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Outdoor lover wants to open young minds to the wonders of the natural world
By Lin Jiasheng
Mr Chua Wei Jian's personal learning journey has been enriched through field trips and he aims to educate his future students beyond their textbooks as well. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA/FRENCHESCAR LIM

The MOE Teaching Award recipient believes that experiential learning will help educate children to treasure Earth’s biodiversity

Mr Chua Wei Jian’s interest in the natural environment started when he was young. He loved being outdoors, be it running, kayaking or rowing with the dragon boat team at junior college.

Amidst nature, Mr Chua has always been fascinated by the biological systems of plants and animals as well as the ecosystems they thrive in.

“Our living environment is more fragile than we think,” says the 23-year-old who chose to specialise in biology.

“Because of global economic development and climate change, many plants and animals are facing extinction faster than we can even identify, let alone conserve them. It saddens me that our next generation will inherit a less ecologically diverse Earth.”

More on this topic: He wants to follow in the footsteps of a former teacher who drew him out of his shell

The climate change problem is compounded by misinformation surrounding climate science. “Unfortunately, many adults have been misinformed about climate change and do not see the urgent need for climate action, nor even believe in it,” says Mr Chua.

He believes climate education has to start from young. However, even this is an uphill task as most children’s experience of the world is increasingly mediated through the screens of digital devices and social media – instead of being out there in a natural environment.

One way to re-acquaint children with nature and teach them to treasure natural habitats and creatures is through experiential learning, says Mr Chua.

He is currently in his third year at the Nanyang Technological University-National Institute of Education (NTU-NIE), and his studies are not confined to the classroom or the laboratory.

“We frequently go on excursions to places like S.E.A. Aquarium, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and beaches around Singapore. Our professors and local guides go the extra mile to help us understand biology concepts beyond theories and textbooks,” he says.

“My learning journey has been enriched through these field trips and interacting with specimens of plants and animals. It is a great way to learn about the natural world and I definitely aim to do the same for my future students.”

Broadening his scope of education

As of July 2023, NIE’s degree will be a double major programme, which recognises the academic rigour and depth of knowledge that NIE undergraduates undertake in their content area of expertise and in the field of education. On top of that, undergraduates will have to complete a minor.

In Mr Chua’s case, he will have a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Education, with a minor in Chemistry.

As part of his MOE Teaching Award, Mr Chua took advantage of the opportunity to study overseas at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States.

“I wanted to go farther and have a different experience out of Asia. At Drexel University, I was exposed to an American perspective and learning philosophy,” he says. “The focus in the US was less about rote learning and more about thinking deeply and critically, and how to communicate those ideas to people from diverse backgrounds.”

Mr Chua hopes he can utilise these vital communication skills to reach students of different abilities and social backgrounds in his future classroom.

“Children are our future changemakers and problem-solvers. It is our duty to raise them right and equip them with the skills needed to meet the pressing challenges of their time.”

Mr Chua Wei Jian, recipient of the MOE Teaching Award

In his second year, he conducted educational research on how lower secondary students construct scientific arguments. Among other findings, he found a generally higher proficiency in text analysis over reading of quantitative data like charts and tables.

Mr Chua’s research has deepened his understanding of student performance and pedagogical methods.

“My research experience will help me to better prepare for my science classes, especially when it comes to choosing the students’ preferred medium of communication,” he says.

He had the chance to apply the theories he learnt at NIE during his teaching stints at Fern Green Primary School and North Vista Secondary School in 2021 and 2022 respectively. He first taught part of a lesson, then taught a full lesson under supervision, and eventually prepared teaching resources and executed a lesson plan independently.

“These teaching internships gave me a confidence boost – from knowing nothing at all to feeling prepared to enter the teaching profession,” he says.

Mr Chua feels a strong sense of mission as an educator.

“Children are our future changemakers and problem-solvers,” he says. “It is our duty to raise them right and equip them with the skills needed to meet the pressing challenges of their time.”

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