Singapore education conference is run jointly by university and IOP

15 September 2016

Teachers from several countries came to a conference in Singapore organised by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the IOP.

Singapore education conference is run jointly by university and IOP

The conference, Envisioning Education in the 21st Century, was the first meeting of its kind to be organised jointly by NTU and the IOP. The IOP’s chief executive, Professor Paul Hardaker, its head of education, Charles Tracy, and school support manager, Dr Taj Bhutta, all spoke at the conference, which was held at NTU on 5–6 September. Delegates came mostly from Singapore but there were also teachers from Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand.

After welcomes to the delegates from Hardaker and from Kok Khoo Phua, director of the Institute of Advanced Studies at NTU, Hardaker gave a talk, STEM Education: Fit for Purpose?, in which he spoke about the need for a curriculum that helped students to become literate in several senses, including numerically, scientifically and culturally. Physics could help students to develop their thinking capabilities, basic knowledge, and respect for expertise and evidence, he said.

Singapore education conference is run jointly by university and IOP

In his presentation, A Curriculum Based on Big Ideas, Tracy focused on examining what physics is at school level and how such analysis can enable a philosophical approach to curriculum development in physics. Outlining some of the attitudes and ways of thinking in physics, including the search for a deep understanding, consistency, critical thinking and making predictions, he suggested that these should be developed explicitly and should play a part in determining the content of the curriculum.

Bhutta’s talk, A UK Perspective on Young People’s Physics and Career Aspirations, explored several studies that have looked at this, including King’s College London’s ASPIRES project, which examined the factors influencing the educational choices of young people aged 11–14. This found that students who most aspired to continue studying science understood that science qualifications were transferable and had parents with knowledge or experience of science.

Singapore education conference is run jointly by university and IOP

He pointed to resources to embed learning about careers in the curriculum, including the IOP’s video clips, and also outlined the IOP’s project on interventions in a multi-ethnic school to increase post-16 participation (Opportunities from Physics), its Improving Gender Balance project and resources to counter stereotypes.

Also among the speakers from the UK were former IOP Council member Mary Whitehouse, of the University of York Science Education Group, who spoke about the role of assessment in developing a 21st century curriculum, Professor Nicola Wilkin of the University of Birmingham’s School of Physics and Astronomy, who talked about embedding skills in the curriculum, and Bernard Taylor from Stockton Riverside College, who used hands-on demonstrations during a talk on using practical work effectively to enhance physics teaching.

Discussions are likely to be held next year about the possibility of holding a similar conference in the future.

Before the conference, Hardaker visited China where he met people from Research Councils UK and the Chinese ministry of science and technology as they prepared for a visit of the UK’s science minister to follow the G20 summit. The UK and China have a collaborative science programme and UK research councils spend £200 m a year in China on joint research council projects, Hardaker said. One aim was to strengthen the physics component of these programmes, he said.

IOP Publishing representatives were also present as the company publishes eight journals for the Chinese Physical Society (CPS). During the visit the parties completed negotiations to renew the contract for another five years. The meetings took place during the CPS’s annual conference, at which the IOP ran a session on entrepreneurship for scientists and engineers that was attended by around 200 people. There was also a press conference for the Chinese media on collaboration with UK physics.