“The schools receive an initial developmental grant of up to $150,000 over three years to build up their expertise in one or two niches” (More Schools To Provide Niche Lessons, Miss Gwendolyn Ng).
I read with tremendous interest the news report, “More Schools To Provide Niche Lessons” (May 13, 2011) by Miss Gwendolyn Ng; the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) Programme for School-Based Excellence and Niche Programmes are steps in the right direction to encourage teaching-learning processes – and progressive excellence – in areas beyond the traditional school focuses. The monetary developmental grant would significantly boost resource and manpower capacities, and empower institutions to encompass their “niches” within co-curricular activities, and even school curriculum.
The advantages for students are quite straightforward: by infusing these “niche” elements via interdisciplinary approaches, students would find it less of a hassle to absorb the knowledge and information. More importantly, when infusing school topics such as Economics and Accountancy with concepts of entrepreneurship and basic investment, or coupling Science subjects with hands-on research or technological experiments, students would be able to see the applicability of their lessons in real-life career or work scenarios. For the school and its respective teachers, the years of preparation and teaching would allow the institution to build up a strong resource base, complete with teaching pedagogies, handouts and notes, contacts with external agencies or partners et cetera.
Nevertheless, the MOE should encourage these “niche” schools to work more closely together so as to enjoy economies of scale, and to minimise the duplication of content.
First, within an area of cluster demarcated by the ministry, after a school has sufficiently developed and mastered its niche – as determined through various key performance indicators (KPIs) – it should be encouraged to share this wealth of information and teaching-learning methodologies with its counterparts. This can be done through sharing sessions amongst educators, or the organisation of additional courses and lessons for students from the neighbouring schools. This is especially important because a single niche chosen by the school may not garner the same enthusiasm and interest from all its students. Different schools specialising in an assortment of niches can therefore afford their students with greater variety, and allow them to pursue their interests.
Second, schools sharing the same or similar niches can devise ways to work together collectively. This can be facilitated through sharing conferences, mutual presentations, or working sessions between the administrative teams to discuss past endeavours and possible future collaborations. Not only would this prevent the duplication of efforts and resources, but also significantly boost the available critical mass to provide students with more focused, effective and efficient learning packages.