*Produced by SilverKris for MapleBear Singapore*
In a country where academic achievement is valued over actual learning and children are overloaded with tests and tuition, one educator offers an alternative approach that has changed the future of many students since 1973.
Patricia Koh was the first in Singapore to offer quality bilingual preschool education in an enriched early-childhood setting designed especially for early success. The founder of Pat’s Schoolhouse in 1988, Patricia is a pioneer in changing the early childhood scene in Singapore.
In 2013, she left Pat’s Schoolhouse in the hands of an American Child Care Organisation, Knowledge Universe, and started MapleBear with the continued mission of offering the best early-years education. MapleBear is a Canadian education company with over 450 schools in 18 countries that first launched in 2005 and opened the first MapleBear Singapore outlet in 2013. Here, she trains educators to break conventions, challenge ingrained notions and teach through storytelling, experiments and experiences.
We speak to the education expert about her experience-centric teaching style, the evolution of preschool education in Singapore and its role in a child’s success in life.
How did you get into the education sector?
I struggled as a primary school student and realised that a lot of teachers who taught me were very traditional. At secondary one, I vowed that I would grow up to be a creative teacher and make learning a joy for children. At secondary three, I was teaching Sunday school classes. I remember buying goldfish as little incentives for kids to attend classes regularly. After graduation, I chose to study at the Teachers’ Training College before I got posted to a Primary School in Kampong Bahru.
What was it like to teach formally for the first time at Silat Primary School?
It was pretty challenging for me as a young teacher, as it was a remote school where many kids were highly disadvantaged. They weren’t able to spell their names or write the date on the righthand corner of their exercise books.
I found out that although they were smart in many ways, they were not able to cope with the spoken and written English or Mandarin. All of them were expected to understand both languages. It was a real struggle. I realised that if my students were to have an earlier start to education, that early-years education would have been different.
It was then that I decided to go back to basics and find out ways to help children before they start going to school.
Was there any way to learn about teaching preschool in Singapore back then?
Back then, Singapore had only some basic and intermediate training programmes for preschool teachers, so after having taught for two years as a Primary School teacher, I chose to go to Australia to study preschool education. It turned out to be an eye-opener for me. It changed my life.
What happened when you returned to Singapore?
I was excited to be in a kindergarten class and to start working with pre-schoolers. I had the best time of my life. I found joy in changing the way children learn during their early years. In 1978, when the Singapore government implemented pre-primary classes in primary schools, I was invited to join the then Institute of Education and to train thousands of teachers to work with five-year-olds in the Primary schools.
How long were you with the Institute of Education?
I was there for 10 years and was spearheading innovative ways for teachers to work with children. I initiated a Child Care Teacher Trainers (CCTT) programme and sped up the training of teachers in Children’s Literature, Art and Craft, Music and Movement, Early Mathematics, Early Science, Reading and Writing, Children’s Play and Creative Learning Corners.
How did you hear about the MapleBear brand?
It was by chance that I was asked to conduct teacher training for a Canadian friend who started his first MapleBear preschool in Vietnam, while I was managing Pat’s Schoolhouse. I was attracted to the philosophy and bilingual education focus and decided to launch MapleBear in Singapore in 2013. That was how MapleBear was started in Singapore and within the first year, I had five schools running.
What are the different methods of preschool education?
There are basically two ways to approach preschool education. On one extreme, children are raised to aspire to the top of the class. Very early in our lives we are taught only to give the right answers to achieve high scores. So teachers who follow this track will only give out worksheets, writing exercises and spelling lists to young pre-schoolers. They are more inclined to showcase their children as geniuses or champions.
On the other hand, in contemporary progressive approaches, children are encouraged to learn freely and at their own pace. They can choose to have their own timetable or agenda for the day. The adult is simply the facilitator and there to observe and guide the child. The child leads the teacher. They are in no hurry to teach children to read or write but to wait for the moment.
So what’s your approach to teaching?
I strongly believe in and have implemented a “horizontal” approach which focuses on the child as the keen learner and the teacher as being responsible for his or her learning and success. I advocate that learning is often “caught” and not “taught”. Our teachers must understand children’s developmental milestones and hold them by their hands and “show” them the world.
In my approach, there are no right answers. There are only possible answers that may become a great answer. I would encourage adults to celebrate “mistakes” and answers marked wrong by the teacher. Only then, our children will see the world differently from us and able to make the world a better place for all.
What else makes up your teaching philosophy?
Through my many dedicated years of experience and training in the field, I have discovered that children need not be taught the right answers to succeed in school. Not all apples are red nor the sky is always blue. By asking children to give the answers taught by their teachers will not get them very far.
What will truly help them to go far in life are the skills needed to face the future. I call these the 5 Cs: curiosity, the ability to ask questions; creativity, the ability to see things differently; confidence in themselves and what they can achieve; the communication skills to convey their thoughts and feelings; and the ability to collaborate with others.
What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced as an educator?
The greatest challenge is to change the mindsets of adults about how children learn. Most times we think that learning is difficult and therefore children need to be taught. Fortunately, children learn to walk and talk without formal instruction. If we had to formally teach children to walk and talk, they may not always end up succeeding!
For more information on the curriculum and methodology of Maple Bear Singapore, visit its website here.