of permitting “experimentation through play” seems far-off. As much as we would like to promote inquiry and creativity in our lessons, “play” seems to be at a far edge of the picture.

    I wonder what constitutes to “wasting time” and “losing themselves”. If we say allowing children to be immersed in doing or researching or exploring what interests them as a form of wasting time, then learning could possibly be labeled as a waste of time. Despite saying that children should be given space to “waste time” and “lose themselves”, in relating to Singapore school context, teachers in reality still tend to want to contain students in terms of the lesson time to teach what is required to fulfill the curriculum and syllabus and learning outcomes to ensure students move on to the next grade. However, projects and other forms of holistic education are embarking in various schools and teachers are beginning to facilitate lessons than to instruct. Just that, it is somewhat like still laying the borders of a jigsaw with much more to piece for the inside.

    In my humble opinion, goal-less design in schools is probably not feasible, at least maybe not in recent years to come. It is something like introducing gaming into education. Play games as a form of educating children – impossible would come to most people’s minds. Yet, I thought maybe, maybe in the future it could be possible. But for now, given our rather rigid societal mentality of school and education structure, given our “need” to complete the syllabus, given how the schools have been run thus far and given the many characteristics of Singapore schools’ context, it may take an extra mile in order for these novel ideas to bud.

  3. I wonder if ‘experimentation through playing’ has the same meaning as experiential learning, which is a process of making meaning from direct experience or learning through reflection on doing. I feel that students would love to have that ‘experimentation through playing’ as they can learn and have fun at the time same. However, i’m not sure whether the teachers have the luxury of time to implement that in the curriculum as they have quite a lot to cover in the syllabus (apart from other workload).

  4. I do agree that students should enjoy school. So driven we are in our strive in achieving those scores and awards that we often forget that the students we are teaching are still children. Tim Brown’s suggestion of ‘exploration through experimentation and play’ may make school more enjoyable and encourage creativity in pupils, however, I believe that it should come with scaffolding, guidance and monitoring from the teachers. For example, most schools have already adopted Inquiry Learning where pupils learn through designing experiments and learn through their own discovery coupled with teacher’s explanation and clarification.

    In my opinion, Prof. David Halpin’s notions of allowing our students to ‘waste time’ and ‘lose themselves’ in tasks of their choice, if administered properly, will help to develop independent and responsible learners. On the other hand, may be detrimental when pupils end up developing misconceptions or not learning anything at all. Again, such free play would be beneficial if proper scaffolding and guidance is provided. To ensure success, teachers should be the facilitators by guiding pupils to choose their tasks, set objectives and monitoring their progress. Teachers should then help pupils integrate their learning by helping them make the link old knowledge with new knowledge. This is then consistent with how I see the roles of teachers in Singapore should be.

    However, having said the above, I do feel that a playful curriculum design or goal-less design as advocated by Dr Jude Chua, may face resistance if implemented. Schools are required to teach the given syllabus and as such, a playful curriculum design will impede that. Singapore’s education structure is also very much assessment-heavy. Schools and parents alike are very concerned with how pupils perform in major exams like PSLE, ‘O’ Levels and ‘A’ levels and a playful curriculum may pose a challenge for teachers to assess any learning. As such, to ensure school is enjoyable, schools will need to infuse fun into the curriculum without compromising pupils’ learning.

  5. I remember reading this book called Totto-chan, the Little Girl at the Window a children’s book written byAmbassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi.This book talks baout the values of the unconventional education that Kuroyanagi received at Tomoe Gakuen, a Tokyo elementary school founded by educator Sosaku Kobayashi during World War II, and it is considered her childhood memoir.If this idea worked well in the 1930s in Japan.Why is it not possible in Singapore? How much a pupil learn matters more than how they learn it.Pupils interests should come first,if they are learning better by a particular method such as the unconventional way of education, we can achieve it,if we have the support from parents and the time.

  6. i agree to the suggestions by Tim Brown. By experimentation through playing, in a way, is an example of giving student a problem based lesson. Through this way of teaching, students are encouraged to find their own solutions so that they can achieve their desired outcomes. Experimentation through playing is good because, it spur the interest of students. In a way, the students took initiative to learn and be involve in the tasks given. The students will find it meaningful and have deep impression on what they learnt. This learning encourages the students to think out of the box and generate new ideas.

    However, in Singapore context, it is very difficult to implement this kind of teaching methods into classroom teachings. Our views on success and achievements are stereotyped. Ability of students is judge by their academic achievements. and in order for students to do well in academic, they need to follow the textbook, or even memorize the contents blindly. There is no time for students to play and experiments. Homework and remedial already took up much of their time. i think it is very important to look into this issue. ‘ textbook learning’ is equal to ‘temporary knowledge’, what we really need to instill in the students is lifelong learning and skills.

  7. (1) I think that what Tim Brown has said was an excellent approached that we teachers’ must take into considerations. As a teacher myself, I felt that Singapore kids are really pitiful that they need to compete with one another since young. In a way, they lost the time on what it is called ‘real playing’. I remember when I was young; my parents don’t care much about me and let me and my sister do whatever we want as long as we are safe. Although my results was not that great, but since young, I have learnt skills and real-life experiences through playing that all my friends only get to learn that when they are in adolescents. I may not be smart, but I can proudly say that I am better in terms of other things.

  8. (2) I agree with what Prof. David Halpin’s notions of allowing our students to “waste time” and “lose themselves”. But I guess it will vary among teachers to teachers’ on whether they think it is necessary. But I guess for myself, I am a teacher who practices ‘waste time’ and ‘lose themselve’ in class. I personally feel that it is like the teachable moments that we as a teacher should guide our pupils to know themselves better though various activities, be it in class, outings, tournaments and etc. These are the time that we should put academic aside and focus on bringing out our pupil’s potential, cut down on their negativity and enlighten them with more positive thinking. As I always believe that as teachers’ we must provide a value and humanistic education for our pupils. Pupils’ happiness is the upmost importance.

    (3) I guess anything is possible as it depends on whether we want to do it anot and be consistent throughout all Singapore primary and secondary schools. Some of the features are the time revolution, management structure of MOE and mentality of the public. Time is an issue as we are very used to what it takes for a Singaporean to go through all the tests, exams, PSLE, O-level, A-level and etc, to be able to survive. Suddenly one day, we take away all tests and exams, what is it like? Even if we want to in cooperate the ‘waste time’ or ‘lose themselves’ into our daily lesson, older generation teachers’ may need time to adapt and agree on the importance of the new curriculum. In the end, it may take years to be fully tested. Another issue is the management structure of the curriculum and syllabus must change totally. So that it can fit in this ‘play time’ into the whole MOE framework. Is it possible? And last but not least is the social context that determines whether this ‘play time’ is to be in cooperated into the schools is none other than the mentality or preparedness of the public. How willing are they? How supportive are they towards this change? Can Singaporean survive without a strong academic background?

  9. From my point of view, I liked the idea of allowing “experimentation through playing” as I think it can help to foster creativity. One reason is that if students are restricted and tied down by textbook contend and routines that has been around for decades, how creative can they get? I doubt they are motivated or even interested to think out of the box, since I don’t feel the need to if I’m in their position. Thus, it is important for us, teachers, to employ new and interesting ways, such as to incorporate “playing”, which can stimulate our students to learn by letting their imagination and creativity run wild. I guess we’ll all be surprised with the outcome if we did try out this approach.

    I felt that the notion of allowing our students to “waste time” and “lose themselves” is not really feasible in the current school system where more emphasis is still placed on academic results. However, I would really like to incorporate these into my lesson if I could as I feel that time is not really “wasted” if my students get to benefit from these time as they gain more from it as compared to spending their time” wisely” to go through the usual routine of drills after drills to prepare for exams.

    Despite the fantastic idea, our current education system is built upon preparing students for the high-stake examinations, from PSLE to O Levels to A Levels. Students are given 6 years to prepare for PSLE, then 4 years to prepare for the O’s and then 2 years to prepare for their A’s. As time becomes a limiting factor, it is difficult to actualise these ideas of playful curriculum and goal-less design. How many schools would dare to take up the challenge by implementing these ideas and put their students’ exam performance at stake? I supposed, hardly. So, unless out education system reforms, these ideas will only be adapted into the curriculum somehow, but can never become a main focus in the curriculum designed.

  10. In my opinion, I like the idea of “experimentation through playing” as I strongly believe that it will help in fostering creativity and critical thinking which is important for the new knowledge based economy.

    This method may takes up the teacher’s time however, children need to learn from experience. We can’t get teacher to keep spoon-feeding the children and may may not develop into independent learners.

    However, our education system in a way does not allows time for experimentation through playing. Our system are more towards achieving results which also does not allows teacher to try this approach as to finish up the syllabus.

  11. I believe that when people (both adults and children) are allowed to ‘experiment through playing’, they tend to be more creative. this is so as everyone learns at their own pace and in their own way. by doing things their way, they will be able to let their creative juices flow. when experimenting or playing, people will definitely learn more because they are more engaged in whatever they are learning and doing.

    I think that the notions of allowing the students to ‘waste time’ and ‘lose themselves’ are meant in a good way. Students learn more when they learn through their own ways. By ‘wasting time’ and ‘losing themselves’ to find their own solution to a question, it makes learning more meaningful for them. However, I feel that these characteristics might not be consistent with the roles of Singapore teachers. this is so as teachers are always expected to complete teaching a syllabus on time. this will then leave for no room for the students to learn through their own ways.

    I find that it might not be possible to implement this strategy in the Singapore schools. this is so as the curriculum are structured such that there will be a ‘goal’ to be achieved at the end of every lesson. without any goals, the lessons will be deemed as useless. Students, on the other hand, are trained to work towards their goals too. for them, the goal would be to excel in their tests and exams

  12. The need to cover the syllabus to prepare the students for the high-stake exams at the end of each stage of their education is a great deterrent to the idea of implementing a goal-less design in schools.

    The article talks about how playful creativity has resulted in many wonderful inventions and thus the development of mankind. However, some very practical question to ask:
    1) How much time do one spend “playing” before one can see any result?
    2) What do we do if we do not see any result after investing much time and effort in “playing”? Do we keep “playing” while waiting for the results to appear? How do we know when to stop “playing” because we are not seeing any results?
    3) Do we have this kind of time to spend in the school environment where time is such a precious comodity?

    Being a small island with no natural resources, Singapore is a practical society (many have been told to give up their dreams of being artists and musicians as these are deemed as jobs that cannot support a family) that relies on its quality workforce to drive economic growth. The key objective of education is to prepare stduents to contribute to the economy. Parents, students and the society has high expectations of schools to teach students skills and content that can be transferable to the workplace.

    Thus, for the idea of “playful folly” and “goal-less design” to take off, the curriculum will need to teach students competencies that will ensure their employability when they leave school.

  13. Well, the idea do sound nice but for a small island-state like Singapore would it then be plausible?

    I remember when I was young and coming from a lower middle-income family, my family could not afford expensive toys or games for me and my sister. We had to “invent” toys and games to entertain ourselves. We were happy with skipping ropes made from discarded rubber bands or making ‘guns’ from wooden sticks and playing police and thief with the neighbours’ kids. Yes, I do agree we were creativity do sometimes result from play and we did also learn some important social skills when we interact with other kids.
    Kids these days are harder to be pleased. Play are becoming more complex and technically more sophisticated. Innocent fun is a thing of the past. They are happy just being infront of the computer (social skills?). But I think creativity still can be nurtured using “play” although it can be quite challenging these days to stimulate students.

    2. and 3.
    Good to have but the stakes have to be considered. And I mean stakeholders. Ministry, would they be willing to take away or decrease the number of national summative assessments? Parents, they still want their kids to do well. So how well will depends on how they do in exams but to the question on assessments. Teachers and schools, pressure from ministry and parents to perform? I can understand also the need for Singapore to remain pragmatic to survive and would that mean some things have to be sacrificed like (some things must go) creativity?

  14. Experimentation through playing is certainly not a new idea. Academics have studied this for many years and kindergartens and Montessori schools have used this idea to shape their curriculum for the longest time. Recent programmes like PAL and STELLA at the lower Primary aim to foster creativity through play.

    In my school, this has been largely successful. P1 and 2 pupils can be seen making sandwiches in class, having picnics along the corridors and writing a story about their experiences later. The children have fun and real and authentic learning takes place.

    For character development in my school, we have embarked on something called ‘Pride for play’. This is where lower primary pupils are given a period of free play. They decide on what they want to play, who they want to play with and how to play. This autonomy is welcomed by the children but it also brings about much conflict amongst the little ones. This is when the teacher steps in to facilitate learning within the group. Pupils learn many things in this one period- from how to speak politely to one’s friend to conflict mangement.

    Having said all these, a strong underlying curriculum for each programme must still exist. Teachers must know and understand why they are doing certain things and there must be an eventual goal. For Pride for Play in my school, certain socio-emotional competencies must be met after each term. For PAL and STELLA, the EL department works hard to tag grammar, vocabulary and other EL skills to each play session. Each teacher must also be equipped with the necessary skills to facilitate learning and to teach skills. If all these are in place, I don’t see why we should not allow children to play. This, I believe, gives them space for creativity and this is how children should learn.

  15. I would like to draw my thinking about this idea of “experimentation through playing” as an approach to foster creativity from the speech by Sir Ken Robinson on “Do school kill creativity?. It is interesting to note that Sir Ken Robinson, in his speech at the TED last year, said that the most creativity period of a person’s life is during their childhood. Could this be due to the frequency of plays that possibly occur most often during childhood’s days? If this is indeed true and ascertained by further research, this would lead to important implications on the curriculum design for primary and secondary schools and tertiary institution. This is especially so, if we are to prepare our young for the innovation driven economy ahead.

    However, it remains to be seen to what extent the idea of “experimentation through play” can be incorporated into the school system which maintains the need for high-stake examination. This will be a challenge for the 21st century school leaders.

    Conversely, we need to think about the readiness of teachers carrying out a curriculum based on experimentation through play which presumably is rather fluid. We may also need to examine teacher’s readiness to rely upon creative assessment mode to assess students’ learning outcomes rather than the long standing practice of paper and pen tests. And how ready are parents in accepting this “experimentation through play” curriculum when tangible results such as grades may not be used as the mode of assessment.

  16. With regards to Prof Halpin’s notions of allowing students to “waste time” and “lose themselves, I view this notion as a form of “to waste time is to gain time”.

    “To waste time is to gain time” refers to the idea that time wasted in the short term which lead to a constructive outcome such as the birthing an idea or an insight or a new perspective may result in gaining more time in the long term. Thus, I find that we should “waste time” and “lose ourselves” in a constructive and meaningful manner.

    In light of the recommendation in the recent SERI report on strengthening teacher-students relationship and Character and Citizenship Education, I find that this notion of “waste time” and “lose themselves” is most notably applicable for teachers at this time.

    If teachers allow themselves to “waste some times” with their students and provide opportunities for students to “lose themselves”, this could be a platform for teachers to guide students in finding their passion and purpose in life. With SERI, I find that the role of teachers may propel more towards the direction of allowing students to “waste time” and “lose themselves” in shaping the characters of our students.

    Having said that, teachers may need to learn the skills to facilitate students to waste time and lose themselves constructively. I find that the demands and responsibilities of teachers are getting more challenging in educating our students in the 21st century. Thus, it is crucial that school leadership should learn the know-how of facilitating teachers to “waste some time” and “lose themselves” in order to develop the skills set needed to educate our young in this new century.

  17. have you heard of learning under no pressure can sometimes yield better results. That is because we are learning:
    . without being on guard that we will be tested or examined
    . without the pressure of having to produce results
    . because we are interested and self-motivated

    so why not, it is a win-win situation. let’s just say that in our Singapore context, we are often too overwhelmed with “how to account for our to account that we did learn?” now the argument for summative and formative assessment comes into the picture again.

    it is plausible to link play and creativity, exploration through experimentation and play with learning. but i must admit it is indeed not an easy task because we need a shared vision and understanding from the top level to the hands-on people involved.

    it sounds so apt to describe schools as places that “prescribe and pressurize” students..and for that matter, include teachers and parents as is true..take a step back to unlearn..learn..and..relearn..schools ought to “prescribe and pressurise less; to become happier places”..i ask this question, are we grooming people of gifts or robots with no hearts and soft skills and only narrowly aim for results, academics..and live lives of “don’t know why we..” – study hard, teach hard, work hard and ultimately left with people with mental and emotional issues, hard-hearted, selfish living with the vocabs of “i”, “me”, “my”, “mine”

    so many parents make their children pursue what they think is best for many teachers venture into projects and activities they excel in and what the school hopes to achieve but if no one look at what the students really want, are really good at..they just learn conformity from young.

    try, ‘waste time’ on and ‘lose themselves’ in their interests and projects and not to work mostly at what their teachers determine..perhaps there will be a beautiful outcome because the use of “playful curriculum design” does encourage deeper learning and creativity and that’s because there’s a notion of “goal-less design” and “playful folly” that allows an amount of flexibility that’s not overly restricted by pre-established goals. It also neither undermine the ability of our students to become creative nor prevent them from becoming true and authentic learners.

    is our country and society ready to “waste time” and “lose themselves” for learning and creativity to take place? If not now..when?

  18. Personally, I welcome the idea of allowing students to “waste time” and “lose themselves” in their interests and projects. Quite apart from fostering creativity (and I am by no means certain that such an approach would achieve this), this will help give a boost to the students’ intrinsic motivation to learn, which I sense is missing from our students these days. This is worrying as lifelong learning, unlearning and relearning is one of the most crucial 21st century competencies, given the rapid and pervasive changes in the world today.

    That said, I feel that it is essential to have imparted the basics of a subject before we can let our children roam at will. After all, without the fundamental knowledge and roadmap, they would not even know where to begin! Moreover, I think that to be creative, one must first have substance. Just look at all the successful novelists, artists and composers – they must surely have spent a great deal of their youth learning and honing their craft. I doubt that they would be able to achieve what they have if their teachers/mentors had simply allowed them to do anything they want. So I believe it is important to strike a good balance here between play and rigour.

  19. Looking at the current reality, it is difficult to concur with the idea of allowing our students to “waste time” and “lose themselves”.

    Suppose it becomes an explicit aspect of our curriculum, it would eventually end up being structured and specific outcomes will still be tagged to the play activities. It would also probably entail a committee being formed to look into the worth of play in the curriculum. In other words, it will be difficult for stakeholders to be convinced of the value of play lest they see the concrete benefits.

    But if we are to prepare our pupils to be more creative, the current situation should be tweaked. Given that flexibility and fluidity in the curriculum will go a longer way in fostering creativity, teachers, stakeholders and students should view such ‘experimentation through playing’ as long term investments. For creativity to flourish, what is required is a radical shift in mindset that it is something not directly apparent or measureable, yet important enough to be granted precious curriculum time.

    However, having said that, from the pragmatic view of Singaporeans, creativity will not be granted high priority unless it is being assessed. But do we want to go down that road? I think not. Thus, a play curriculum may be desirable but not practical and hence not valued in our context.

  20. Schools should be happy places, not pressure cookers. As a mother, I often observe how young children enjoy attending nursery and kindergarten classes in their formative years, probably because there is a high element of free play for students to learn, grow and express themselves, usually with songs, dance and drama interwoven in their curriculum. These students look forward to school everyday, to meeting their teachers and friends. When they return home, they are happy to share what they have learnt/done in school. They proudly show their pieces of work to their parents and family. Yet, as these students progress to primary and secondary schools, we see less of this happening.

    Why is this so? Could it be that we are not offering the time and space for our students to learn, grow and express themselves? I like Prof. Halpin’s notion of allowing students to “waste time” and “lose themselves” as it returns the child to the free play experience in nursery and kindergarten. They observe, do, make mistakes, learn. Do we communicate that it’s ok to make mistakes and learn from mistakes? Or do we equate mistakes with failure?

    It goes back to the whole idea of having “too much at stake”. How do teachers view the notion of wasting time? An activity without meaning? A mad catch-up with the syllabus? I share Chui Eng’s view that sometimes it’s ok to waste time to gain time. You waste time to really go down and understand the needs of your students; you build the rapport with your students to establish that relationship. You try to understand their concerns, fears, anxiety. But at the end of the day, there must be a balance. As Yi-Huak put it, we must build the basics for our students to learn to express and negotiate their learning, while giving them the time and space to experiment and find meaning. This is not an easy task.

  21. I would like to agree with Tim Brown’s idea of allowing “experimentation through playing” as possible approaches to fostering creativity.

    Have you watched Junior MasterChef? Aren’t the children on the show impressive? As I watch the episodes, I wonder to myself how did the children get so good at cooking. Do they attend culinary school? Perhaps some of them do… but at age 10, how did they get so skillful and creative? I imagine that for most of them, they started off playing in the kitchen. They make cookie dough with their parents, then move on to cooking simple dinners for the family. All this creativity came to them probably because of the fun they have while experimenting and cooking at home. There is no pressure and I am quite sure they get praises from their families when they to cook any dish.

    I think even as grownups when we are given the time and space to experiment and be allowed to make mistakes without penalties, we can definitely be more creative in our thinking and outcomes.

  22. Dear Sir,

    Qn ” Is playful curriculum design or goal-less design in schools as espoused by Dr. Jude Chua — to be more specific in the preparation and implementation of the school curriculum – really possible? Can you identify some features of Singapore schools’ social context that could prevent these novel ideas from ever being tried and tested?”

    The first part as to the viability on having a playful curriculum is something that teachers in general have long crave for and wanted to have. Play as in constructive work where students immerse themselves activities that are fun yet educational has been known to foster creativity, communication skills and even shape social attitudes between children and foster collaboration and other critical interpersonal skills. I think there are many arguments supporting play as a means of instruction, especially among young children. However if we think about it, even adults love to have play during trainings or workshops. It makes the environment safe for making mistakes and learning takes place in a friendly environment.

    No one disputes the pedagogical merits of utilising play in instruction. However in SIngapore’s context arguments against play in the classroom includes the fact that play is not seen as learning by some parents and school leaders. Play does not lend itself into easily measured attitudes, skills and competencies in the learners. In the SIngapore’s context, where a teacher is hurried in completing the syllabus and prepare students for high stakes assessments, there is very little room for involving play as a means for instruction.

    However is there really no case for ‘play’ at all? Let me propose ways in which we can incorporate the ideals of play and to give them space in a compact school environment like us.

    I was just reading TIME magazine coverage of the Finnish education system and felt that having teachers who can follow up a child from 6 to 12 years of his education, would allow a teacher to a great latitude of time to get to know each child and his learning attitudes better. More importantly with such a broad timespan, he could look at the delivery of the curriculum and where possible incorporate play elements in the appropriate time.

    In the SIngapore context, instead of giving teachers the opportunity to teach only a level in a year, we should allow teacher to take students say from Sec 3 and Sec 4. Though they would be sitting for a national examination at the end of Sec 4, the teacher would have ample of time from Sec 3 to incorporate play. He would not be as rushed for time, if he was given the class only at Sec 4.

    Another way we can incorporate play in the classroom, is to educate the parents. We have a duty to explain to the parents that play constitutes an important element of a child’s well being and is part of his intellectual development. Edutainment, Montessori and other methodology has creep up in recent times and parents I believe would be more amenable to the idea if they feel that the teachers are knowledgeable in how they combine play elements into instruction. Without such explanation, parents would questions and raise doubts.

    Finally we can implement play in our context if we look at educating a child in 3 phases. (Introduction, Mastery and Application). IN agreeing with AD Whitehead, I feel that as a history teacher we can introduce play when we are starting a unit or a new topic. This could lead the students to understand the various domains and rationale of the subject. In teaching the role of Adolf Hitler in world War 2, a teacher could bring a board game and teach the students the rudimentary of the game. This would develop a keener interest in the subject that one is teaching.

    There is little room for play in the second phase where students need to consolidate their learning and make it clear what their ideas and things that they have remembered. Here play is often not possible as they would be drill and practise, which are important elements of the education process.

    In the final stage, the application of learning takes place. This is where students make higher order judgements and assumptions on the role of Hitler. And is WW2 avoidable etc? they can make use of the materials in the other lessons to act as a comparison to what they have discovered. The room for play is limited but not impossible. I do know of colleagues who have set up ‘mock courts’ and ‘tribunals’ complete with costumes etc, to give a trial of Adolf hitler. Students based on their research play the roles of defendants and prosecutors.

    Finally, to incorporate play, an astute and skillful teacher needs to free up time and needs to effectively teach the other topics well. He will need in the Singapore context be able to prepare his students well for external exams. Once his confidence has been met, he should as a challenge to himself, see how he can incorporate useful elements from play into his lessons. By not stretching himself into enlarging his repertoire of skills, he is preventing himself of further growth in his career, regardless of the many distinctions that his students scores in the national examinations

  23. My humble thoughts:

    I like to share my personal experience of students learning through play.

    Lesson Observation of Learning through Play

    I have observed a Geography teacher in school using LEGO to teach urban planning to a group of A Level students. Students were given freedom to build parts of a mega city like London using LEGO keepin in mind basic principles of urban planning to build a city to solve a problem based question. The purpose of this exercise is for students to role play as urban planners to solve real life problems.

    What then did I observed from the students?

    Key Learning points

    1. The students were very excited when first realised that they were using LEGO to solve the problem given.
    2. However, using play while it engages students is exciting for students also have its limitations. Meaning, play can only be a hook to engage students for learning, the whole lesson in terms of the crafting of the scenario and problem has to be authentic for sustained learning through out the lesson to take place.
    3. Using ‘play’ alone does not ensure that students have conceptual understanding of the topic they are to learn.
    4. Learning by play must be seen as a conceptual framework with learning points purposefully crafted into it for meaningful learning for students to take place.

    I hope this real life experience gives us some useful learning points to take note when adopting the approach ‘Learning by play’ in the classroom.

  24. While Singapore has one of most successful and highly admired education system in world, critiques highlighted that it does not promote sufficient level of creativity and innovation to compete in the global economy of the 21th century. Singapore lagged behind compared to other developed countries in the number of patents registered, leading products and brand names and Nobel prizewinners. Singapore also does not have many renowned international names in the sciences, literature, arts, music etc.

    I totally agree with Tim Brown that allowing “experimentation through playing” is an important approach to foster creativity. Creativity takes time to be developed and cannot be taught from the textbooks. Students need to be given sufficient opportunity to experiment and explore new ideas, develop alternatives and space to make mistakes and learn from them.

    The government has realized the limitations of our education system in the past and introduced several initiatives to promote creativity and innovation. This includes the Thinking School Learning Nation (TSLN), Masterplan for IT, Teach Less Learn More (TLLM) and Innovation and Enterprise (I&E).

    The above initiatives have met a considerable amount of success, however critiques believed that the success is very superficial and has not brought about the desired paradigm change in mindset of teachers and other stakeholders. Many teachers take the slew of initiatives by MOE as an additional burden to their already heavy workload. Teachers are still expected to cover the syllabus and ensure that their students excel in high stake exams (e.g. PSLE).

    In my opinion, the idea of playful curriculum design or goal-less design espoused by Dr. Jude Chua is not possible to be implemented in Singapore schools as the curriculum are imposed top down giving very limited room for teachers to create their own lesson objectives in the classroom which is outside the syllabus. The idea is probably more plausible at higher education such as in the polytechnics and universities here.

  25. (1) The path to foster creativity and encourage experimentation is very elusive because the whole definition of creativity and innovation and the process of experimentation have yet to be comprehensively understood.
    Currently, there are many education consultants agree that ‘play’, ‘experimentation’ and ‘relaxation’ lead to creativity. Many believe it is a skill that can be taught. Some believe in metaphysics- it lies in the conscious or subconscious. It could be an inherent gift or a latent talent waiting to be unlocked. Harvard Business Review has a whole series of readings on developing organizational cultures and work teams for creativity to achieve profit breakthrough. There is even a behavioral school of thought that purports the notion of creativity as a survival instinct encompassing the ideas of neophilia (love of new ideas) and neophobia (avoidance of strange/ possibly harmful events) for predators and non-predators respectively.

    Some other elements which I thought could be interesting for discussion are:
     creativity comes from when there is a meeting of new ideas usually from interaction with different people from diverse backgrounds who share ideas freely (The Medici Effect)

     creativity or curiosity or experimentation may not necessarily have a direct profit motive in mind (look at Benjamin Franklin flying his kite with a key during a lightning storm or reminisce about your next-table classmate designing her June holidays collection of paper dresses for her homemade paper cut-out dolls without any thought for profit). Profits or results might occur as a residual effect.

     incubation- playing the idea/ thought/ product/ skill over time after time. It could be an obsession where it occupies a person’s every waking moment or in other cases, something kept in the back-burner to be re-examined again and kept aside for further incubation

     Innovation is when a creative idea is made feasible or workable. Again, there might not necessarily be a profit or monetary gain when an idea sees fruition as an innovation
    (2) There is a temptation to ‘structure’ time for our children because we assumed that children may not know how to optimise their time. Students, on their own accord, perfectly understand the notion to ‘waste time’ and ‘lose themselves’. When students are left on a beach without the distraction of their laptops, iphones and textbooks, many of them would end up doing something fun and interact among themselves.

    Spending time, interacting with students, listening to their opinions, encouraging them and engaging them on various issues is very consistent with what a teacher does. Most teachers would agree that they joined the profession and find much fulfillment in their interaction with students, which sadly, there is lesser and lesser time for.

    (3) There is a need to consider the needy and under-privileged and maybe even those from the lower-middle income group who cannot afford the resources to send their students for tuition to master the subject content after their ‘playful’ sessions in schools. Eventually, they will encounter a face-off with high-stakes national examinations.

    If this scenario plays out, the schools will resort to ‘drop-all-playing’ six months before the national exams. Predictably, the period will be further extended to 9 months, then to one year, to one year + one year preparatory.

    The ‘creative educational reform’ requires creative implementation so that real time and space is actually made in the curriculum and safeguards to prevent it from being ‘hijacked’ by pressures of national examinations. This has to be followed by influencing parents expectations which forms part of the social context.

    If such an idea is critical in preparing Singaporeans for the new global environment, then an overhaul in the curriculum and assessment is needed. Left on its own as ‘novel ideas’ for schools to try and test, at best, we will see unequal degrees of implementation in schools.

  26. I am enthused by comments like this, especially in the Singapore context, where every fun activities has been institutionalised (e.g. ECA to CCA with NE and SEL outcomes).

    While there is a place for planning and pursuing outcomes in a rigorous way, I feel it is time and there is a place to look at learning as an attitude and lifeskill. We need to give greater emphasis to exciting pedagogies like games and inquiry-based learning.

    In addition, we need to create moments (in an increasingly piled school hours) to let our children explore play as a form of learning, without adult interference.

  27. Some of my 2 cents worth of thoughts:
    A “goalless design” in itself has a goal. A “playful curriculum” required deep subject and pedagogical understanding and mastery to achieve.

    Much literature on Outdoor Education came to my mind as I was thinking over this issue. Are we not experimenting with outdoor education programme, i.e. using outdoor education to build character through play? Similarly, many of us are also using overseas service learning projects as authentic learning transfer tasks for “experimentation of ideas/ knowledge”?

    There are much literature from different schools of thought, arguing for and against outdoor education. In particular, I want to highlight that Brooks (2003) proposed that outdoor education provides opportunities to elicit certain behaviours in his critique of the Neo-Hahnian Outdoor Education theory. If we were to follow this through, would it also mean that the “letting loose” and the design of “play” would encourage certain kinds of creativity, social skills and norm learning, but a change of “play” would bring forth other kinds of behaviours and norm “learning”?

    Hence, would an authentic transfer task of building a sustainable water system in a village be “play and experimentation” for the pupils? And would “play” and the “goalless design” of an kayaking expedition lead to creativity and learning?

    Then, what would be our focus of education and curriculum? Economically, the stakes are high for Singapore to go into “play and experiment” as we need a minimal literacy level to support our survival. However, fundamentally, are we learned sufficientlly to benefit from the “goalless design” and “playful curriculum”?

    At the basic level of education ( and I am including the basic degree as well), much of the knowledge and subject mastery happens, especially when the basis of knowledge and subject mastery is anchored on. However, beyond this mastery is the application and the discovery of newer thinking and newer applications where one will depend on “playful curriculum” to achieve new perspectives.

    For example, should the pupils understand the basic physic laws, i.e. movement, would a “playful curriculum” be beneficial as they have the basis of understanding and appreciation of the “play” – during which, the proposed becomes very powerful in learning.

    Pragmatically, being a secondary school teacher, I felt that we are still at a stage where our pupils are still learning the fundamentals, and may not see the light of the proposed in our system very much in the future (although personally, I wish it could happen.)

    Agreeing with some of the comments made by others earlier, the next best thing we could do is to create a happy learning environment where pupils are guided in experimentation and play designed with a purpose so as to help them master the basic knowledge they need to learn.

    Just my 2 cents worth!

  28. Further to my 2 cents worth:

    This thought came to me after I shut down my system… A research was done in 2007 in a secondary to look at High School Students’ Perceived Creativity Self-efficacy and Emotions in a Service Learning Context. The objectives of the Service Learning Projects then was academic focused, and the study shows a positive outcome, though unplanned for.

    In 2009, this school conducted another study to study Sene of Community and Outdoor Education. The planned objective for the Outdoor Education curriculum focuses on character-building and leadership building, but the Outdoor Education also raises the pupils’ sense of community. In 2010, the study was taken further and planned for an experimentation group to have a planned curriculum to achieve the objective of community building while the control group continued to go through the routine outdoor education curriculum. The result – both the control and experimental group achieved a increased level of sense of community, but the experiment group achieved a higher level of sense of community while the control group’s reported increase was similar to previous study. This research was presented at the Outdoor Education Conference 2010.

    It brings to mind that a “goalless design” and “free play” may achieve some form of learning through interest and otehr factors, but are we not leaving it to chance instead of helping them construct and scaldfold thier knowledge building process? One conclusion drawn from the study in 2010 for consideration was really about the need for educators to do our part in structuring and planning for learning, but not leaving it to chance.

    For your consideration.

    Tan, A. G., Ho, V., Ho, E., & Ow, S. (2008). High school students’ perceived creativity self-efficacy and emotions in a service learning context. The International Journal of Creativity and Problem Solving, 18(2), 115-126.

  29. ‘Experimentation through play’ is a good approach to teaching. Sometimes students learn better through play. Let’s look at how young children learn. At home, parents do not seat them down and teach them all the time, it is through play that they learn. In kindergarten, learning is made fun through play and yet they learn. So is it possible? I have tried play in my class. I have introduced games into my lessons and students go through the experimentation phase. They were told what they will be learning. Instead, they were told to just play the games and they were then asked to reflect on what they learned. And yes they did learn. However, I feel they should be a structure. The lesson has to be planned. Teachers need to know what they want out of the lesson. Teachers should be able to act as facilitators to help students with their thinking and learning. The idea of letting students ‘lose’ themselves can be applicable but again teachers have to be there to help guide them back. Imagine someone lost in a jungle, he will not be able to find his way out unless he is guided or found. Even if he managed to find his own way out, there may be this ‘fear’ or psychological damage done to him that could stop him from entering a jungle again. So if we allow students to ‘lose’ themselves but not help them to find their way out, their may lose their confidence and morale and may not want to enter the realm again.

  30. My opinion of the idea of allowing “experimentation through playing” is that it is a good pedagogy for fostering creativity. Through play, students are able to use their knowledge, experience and intuition in playing. At the same time, they learn to play by the rules and regulation of the game. They learn the benefits of teamwork and socialisation when they play in a group. We often observed this pedagogy used in pre-school years.

    When formal education starts at primary school, teachers face time constraint of finishing fixed syllabus when we use a centralised curriculum. The second deterrent would be the question of accountability to stakeholders like parents and MOE on the achievement of our students. The degree of creativity exhibited by our students is not an easily measured outcome compared to exam scores. Another deterrent would be our social norm that failure is not acceptable. If we were to allow our students to develop creativity through play, we need to shift our mindset to adopt failures as incremental steps for bigger success. The other constraint that must be removed in order for our students to learn by “experimentation through playing” is to give our students time and space to learn at their own pace. Currently we place students in schools according to their age and they are expected to learn at the same pace as everyone else and our students graduate in batches ready for the working world. For economic reasons, we may not be able to afford to have our students “waste time” and “lose themselves” in pursuit of creativity.

  31. I am all for experimentation through playing. Throughout my teaching career, experimentation through playing has always been one of my preferred teaching pedagogy, whenever possible as I strongly believe that it will make learning more engaging and enduring. But, I had my successes and failures.

    Students enjoyed the learning process, but they were unable to connect the learning. They were unable to connect the learning because they were not wired to learn in this fashion from primary schools. Although many children learned through experimentation and playing when young, they have been programmed that the key success factor to real learning is ‘drill and practise’. Thefore, a structure is still needed to be in place to help bridge the gap. The structure is needed for the benefit of students, and teachers too. Teachers may not be experienced enough to facilitate the learning as students experiment through playing. To many students, parents and even educators, real learning will only take place through worksheets, homework, test, examinations, remedials and tuitions.

    Therefore, whether it is a curriculum that allows ‘waste time’ and ‘lose themselves’ or playful curriculum or goal-less curriculum, it will not be feasible or have firework success if there isn’t a major paradigm shift or a renewing of many minds.

    But, maybe we can learn a point or two from Steve Job. iPhone and IPad have huge success and have revolutionised the way work, play and communication are done. The primary technology that IPhone and IPad has, touchscreen, is nothing new. Apple is able to achieve huge success and not the predecessors, is simply because Steve Job was very clear of the products he wanted to give to the world and had all the ‘big rocks’ covered from hardware to software, before he introduced the products. He had created revolution to the mobile device industry without making any reform. One of the key enablers to the success of IPhone and IPad is the availabilty of huge number of apps. The rest of the mobile device makers merely ride on the revolution.

    Likewise, there will be huge success in ‘experimentation through play’ or ‘playful curriculum’ or ‘goal-less curriculum’ if the creators are very clear and sure of the benefits their proposed change will bring to education and are able to get all the big rocks covered, from textbook to teacher training to examination format.

  32. A proposal for Singapore schools: Why not allow our kids to “waste time” and “lose themselves” as approaches to learning and creativity?

    If I were a school Principal, I would definitely accept this proposal. Why not let our children go through ten years of compulsory education in a flexible-curriculum approach? Anyway, as educators we do not deny the value of experiential learning (Kolb’s model) as well as incidental learning. Kids should be allowed to discover their own potential by deciding their own timetable in school but still based on both a primary, secondary or post-secondary curriculum and the broad desired outcomes of education.

    In Republic Polytechnic, students are taught through a unique adaptation of the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) approach, where students design or are posed a problem to solve. The students will develop skills to handle situations, tackle issues and complete tasks in a knowledge-driven environment. As part of the PBL process, they will spend (“or waste”) time thinking through a problem and learn how to formulate their own answers – not second guess the right answer the teacher would prescribe – thereby acquiring higher-order skills of critical thinking and creativity. In a way, their students are given the liberty to “lose themselves” before being reeled back in by the teachers at the end of a task or project to consolidate and crystallize their learning.

  33. I would like to be more cautious about taking the words of creative individual at its face value. Sometimes it is easy for them to say “Let’s do this and let’s do that” because they have been there and done that.

    “If an answer does not give rise to a new question from itself, it falls out of the dialogue”
    Robin Alexander

    Whether “experimentation through playing” could possibly foster creativity depends on whether creativity can be in fact nurtured? I wonder what the creative individuals would say if we were to ask them what makes them creative? Imagine if we could interview William Shakespeare on what makes him creative, what would he say? What if creativity is a matter of nature rather than nurture? For the hope of all mankind, I am more inclined to subscribe to the latter. Creativity can be nurtured.

    Part of my childhood was spent watching my dad being creative behind the camera lens. He would conceptualize and compose a shot as and when he was inspired. Then he would stage it if possible or wait out on location for that perfect moment. Once he wanted to shoot a mice propping itself on a rope. He spent considerable time building the stage and an even longer time to train the mice to respond to commands. The shot won him many awards from numerous photography contests. I am an avid graphic designer myself. I have not attended any formal training in graphic design and my credential mainly comes from acknowledgement from requests to help in designing posters, T-shirts, invites etc. and the occasional winnings from design competitions. Have I inherited the creative genes or was it the constant exposure in watching my dad being creative? Or was it the immersion in creative related literature that was abundant at home. It could also be that my parents allowed me to explore and experiment. Being a father myself, I observed that children are playful by nature if they are allowed. In a playful and unthreatening environment, they are free to test hypothesis and build knowledge. Maybe the term “play” is difficult for some educators to grapple. We would be more receptive to perceive “play” as “trial and error” which in fact is experimentation as proposed by Tim Brown. Schooling is also about learning social norm and playfulness is not exactly our cultural understanding of social norm. In fact, we frown at kids running amok in the playground. What if they knock into somebody? What if they fall and hurt themselves? What if they get into the habit of running everywhere? The consequence of allowing kids to experiment and be in school is unthinkable. And the suggestion for them to “waste time” and “loose themselves” is even more far fetch in Singapore. We pride ourselves for being the most effective and efficient economy in the region. School is a place for them to become institutionalized as citizens of Singapore where orderliness, effectiveness and efficiency are virtues to uphold.

    Nonetheless, we have also started our reform to change the ways our children are schooled. Under the PERI recommendations, Programme for Active Learning (PAL) is progressively implemented across all the schools for Primary 1 and 2 pupils. PAL in its true nature aims to ease the pressure and allows students to be more participative in learning processes. And the Form Teacher Guidance Programme (FTGP) intends to build a stronger rapport between the teachers and the pupils too. This personal interaction time with the pupils is fundamental to a depressurized classroom. Nurturing creativity is more than just allowing pupils to free range. Our educators need to know how to facilitate “constructive” experimentation as well as holding productive dialogic conversation that involves expository and exploratory talks.

  34. Throughout this MLS, I have been introduced to ideas about the outcomes of a well-planned and executed curriculum. Much of these have to do with the broad themes of innovation, creativity, character education, leadership etc. Whilst listening out and making notes on how to improve curriculum planning in schools, I also have been conscious that I too can apply these principles in the upbringing of my own two daughters.

    One of our favorite activities is transforming a children’s tent into a “spaceship”. In this vehicle, we get to travel to many different places (in the same living room) and interact with many different creatures (stuffed toys). I believe this is the type of imagination that gives birth to the creativity we see in movies such as “Shrek ” and “Finding Nemo”; the directors are able to create characters with different attitudes and dispositions, bringing alive something out of nothing. Play allows imagination to lead into creativity, i.e, the ability to create something out of nothing.

    Social Emotional Learning (SEL) competencies can be nurtured through play. Sometimes we play “masak masak” can my daughter pretends that she is the waitress in a restaurant. In performing her role, she makes the effort to be polite and informs me (the customer) what I can or cannot order for children to eat (she tells me that dishes containing chili are not suitable for children). It is during the interaction of play that SEL competencies are nurtured.

    As the Subject Head for Pupil Leadership in my school, I often think about how to nurture leadership in my pupils. Reflecting on my own context, I remember the leadership appointments I held in the past as a secondary student. Before that, however, I realistic that the playground was probably one of the best “classrooms” for leadership training. It is within the playground that leaders emerge, the boisterous ones who would organize the players, explain the rules, break up fights etc. The social dynamics of play allows for children to learn about leadership and how to interact with and lead others.

    So yes, study hard…but go out and play!

  35. I am not sure if you have heard of this joke on creativity?
    A teacher walked into a class one day and said, “Class, today we are going to have a lesson on Creativity. But you will have to do according to what I tell you to.”
    It may sound funny initially but when I thought deeper, I asked myself, “Are our teachers really like the one illustrated above, am I also like that too?” First and foremost, I think we need to have creative teachers to produce creative students. I would also like to subscribe to the theory that creativity can be nurtured. This would mean that our “not so creative” teachers can be transformed to become creative for the benefit of our students.
    So what’s next after having creative teachers? It would be ideal to adopt Prof Halpin’s suggestion of allowing our students to “waste time” and “lose themselves” if only time permits. But sad to say, Singapore teachers have targets to meet, syllabus to cover and parents to answer to. How can that be possible?
    However, being creative teachers (if we are), I think we can be creative enough to think of ways to slowly inject creativity into our lessons and activities. We can say that we waste time now so as to gain time in future. Take for instance; we take time to set ground rules during our very first day of school with the class so that the students know the expectation(s) of the teacher. This will minimise disruption later in the year. Next, we can say that the students lose themselves now in order to find out who they actually are later in life. Isn’t this one form of creativity?

  36. Dear Everybody,

    my personal opinion – and that means my whole person, not just from my ‘teacher’ perspective – is that teaching creativity is just a little too far out along the ‘peripheries’ of formal/semi-formal education. That is to say, with so much to ‘do’ as educators in the endeavour of providing an ‘education’ to our students, teaching creativity is – I have to admit – a little lower down my list of priorities.

    I do not mean to say that creativity is not important. I merely mean to say I am still not convinced that creativity can be taught well in school or in a formal/semi-formal setting. The parallel statement is that MOE teachers are not yet proficient in teaching creativity.

    To pick up on Jachin’s point about play: I too advocate play as something very educational. So many existing factors in Singapore work towards creating the present unhealthy kaisu-tuition-exam-driven Singapore childhood existance. I hate to be part of the problem / complicit to this crime.

    My childhood friend chose to start and raise her family in Vancouver to save her kids from such a fate. One of my sister’s in-laws did the same too. Less radical are my contractor and my brother-in-law: they both raise their kids with these 3 rules-of-thumb (in no particular order):
    1. study, learn, keep up, perform…
    2. …but no need to bend-over-backwards to be no.1
    3. play, have fun, be happy

    I ‘do my part’ here and now by being an advocate of CCAs, sports, camps, learning journeys and other experiential learning opportunities.


  37. Since I&E was launched in 2004, there is a transformation in the education sustem. Under I&E, which is best delivered through a holistic education. In our all-round education, students can draw from a broad range of knowledge areas and experiences. A well-rounded education will give students time and space to realise their unique talents and abilities. This will add to their viability in an I&E-driven future. The time and space is considered the ‘waste time’ for students to learn and keep up their learning.
    In formal curriculum, content reduction has created more time and space
    for the infusion of thinking skills. Enhancements to our CCA and CIP structures have also helped create more student choice and encouraged
    students to take greater ownership of their learning.
    On the other, though curriculum content is reduced, there are gradually more demand in it which required teaching to take place also for the view of high-stake examination. In view of this, there could come to a stage where the back-wash effect occurred and the neglected currculum will also occur in the education system. Therefore, there must be a balance between provide time and space for students’ learning as well as the back-wash effect in the curriculum teaching.

  38. (start from 5:00 onwards)

    The video suggests that autonomy has a lot to with motivation and creativity. It cites the example of the company that gave its staff a day off to work with anybody on anything and how that autonomy had resulted in its staff coming up with solutions to some of the company’s problems. This is in essence similar to what Tim Brown and Dr David Halpin suggest. Google also subscribes to the same idea, encouraging its employees to take 20 percent of their work hours to do whatever they like. ( I think we can see a version of that in schools in the form of timetabled time. It is supposed to be a time for the exchange of creative ideas to improve teaching and learning but most of the time, administrative tasks, dissemination and results analysis take precedence. Structures drive behaviours but it seems that in a ‘pressure pot’ result-oriented environment in our context, behaviours and mindsets seem to be the drivers. I think it is also possible to allow that ‘free time’ for pupils to ‘play and experiment’ with ideas. However, unless it translates to or guarantees good results, I think some parents might not be receptive to that idea. It may be difficult to justify or implement against such a backdrop. As the article suggests, ‘Good things take time’. Unfortunately, time is always a constraint in our context.

  39. I totally agree with Mindy. Just to add a slightly different perspective about it is that there is another element at play here that needs a little bit of balancing for both parties involved. For creativity and motivation to succeed as what is happening to Google , etc, The bosses must create an atmosphere of trust and not put in checks or design an end purpose that does not resonate with the people doing their creative work. The people creating also have to understand that they are accountable for that decision made at point of creativity.

    It really is about balancing trust and accountability, training to be competent and be competent.

  40. While scanning the reply threads in 2010 and 2011, the comments seem to represent the mindset of educators in a period before 21st CC became the hallmark of conversations. I guess when one reads ‘playful curriculum design’ or ‘goal-less design’, the words ‘playful’ and ‘goal-less’ immediately provoke negative thoughts that such curriculum could bring. There was a common sentiment that to thrive well in Singapore, one cannot veer away from the prescribed syllabus and the deterministic placement examination system. The current responses from Mindy and Kenny, on the other hand, I sense there is a slight openness to experiment with the ideas.

    If we hope to prepare our students to be ready for the uncertain and unpredictable future economy, perhaps the idea of ‘playful curriculum design’ can be explored. To apply this in the context of Singapore schools, it may require using the suggested content in the syllabus and make use of exploratory learning approach in the form of student ‘play-at-work’. I suppose this approach of learning is not just engaging but it will also encourage creativity to flourish as teachers facilitate students towards the desired level of understanding.

    The design suggested by Dr Chua is possible if we can experiment at a small scale to see when and how they can work. The biggest hurdle that teachers have to overcome first is actually themselves. If we look deeper, the uncertainty or hindrance stems from their lack of confidence in their own competency to manouvre with their own pedagogical skills. I guess start small and find how best this design can best fit in the school curriculum.

  41. Experimentation through play is a laudable idea but it’s success is still very much contingent on the teachers’ ability to rationalise the ‘play activity’ to the students and facilitating the process of getting them to discover how their creativity has been sparked and enhanced. In addition, synthesising the students learning and engaging them in meaningful reflection of their learning so that deep learning takes place is a key challenge. However, I am not too sure if purists of the learning through play method will argue that such an imposed structure on this learning method, even if it was well intended to synthesise their learning, will rob the method of its creative essence. Every student learns differently and their time of arrival at ‘ah-ha’ moments are also different. As such is it still relevant to plan a time bound syllabus on learning creatively through play or should teachers simply work with broad aims and let the day to day flow of the lesson dictate the pace of the lesson? My impression is that the higher authorities are rather intolerable of a less than structured curriculum given the focus on timely assessments. I mean there is so much focus on assessment that even infants and toddlers are not spared as evidenced in the health booklets that clearly articulates a comprehensive series of checklists to assess their learning development. What is the intent of such rigourous assessments? Is it to instill overwhelming fear in the parent so that they will take the necessary actions to correct their child’s learning deficiency in the hope that they will not lag behind the average learning percentile of the population and fall comfortably in the rank and file of academically performing students in the future? Excessive obsession with assessment kills creativity and this must be addressed before even harbouring any plans of creating a play and create curriculum.

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