Learning is a lifelong activity. As individuals, we all learn differently. But we all want to learn well, regardless of why we learn, what we learn, and how we learn. Temasek Foundation Innovates’s interest in this area is focused on learning which brings about lifelong skills, and learning in special situations where there may be some specific difficulties. More recently, from our 9th grant call, we have also encouraged research in early childhood development; especially in language acquisition which is a critical skill underpinning many areas of subsequent learning.

Developing holistic approaches to learning

Identifying determinants and making predictions of MENDAKI TUITION SCHEME (MTS) students’ academic performance – a sequential explanatory and data mining approach

By Associate Professor Sylvia Chong, Business Intelligence and Analytics, Singapore University for Social Sciences
Start Date: 1 March 2019
Status: Ongoing

The Malay community, the largest ethnic minority group in Singapore, is constitutionally recognized as the indigenous inhabitants of the land.

In 1982, Yayasan Mendaki was established to empower the community through excellence in education. Today, Mendaki’s initiatives have expanded to cater to a sizeable percentage of Malay Muslim students at the lower and lowest socio-economic strata of the community. The programmes are meant to supplement or complement national education initiatives. Along with these expansions is a rapidly growing source of student information and data to be mined for insightful knowledge.

The project aims to describe, explain, predict and monitor Mendaki students’ performance. The aim of the project is to identify these determinants to improve teaching and learning as well as to generate evidence based insights to support and inform decision making.


Scalable mind-set interventions to nurture strategic, self-regulated learners

By Dr Patricia Chen, Department of Psychology, National University of Singapore
Start Date: 1 November 2018
Status: Ongoing

In today’s world where learning resources are more readily available, the onus is on the individual to be able to manage his or her own learning effectively. This research project aims to design interventions to help learners develop the mindset and capacity to practice self-regulated learning.

The project focuses on two key groups:

  1. Tertiary learners, many of whom have to cope with less structure and more self-direction as they progress to post-secondary education and later into the workforce
  2. Pre-schoolers who are starting to develop the cognitive capacity to think strategically for themselves

The effectiveness of these interventions will be tested using randomized, controlled experiments in the laboratory and in classrooms.


A prospective study of equine-assisted learning of social cognitive functioning in youths at-risk for school or social failure

By Dr Ong Say How, Research Division, Institute of Mental Health
Start Date: 7 October 2018
Status: Ongoing

Community-based interventions are a sustainable way to boost skills required for at-risk youths to develop life-long competencies. Rigorous evidence on the benefits of horse-assisted learning interventions on at-risk youths is lacking. Hence, the research team will study the effects of a horse-assisted learning programme conducted by a local non-profit organization, EQUAL-ARK, which reaches out to 500 youth beneficiaries yearly. The team will adopt a neuroscience approach to

  1. Determine whether horse-assisted learning improves resilience, and socio-emotional functioningin at-risk youths, underpinned by alterations in interconnected brain circuitriesand
  2. Determine whether improvements in horse-related learning leads to better academic performances and classroom behaviours.

It takes a village: Igniting the scientist among academically challenged students

By Professor David Hung, Office of Education Research, National Institute of Education
Start Date: 2 January 2018
Status: Ongoing

Inquiry-based learning occurs when students engage in self-generated analysis concerning specific topics. This is done through questioning, generating ideas and other forms of critical and creative thinking.

Having conducted numerous studies on inquiry-based learning in schools, the research team posit that participation from the community can further enhance and complement teaching and learning among academically challenged learners. Particularly in the area of science inquiry-based learning, scientific understandings can be further deepened not only during curriculum time, but also through after school programmes.

This project will therefore study, design and implement learning approaches to engage secondary school students, in particular academically challenged learners, leveraging on partnership between schools, industry partners and the larger community.

The research aims to:

  1. Improve the learning of Science of academically challenged learners by implementing inquiry-based learning practices in the classroom
  2. Level up the academic base of academically challenged learners and thus narrowing the gap between students from various streams.
  3. Develop an ecological model drawing upon partnerships between schools, researchers and industry partners to sustain inquiry-based learning practices among academically challenged learners.

Reimaging show-and-tell: Robotic puppetry in early childhood to primary school education

By Professor Chen I-Ming, School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Nanyang Technological University
Status: Completed in 2015

Play-oriented learning is an effective pedagogy that lets young children create meaning, acquire information and understand their environment. The project’s primary research question was whether a technological tool, such as a robotic puppet, can be as effective as traditional tools used for play-oriented learning.

With this in mind, Professor Chen I-Ming and his team developed interactive robotic puppets that can come to life and be controlled by children through their captured body motion. Teachers will also have ample time to facilitate and observe the children’s changing behaviour and attitude as they use these puppets. The robotic puppets were tested at three different centres: Youth Progress Singapore, PCF Centre@ Blk 335 Braddell Heights and PCF Centre @Blk 307 Braddell Heights.

The team compared the performance of children using robotic puppets to their performance using traditional tools e.g. learning blocks and pretend play accessories (items children use for role-playing activities). Using the Toy Effects on Play Instrument to measure performance, results showed that robot puppets are as good as or better than learning blocks in contributing to the three major areas of child development:

  1. Thinking and learning
  2. Creativity and imagination
  3. Social interaction and independence

The research shows that the use of robotic puppets in classrooms could create more opportunities for pre-school children to be imaginative, sociable, and problem solving oriented.

Watch how the robotic puppets work:


Transformation of Science learning environment

By Associate Professor Tan Aik Ling, Dept of Natural Sciences and Science Education, National Institute of Education
Status: Completed in 2014

Associate Professor Tan Aik Ling felt that it was important to re-examine the existing Science curriculum so that students could learn how to solve real world problems, apply Science concepts to explain their solutions and apply scientific practices to create scientific knowledge.

Associate Professor Tan and her team therefore developed and tested a curriculum that was problem-centred to make learning Science more meaningful and applicable. The research targeted primary science students. The team found that a curriculum that focused on solving problems and allowed for more exploration was more effective in motivating these students. While hands-on activities were viewed as fun and interesting, connecting learning to real-life and discussing ideas with their peers created greater interest in learning Science.

The questionnaires developed by the research team to measure classroom environment and evaluate change are available to teachers and schools who are interested to find out how they can further improve their Science learning environment. Parties interested in obtaining these questionnaires may contact Associate Professor Tan: https://www.nie.edu.sg/profile/tan-aik-ling


Promoting Effective Bi-literacy in Early Childhood: A Systematic Screening and Training Programme for Balanced Bilingual Development

Dr Wu Chiao-Yi, Centre for Research and Development in Learning (CRADLE), Nanyang Technological University
Start Date: 1 October 2019
Status: Ongoing

A comprehensive understanding of bilinguals neural development (e.g. structure, function), cognitive capacities (e.g. linguistic abilities, working memory), and environmental factors (e.g. socioeconomic status, language exposure) is necessary to capture the various factors that might influence language and reading development. Existing literature demonstrates that phonological awareness (recognising and manipulating sounds in spoken language) is one of the critical abilities for reading, and that training this awareness improves reading proficiency.Past studies however have focused on monolinguals and predominantly been based on alphabetic languages like English. It is therefore unclear if phonological awareness plays an equally important role for bilingual development when individuals learn both an alphabetic language and a non-alphabetic language like Chinese.

The project aims to develop an early screening and training programme to promote balanced bilingual development and biliteracy attainment in early childhood. The team will identify neural, cognitive, and environmental predictors in pre-school years for later bilingual and bilieracy development. Additionally, the neurocognitive effects of different training programmes on enhancing biliteracy development will be evaluated. The knowledge gained will broaden understanding of the neurocognitive development of language and reading networks in young bilinguals. The findings will have significant implications for early screening and effective training for promoting balanced bilingual and biliteracy development.