Teaching outside the classroom

One might wonder what a five-week internship at organic farm Bollywood Veggies has to do with being a teacher. The answer is everything, at least to Mr Ong Kian Jie, in the NTU-NIE Teaching Scholars Programme (TSP).

“As a helper there, I was expected to learn and work with a multitude of skills, including providing tours within the eco-farm, conducting workshops and camps for children and adults, as well as tending to the in-house bistro located there,” Mr Ong explains.

“It was a wonderful experience that tied into the Geography aspect of my degree, and I gained insight into food security, poverty and the importance of local food support.”

Mr Ong, 23, is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Education from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). He aspires to become a principal in the future, and it is evident that teaching is his passion — apart from his Bollywood Veggies internship, Mr Ong has also been on a service learning trip to India and is the president of his Hall Council at NTU.

Chalking up experiences
But how do such experiences help him become a better educator?

Mr Ong’s trip to Sikkim, India, was in December 2016. It was part of an annual cultural exchange programme to teach and help the children living in the rural mountains of Sikkim.

“As a teacher-in-training, I felt the need to understand what it means to be a teacher not simply in Singapore, but the essence of being one,” Mr Ong says.

“Teaching in a completely different and unfamiliar environment opened my mind to how education can never be set in stone. It is highly dependent on the individual student, the environment, the personal circumstance and many more variables.”

Meanwhile, Mr Ong’s leadership role in his university’s Hall Council helps him hone leadership skills that he will need should he become a principal in the future. He started off as a recreational games director in 2016, and then became the president of NTU’s Pioneer Hall in the following year.

Mr Ong says: “I figured that if I wanted to understand the complexities of my students, I must first understand the people that are in my environment and be in similar shoes. Managing 600 university students with diverse interests and wants was a tough challenge, but I am glad to have gained the knowledge and skills through my term.”

He adds that his experience in the council has given him the skill of perspective-taking, and he has become a more empathetic person since then.

Inspiring mentor
Mr Ong was inspired by one of his teachers to become an educator himself. She is Madam Ang Wei May, who taught him mathematics while he was a Year 2 student at St. Andrew’s Junior College.

Describing her as his second mother, Mr Ong says she made him understand the importance of the subject and constantly nagged at him to complete his school work and to study hard for the future.

“Her passion for teaching inspired me to have the same selfless spirit a teacher has,” he says.

He took up the NTU-NIE Teaching Scholars Programme local university scholarship in 2016.

In addition to benefits such as priority hall stay, financial security, and sponsored overseas trips to places like Helsinki and Boston, TSP scholars also enjoy a unique curriculum which covers two essential aspects — content and pedagogy mastery.

It ensures that scholars are thoroughly drilled with the content mastery equivalent to any university degree out there and adds on a layer of educational understanding — the “how to teach” aspect.

“We take up curriculum modules to understand our scope, educational modules to build our personal teaching philosophy and portfolio and research on our chosen subject within the education fraternity,” Mr Ong says.

He adds that TSP scholars get to conduct plenty of research and have close consultative exchanges with his professors on the modules and learning process, essentially taking charge of their own education. They work hand-in-hand with their professors to improve the learning environment for budding teachers.

“Knowledge is a never-ending abyss and it always helps to constantly absorb and learn,” Mr Ong believes. “After all, they always say ‘knowledge is power’”.