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The original influencers: Why he believes teachers can never be replaced by social media
By Pearlyn Tham

Only human educators can build interpersonal relationships and impart good values, says this MOE scholar

Social media may have made influencers popular, but long before Instagram or TikTok came into existence, many of us already had influencers in our lives – our teachers.

“My relatives would often share experiences about their teachers during Chinese New Year gatherings because of the impact they had made in their lives,” recalls Mr Koh Shao Wei, who also aspires to be a teacher himself.

The 25-year-old is on a Ministry of Education (MOE) Teaching Scholarship under the NTU-NIE Teaching Scholars Programme. He is in his fourth and last year at the National Institute of Education (NIE) where he is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Computational Thinking and Education, with a minor in Physics and Energy Studies.

As a teacher, Mr Koh Shao Wei hopes to impart values of responsibility and resilience to his students so that they are committed to lifelong learning while being empowered to overcome challenges in life. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

As a young educator of this generation, the rise of artificial intelligence-enabled technology like ChatGPT is not far from his mind. While there have been debates about how these can offer inaccurate or outdated content, Mr Koh says that technology can influence students for the better by enhancing self-directed learning outside the classroom.

“However, technology has to be used responsibly and with discretion, something that teachers can help raise awareness of,” he adds.

This is why he feels that technology can never replace teachers and their human touch.

In secondary school, Mr Koh himself was influenced positively by his National Cadet Corps co-curricular activity (CCA) teacher Ms Joan Wing.

Before Ms Wing came aboard, student leaders would simply type rough outlines of their CCA proposals and share them on WhatsApp. To develop professionalism and planning skills, she trained them to prepare more structured and detailed plans before every CCA session. She also revamped the leadership structure and created additional roles to suit each leader’s strengths within the CCA.

More on this topic: Living out her childhood dream of being a teacher

“You need a lot of patience, foresight and effort to make all these changes, but she never gave up,” says Mr Koh.

“Because of her high standards, I became more resilient and I no longer settle for anything less once I realise that I can achieve something greater.”

Experiencing a profession before graduation

When taking up the NTU-NIE Teaching Scholars Programme (TSP) with MOE, Mr Koh had the same goal in mind: to guide students to be better versions of themselves.

As a scholar, he gets to achieve this even before graduating. From the freshmen year, TSP scholars are deployed to a school during the mid-year university break to observe a supervisory teacher before they get to teach the class themselves from the sophomore year onwards.

The opportunity to experience the profession at two schools throughout his university course is one of the best parts about his scholarship, he enthuses.

Mr Koh notes that in order to get young learners interested in improving, teachers have to first get (and retain) their students’ attention by building rapport with them, and being firm but not too strict.

“Teaching with an iron fist will only make them frightened of speaking up in class,” he says.

“Just because you are teaching does not mean that they are learning. We have to plan lessons from a student’s perspective, like how best they can learn and what misconceptions they might have, and assess their learning throughout the lesson.”

This is why Mr Koh enjoys modules at university such as Education Psychology which lets him gain a deeper understanding of how students learn.

“We are responsible for developing students holistically, which includes their emotional and social well-being. This is something that technology can never replicate as it lacks the human touch.”

Mr Koh Shao Wei, recipient of the MOE Teaching Scholarship (NTU-NIE Teaching Scholars Programme)

Other unique opportunities from his scholarship include participating in the Building University Interns for Leadership Development (BUILD) programme. Open only to NTU-NIE scholars, this lets the undergraduates select a company or organisation with which to fulfil an industrial attachment.

Mr Koh chose the Academy of Singapore Teachers where he was attached to three teachers over a period of five weeks. During that time, he helped to work on Professional Development posters and Micro Learning Units, among other things.

Resilience, respect and responsibility

Mr Koh believes that instilling the right values in students is more important than merely teaching them a subject.

He feels strongly about helping his students develop resilience so they do not give up easily, starting with their homework and projects. In this way, they are also more empowered to persevere and acquire skills to overcome various challenges in life.

Another positive value he wants to pass on is assuming responsibility for their choices.

“I want them to take ownership of their education and make them self-directed learners, not just in school but even after graduation,” adds Mr Koh.

During his teaching attachments, he makes sure to praise his students when they do something good, but would also step in to tell a student off for making fun of fellow classmates when they make a mistake in class.

“By being respectful, they will do well in social settings and be well-liked by their peers and superiors,” he explains.

This is another reason why Mr Koh feels that teachers can make an impact as role models – by teaching students right from wrong.

“We are responsible for developing students holistically, which includes their emotional and social well-being. This is something that technology can never replicate as it lacks the human touch,” he says.

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