Local schools are looking at conducive learning spaces and new age methods to engage, challenge and support learners.
THEY dash into the classroom all eager to start their first lesson of the day. There’s a reason for their enthusiasm – it isn’t a regular classroom. Missing are the regular desks and chairs arranged in rows.
Instead, what greets the Form One students of SMK Damansara Utama are tables and colourful chairs arranged in a non-conventional way. This is not all, the room is colourful and brightly lit, aimed at turning the classroom into a creative learning hub.
The makeover is also in line with the evolving needs of the current generation – 21st century learners.
In fact, the government has launched a programme on 21st century learning (SPA-21) that is compulsory for all schools in Selangor’s Petaling district.
Instead of the conventional chalk and talk teaching method, SPA-21 emphasises on enabling students to learn in a comfortable and conducive environment to allow for “better absorption” of lessons while enhancing their soft skills at the same time.
Experts in learning spaces have claimed that students learn more effectively and behave better in a “borderless learning” atmosphere when they have freedom to work in smaller groups.
Najah Alyaa Ahmad Mubin Rasydan prefers the current setting compared to the traditional classroom.
“The classes are fun and we learn better because we work with our classmates in a group. It brings out our creativity and boosts our confidence especially when we make presentations before the class,” added the 13-year-old.
Najah Alyaa’s classmates Alysha Thean Zhi Qi and Shastri Vel Devar agree with her.
“Apart from confidence, we also have a better relationship with classmates and teachers. We do have a grasp of what’s taught in class,” said Alysha, pointing out that the traditional teaching method hasn’t been as effective for many of her peers.
Shastri was initially reluctant to ask questions in class for fear of being laughed at, but now he doesn’t feel nervous anymore.
“Teachers are more than willing to explain topics that we don’t fully understand. They don’t penalise us for making mistakes as it is part of the learning process.
“Rather than working alone, we now have to collaborate with classmates as a team,” added Shastri.
SMK Damansara Utama senior assistant Ooi Siew Bee said that students are given “traffic cards” to indicate their understanding of the lesson.
“Students can raise the green card when they understand, the yellow one when they are uncertain, or the red card if they do not understand the topic.
“It is a fast and effective way for teachers to know who is keeping up with the lesson and who is not.”
The programme’s main emphasis is on the 3Cs – communications, collaboration and critical thinking - which are incorporated into class activities, added Ooi.
Class teacher Rafi’ah Idris who is pleased to have started her first posting at the school has no qualms about using the SPA-21 programme.
“This type of interactive teaching system is where the teacher is seen as the facilitator. It encourages and enables learners to produce creative ideas when activities are conducted.
“It is more student-oriented compared to the conventional way where the teacher is seen as the expert and the only source of knowledge.
“With the new teaching method, students are also given the chance to show their presentation skills,” she said.
The whole class, she said is involved in interactive learning activities, motivating each other with “healthy competition”.
Rafi’ah believes that teachers who adopt 21st century teaching methods can produce talented, high potential students who are equally good at problem-solving and communicating.
The school’s principal Zulaika A Rahman said the programme had brought a positive change in the students.
“I can see that my students are more confident as they have been given a chance to voice out their opinions. More importantly, they have the opportunity to learn how to work as a team and collaborate with each other,” she said.
Zulaika added that parents had given feedback on their children’s enthusiasm in wanting to attend school, thanks to the SPA-21 lessons.
SMK Damansara Utama, she said, is aiming to transform its lower secondary classes into 21st century classrooms.
SMK Assunta in Petaling Jaya has also decided to implement the SPA-21 method for its students in Forms One and Two.
The all-girl school has managed to carry out the programme in three classrooms and expects to do the same in three more soon.
It has also incorporated the Frog Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) which is part of 21st century learning.
The Frog VLE was launched in more than 90% of schools through the 1BestariNet initiative last year, connecting educators and students in 2,500 schools with high-speed 4G Internet.
Form Two student Saloni Ravi-chandran, said that the creative juices have been flowing freely not just for her, but her classmates as well, since the classroom was transformed.
“Unlike the conventional classroom where the teacher stands before the class, the learning space we have is much more welcoming for 21st century learners like us. I think we tend to ‘absorb’ information better,” she shared.
Her friends Kashmeetha Pillai and Alyaa Maryam are all for the new classroom layout and design.
“The old classrooms aren’t attractive. They are cramped making it difficult for us to mingle with our classmates. But with the new teaching method, it creates a different environment where the teachers can engage with us,” said Kashmeeta.
“Ideas do flow easily and learning is so much more fun,” said Alyaa.
English teacher Boey Suet Boey said 21st century teaching has made lessons “more efficient and relevant”.
She said that the Education Ministry’s move to bring technology into classrooms, was commendable.
“Teaching using the SPA-21 method allows students to be innovative and communicative. They are also more focused,” she said.
Boey shared that weak students have become more enthusiastic about lessons.
“They are willing to come in the morning to work on their assignments, and to hand them in as well.
“Although the weaker students take a longer time, they are still able to complete their assignments. In fact, some of their projects are comparable to those of the better students. This brings great satisfaction to me as a teacher,” she added.
Her colleague Tan Siew Fong, also an English teacher, shared her sentiments.
“Students are now more eager to send in their work even if they are not particularly fond of the subject.
“They are keen to know about their forthcoming projects – a clear indication that they are eager to learn,” she said.
She added that it is the teachers’ job to “harness students excitement towards learning”.
“The children of the 21st century have evolved, so it is only right that we teachers, change and move ahead.”
Tan said that SPA-21 teaching would need adjustments as it has not been properly implemented in schools.
SMK Assunta principal Lee Poh Eng said the new teaching method has enabled the students to work independently.
“The teacher becomes a facilitator instead of spoon-feeding them with information,” she explained.
Lee is proud to see the excitement of students when they attend lessons.
“When learning is fun, they are enthusiastic about going to school,” she said.
Selangor Education Department director Zainuren Mohd Nor believes that 21st century learning can help produce a generation of “high quality students”.
“They will not only be knowledgeable with outstanding grades, but will have valuable life skills as well,” he said.
He added that this would prepare them when they enter the job market.
Zainuren said that the traditional chalk and talk method was no longer applicable. Teachers should work towards a more interactive style of coaching by encouraging students to work in groups with the help of digital tools.
Doing so, would in the long run, increase the level of employability of their students, he said.