Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan reflected on the typical approach to education in Singapore, as he shared about the successful chess workshop he conducted for young residents at Bukit Batok SMC this week.

Dr Chee personally taught young residents in Bukit Batok SMC how to play chess on Thursday (5 Nov), as part of a series of activities aimed at exposing children who cannot travel during the holidays to experiences and activities that they might not otherwise get to do.

The chess course aimed to help children develop strategic planning, abstract reasoning, and creative thinking skills while they have fun playing chess. It also included a mini chess tournament at the end.

Dr Chee wrote about how he taught young minds the rules of chess, with the help of McDonald’s french fries, on Saturday (7 Nov). He recounted on Facebook: “After managing to get everyone to settle down, it was straight to business. Pawn, king, queen – went through the pieces and moves with our young friends, some seeing a chess board for the first time.

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“A few seemed bewildered by the amount of information they had to process but nothing some fries from McDonalds couldn’t help overcome. At one point, one of the boys I was playing with was threatening my King. I said: “In such a situation, what must you say?” I was expecting “Check!” as the answer, but he offered “Thank you?”

This exchange made an impression on the veteran opposition politician, who reflected on how the way children are taught may sometimes be at odds with the way they learn and grow. He said, “Funny as the answer was, that’s how they learn. They’re not afraid to express themselves, guess if they don’t know and, in the process, be wrong. That’s how they grow cognitively.

“It’s when we keep drilling into them that their future depends on them getting the right answers all the time, sitting them down in a sterile hall and testing them on how well their can spot questions and regurgitate model answers that we teach them to fear trying, venturing, taking risks, and making mistakes.”

He added: “We’re teaching them how not to learn. That’s the biggest tragedy. Children’s minds are like sponges, absorbing new material very quickly. But they learn best through play – not exams.”

Read Dr Chee’s post in full here:

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