To Innovate or not, that is not the question


“Even though I can do this question in a faster way, I must use the teacher’s method to circle and label the quantities. I used the teacher’s method only after I solved the question. My teacher said those who don’t do it did not listen in class.” This was what my Primary Five tutee told me during our first session of the Heartware Network Tuition Programme.

This student does not need to follow his teacher’s method, which takes a longer time, but felt compelled to use it for fear of being looked at as inattentive.

Does our education system encourage students to use innovative ways to tackle problems? Could this lead to students being afraid to lose? Afraid to fail? These are questions we must ask ourselves.

I admit there are reasons why school and teachers do not encourage too much innovation. Students are prone to make mistakes if they use their own way to solve a problem. Not answering according to the textbook and model answer may give students a poor grade. After all, a school’s reputation partly depends on how well the students fare academically. The school’s role primarily is to provide education to students instead of creating innovators.

Speaking from the perspective of a student who used to study in a neighbourhood school, I would say that the mainstream education system below tertiary level does not have a strong culture that advocates innovative thinking. We are expected to know our textbooks like the back of our hands to tackle the standardised exams.

If we choose to answer a question using our own wording, there is a high chance that the answer will not be accepted due to the lack of key words and other reasons. Most students are “too scared” to ask questions and do not dare to present their own answers, because their lives are mostly determined by their performance in national exams. Who would dare to gamble their future? Tough, though it would be, for the students to be comfortable with making mistakes, and voicing out their opinions later in life.


Image source: Straits Times Photo: Kua Chee Siong

Nevertheless, I would be doing the education system a huge injustice by saying they do not encourage innovation at all.

Our education system has now been focusing more on the holistic development of students instead of just getting good grades and providing perfect answers. In all Junior Colleges, students must take the subject Project Work, which requires them to conduct research on an issue in society, and come up with solutions to address the issue. Students’ ability to innovate is assessed in Project Work, and comprises a considerable part of one’s Project Work score.

Polytechnics also offer excellent opportunities that encourage innovation. A number of students from all polytechnics had been featured in local newspapers such as the Straits Times because of their creativity and innovation.

For example, with the help of Singapore Polytechnic, a group of students had invented robots that can significantly help the students with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) to focus and learn better. This group of students has already been collaborating with Neeuro’s wearable company.

SP Robots

Image source: Straits Times Photo: Alvin Ho

The Institution of Technical Education (ITE) too has been nurturing the next generation of innovators. For instance, ITE has been encouraging its student to participate in events like Singapore International Water Week since 2014. Students were to provide innovative designs for a real plumbing solution for communities with specific water needs.

I sincerely hope the education system keeps up the excellent work, and can see to more opportunities built for younger primary school children to dabble with innovation. That is the age when their minds are most free, and imagination most wild. Hopefully, Singapore will one day be known as the country which everybody can be innovators.

This article is written by Hai Oufan, Heartware Network media volunteer.