STUDENT Rachel Wong worries that her classmates and younger brothers resort too quickly to asking for help and copying answers for homework, instead of trying to solve their math and science problems themselves.
Acknowledging that those of her cohort tend to be very dependent on those around them, and are part of "the strawberry generation" - youth easily bruised by work and life's challenges - she asked at a dialogue if this would continue to be the case in future, even for their children.
Responding yesterday , Education Minister Heng Swee Keat encouraged the 16-year-old Secondary 4 student and her peers to be independent, self-directed learners, as the process of resolving and dealing with problems will equip them with the analytical and other skills to help them in life - a point she agreed with.
Struggling with an issue builds important character traits like independence, which will take students and Singapore far, he added during his visit to the Bishan East division of Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, whose MP is former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng.
Singapore needs such independent, adaptive thinkers so it can stay ahead of the curve and be ready for future challenges, he said at the Bishan Community Club dialogue with some 400 parents, students and residents.
Education issues cropped up the most, with several participants airing their views on matters such as competitive school environments, teacher-student ratios, and the "teach less, learn more" approach, which has trimmed syllabuses to give students more time for independent learning.
Mr Heng said there was an average of 15 or 16 students for each teacher, which allowed for a balance between assisting students who need help and giving independence to those quicker on the uptake. This is how students can be taught less but still learn more, he said, adding that the approach was needed "because we cannot spoonfeed our students".
He also responded to concerns from two fathers, whose sons are Catholic High School students, over the delay in completion of a new junior college from mid- 2018 to end-2019.
The JC will take in Integrated Programme students from Catholic High, St Nicholas Girls', and Singapore Chinese Girls' schools. The Ministry of Education (MOE) explained in a letter to parents last week that more time was needed owing to a new traffic infrastructure project in the area.
There are two options to consider, said Mr Heng.
One was to get every facility ready and "start only when we are ready in 2020, because we must not take any risk that the building may not be completed in time", he said.
The other was to say, "let's get going, as long as students benefit, and let's focus on the essence of the programme".
"Are we better off starting the programme and running into certain delays in the infrastructure, or are we better off not starting in the first place?" he asked.
"I'm not saying that it is ideal when you have a delay, but the truth of the matter is there will be, in life, unforeseen circumstances," he said, adding that the MOE will explain in greater detail the reasons behind the delay.
Hosting the dialogue was grassroots leader and OUE Hospitality Trust chief executive Chong Kee Hiong, who has been identified as a potential People's Action Party candidate for the next general election, which must be held by January 2017.
The Bishan East Citizens' Consultative Committee vice-chairman accompanied Mr Heng and Mr Wong throughout the visit.
Mr Chong is one of over 300 grassroots leaders in Bishan East, Mr Wong said, adding that he has organised events such as yesterday's visit.
During the visit, Mr Heng launched elderly fitness stations and a book exchange, and greeted residents and stallholders.
This article was first published on May 11, 2015.
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