In this Explainer, find out...
What are some examples of technology used in Singapore schools today?
What are the benefits and limitations of such technology?
Will technology replace traditional teaching and learning?
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a seismic shift in the delivery of education as schools transitioned from physical to virtual classrooms. Conspicuously, these newly adopted technologies persist in classrooms post-pandemic. It is unsurprising given the array of benefits they bring — from personalised learning for students to data-driven insights for teachers.
This Policy Explainer will delve deeper into how the Singapore education system has navigated the pros and cons of Education Technology (EdTech) and discuss key examples (comprising Personal Learning Devices, Automated Marking Systems, and Adaptive Learning Systems) that have been applied to classrooms today — with a key recurring theme of using artificial intelligence (AI) and technology as a complement to teachers, and not a replacement. It will also briefly discuss the future of the classroom, based on the EdTech Masterplan 2030.
History of EdTech in Singapore
Over the years, Singapore has gradually and consistently integrated technology into its education system, as reflected in a series of key programmes. From 1997 to 2008, the ICT-in-Education Masterplans 1 and 2 laid the groundwork for embracing ICT in education, first equipping schools with baseline digital competencies. From 2009 to 2019, this was succeeded by ICT-in-Education Masterplans 3 and 4 which placed greater emphasis on responsible use and 21st Century Competencies (21 CC). Subsequently, the EdTech Plan from 2020 to 2023 focused on the agility of the technology-enriched school environment. Finally, the EdTech Master Plan 2030 has emerged as the latest development, with plans to leverage new technologies like AI.¹
Personal Learning Devices (PLDs)
Since the launch of the National Digital Literacy Programme (NDLP) 2021, all secondary school students have begun using laptops in class.² The implementation of this policy was seven years ahead of its initial timeline,³ with an intention to support the need for Home-Based Learning (HBL) during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this nascent stage, the positive impacts on learning (for example, innovative approaches in teaching, strengthened teacher-parent partnership, and increased motivation amongst students)⁴ foreshadowed the enormous potential of PLDs, prompting their long-term integration into Singapore education.
However, primary schools will not be adopting PLDs at this stage. This decision was determined in accordance with pilot programmes conducted by the Ministry of Education (MOE), which concluded that a more structured, traditional learning style is more apt for younger students.⁵
How are PLDs Impacting the Classroom?
One main boon that PLDs bring to the table is the enhancement of classroom discussion. It enables students to contribute simultaneously via platforms like Peardeck (an interactive lesson tool)⁶, as opposed to traditional classroom settings where participation is more limited and sequential.
Moreover, the virtual nature encourages less outspoken students to ask questions and share less conventional perspectives by fostering a sense of anonymity and reducing fear of judgement.⁸
However, sceptics have voiced concerns about distraction, addiction to devices, over-reliance on PLDs for academic work or access to inappropriate content (for example, violence, sexual explicitness, extremism) with the increased use of technology.⁹ Furthermore, while it is not wrong to embrace the conveniences of the Internet and AI (e.g. ChatGPT), students must not neglect their own ability to assess the credibility of information — a skill integral to everyday decision-making, and one, even more, important in a tech-centric world. In response, MOE aims to strengthen the Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) curriculum with a greater emphasis on cyber-wellness and appropriate use.¹⁰ The revised curriculum will dedicate 50 per cent more time to the issue of cyber wellness.¹¹
Teachers will also face new challenges in a tech-based classroom, such as having to manage a classroom of “digital natives” who have grown up in a digital age and are thus likely to be more familiar with technology than themselves. ¹²Unsurprisingly, they have requested greater support in this transition to a digital classroom. In response, MOE will be assigning two EdTech officers to each school cluster to provide customised assistance,¹³ and the Partner Centre of Teaching and Learning Excellence (CTLE) will study and share effective and innovative use of EdTech.¹⁴
Automated Marking Systems
MOE has implemented Automated Marking Systems, which are being used to mark primary and secondary school English language assignments.¹⁵ Currently, the automated system has been applied in limited areas such as open-ended, short-answer questions and essays.¹⁶ The goal is to allow AI to focus on objective, routine errors such as in grammar, spelling and syntax while leaving room for the teacher to mark for higher-level skills such as ideas, structure and content. MOE seeks to expand the scope of the system to other subjects by 2030.
How are Automated Marking Systems Impacting the Classroom?
Implementing Automated Marking Systems in schools has helped to free up time teachers spend on routine assessment tasks, allowing them to spend more time on other meaningful work. This could include designing effective lessons and strengthening teacher-student relationships.¹⁷
Moreover, the automated marking system for English can collect data on common mistakes so that teachers will be able to get a clear overview of areas where students experience greater difficulty in understanding and more effectively address these misconceptions in lessons.¹⁸ Moreover, such data can be collected significantly faster relative to teachers — no human can match AI in speed.
While AI may be superior in spotting routine mistakes, there are some things humans can do that machines cannot. Such automated systems are not yet ideal for nuanced marking beyond fixed, objective issues. Experienced markers, unlike AI, can distinguish between a long jumble of words and a coherent, logical and open-form answer.¹⁹ AI cannot replace human proofreaders completely as they still overlook some mistakes, and are incapable of always providing the context or feedback that a human proofreader offers. This likely explains why the Automated Marking System has not been implemented for examinations.²⁰ As a former General Paper teacher stated, "The truly exceptional scripts that blow my mind let me feel the personality of the writer as well as his or her conviction."²¹ This highlights how the human touch in marking is truly irreplaceable.
Adaptive Learning Systems
As part of Singapore's National AI Strategy, MOE is enhancing the capabilities of the Singapore Student Learning Space (SLS) with AI learning tools to support greater customisation of learning for students and to augment our teachers’ professional practice. One measure under this strategy includes the AI-enabled Adaptive Learning System, which uses machine learning to make customised learning recommendations for each student based on how the student responds to questions and activities.²²
In June 2023, MOE launched the Adaptive Learning System for Mathematics for three topics covered at the Primary 5 level. This featured a computer program supporting students in learning concepts, assessing their performance in real-time, and adjusting their learning pathways based on their knowledge level. Even before this, another system was trialled by Catholic High School and Presbyterian High School during some of their mathematics classes.²³ MOE has the aim of expanding this scheme progressively to include more topics, levels and subjects.²⁴
How are Adaptive Learning Systems Impacting the Classroom?
The key benefit of having an Adaptive Learning System is that it is tailored to each individual student’s learning style and speed. Such a programme provides students with immediate feedback on their performance on the relevant topic, and teachers have highlighted that this prepares students better for physical lessons and allows them to ask better questions.²⁵
Additionally, adaptive learning is an excellent way of helping students, especially by measuring the data through analytics, which can suggest suitable methods to enhance the learning of various students.²⁶ Teachers would also be able to identify topics that students may experience difficulty in before classes begin. With individual student profiles, teachers can even create mixed groups with students of different capabilities to allow students to benefit from peer learning.²⁷
However, the cost of implementing such programmes can be significant, especially at the start. The amount of training required for both teachers and students to understand and use such systems could incur high monetary costs. Moreover, adaptive teaching requires a considerable amount of time to build a detailed curriculum and content to support learning objectives.²⁸
Besides pre-implementation concerns, a limitation of the existing Adaptive Learning System is that it does not allow students to input their mathematical workings. Thus, teachers cannot pinpoint specific misconceptions of students based on the programme data alone,²⁹ and a human teacher is still required to mark students’ work and explain why their train of thought may not be accurate.
Regardless of these concerns, the adoption of the Adaptive Learning System suggests that the Government has deemed that the system’s benefits outweigh its costs.
Future Trajectory of EdTech in Singapore
Earlier this year, the EdTech Masterplan 2030 was unveiled. It addresses opportunities and challenges of technology in education, with the goal of doing more with current resources to cater to students’ different learning needs while helping teachers manage the pace of change.³⁰
The Outcome Goals focus on four main groups:³¹
Students: Digitally-empowered, future-ready learners and innovators
Teachers: Technology-adept, collaborative learning designers
Schools: Intelligent, responsive, digitally-equipped learning environment
System: Networked EdTech ecosystem (public-private partnerships, international network, and paternal support)
The Strategic Thrusts that will help to achieve the outcome goals include:³²
Greater customisation of students’ learning
Strengthen the development of students’ digital literacy and technological skills
Empower development of students’ 21CC
Strengthen the school and department culture of EdTech practices
Strengthen teachers’ EdTech practice
Evidently, the EdTech Masterplan 2030 preserves certain elements of past programmes (such as 21CC and a culture of sharing across schools and departments), while taking it further with greater personalisation for students, and encouraging innovation in EdTech practices.³³ Furthermore, one can already see how the plan ties in with existing policies - for example, Strategic Thrust 1 is already being realised with familiar AI-powered systems like SLS.
It is important to recognise that technology should not and cannot replace traditional learning. Instead, the former is meant to enhance the latter. The role of teachers remains indispensable, for they provide that essential "human touch" — the guidance, mentorship, and inspiration that technology alone cannot replicate. Hence, technology and human touch should go hand in hand to create an even more enriching learning experience where students enjoy the best of both worlds.
This Policy Explainer was written by members of MAJU. MAJU is an independent, youth-led organisation that focuses on engaging Singaporean youths in a long-term research process to guide them in jointly formulating policy ideas of their own.
By sharing our unique youth perspectives, MAJU hopes to contribute to the policymaking discourse and future of Singapore.