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Abstract -- Internet for Schools - the Singapore Experience Education Track
D3: New Initiatives To Support School Networking

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Internet for Schools - the Singapore Experience

Tan, Eng Pheng ( eptan@moe.ac.sg)

Abstract

Up until late 1993, Internet was only available to the tertiary educational institutions and the R&D community in Singapore. However, the situation has now changed drastically, with more than 500 educationists and teachers in the Ministry of Education headquarters, secondary schools (equivalent to grade 7-10) and junior colleges (grade 11-12) plugged into the global network.

This paper traces the development stages of the project - from a modest pilot involving only 6 schools to today's implementation covering almost 40 schools island-wide. It will outline the various lessons learnt from the pilot phase such as the importance of a friendly user-interface as against the cryptic Unix command prompts, the need to minimise end- users' effort required to search for resources pertaining to specific subjects, sufficiency of access points in schools and adequacy of user training etc.

Based on these lessons, the mass implementation in mid 1994 adopted the following strategies:

  1. A hypertext interface was developed using Lynx;
  2. A list of resource meta-information by subjects was compiled with constant updates;
  3. All account holders were given direct training on a suit of Internet facilities covering Telnet, FTP, email, newsgroup, gopher, WWW etc. and
  4. Provide direct connectivity and maximum number of access points by leveraging on existing wide-area network infrastructure, complemented by dial-up access via SLIP.

In order to be a resource contributor on the Internet as well, the project team collaborated with various Ministry HQ departments and schools to provide suitable local content. Adopting an 'International Information Dissemination' strategy, the Ministry has published information on Singapore' Education System on the WWW, provided a list of recommended textbooks used in Singapore for the interest of overseas Singaporean parents, and put up recruitment advertisements for teaching posts etc. Many schools have also taken on the challenge of reaching out to an international audience by authoring their School Bulletins on the WWW.

The paper will outline the planning of the mass implementation, the promotion undertaken with various HQ departments, schools and respective levels of management to achieve users buy-in, the pain and tribulations experienced in the technical development of the system, the training models adopted for the various groups of users, as well as the support issues encountered after implementation.

Aside from how the project has been implemented, the paper will also share the experience of how some Singapore teachers have embraced Internet in their teaching activities. This ranges from browsing lesson plans and project ideas, downloading educational software, sourcing for subject- related information, to introducing Internet as part of the class curriculum for students. Under teachers' guidance and supervision, students have also used Internet to participate in current affairs simulation game with overseas partners, conversed with scientist on exploration, exchanged literacy works through the international poetry guild etc. The student access model and its corresponding usage policy will also be shared.

While the project has largely been a success and generated much interest amongst its users, it is not entirely without challenges. Sustenance of initial user enthusiasm, maintenance of meta-information currency and effective support of users with varied technical competence are amongst today's challenges. Further more, in a social environment where students' examination grades are given much attention, some sceptics have questioned the relevance of Internet in contributing to students' performance.

The paper will discuss attempts made to alleviate project management problems and steps taken to address pedagogy-related concerns. The latter centred on educating users that Internet could be an information source which facilitates multi-disciplinary and borderless learning, and that it plays a pivotal role in supporting an 'access-oriented- learning' model vs the traditional 'teacher-as-knowledge-purveyor' model. An illustration of such pedagogy evolution is the integration of Internet facilities into the "STUDENTS' AND TEACHERS' WORKBENCH," a strategic project between the Ministry of Education and the Singapore National Computer Board aimed at using IT to support learning. The paper will provide more information on this integration and highlight the likely impact that Internet will make.

Partly helped by its small size, Singapore is now the first, if not the only, country in this region to have connected all its junior colleges (high schools) and tertiary institutions to Internet. Over the next few years, all 350 schools in Singapore will be plugged into Internet in tandem with an infrastructural upgrade plan to network schools altogether. By tracing our experience in this implementation to the education sector and schools in Singapore, we hope to share a working model with other developing countries, or state authorities in larger countries, which intend to undertake similar plans.