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Experiential Learning


SPOTLIGHT: The World We Live In (Part 2 of 2)

This article is part of a series of SPOTLIGHTS showcasing our Community Partners, their ideologies, methodologies, challenges and triumphs. For more, click here.

Education has a crucial part to play in shaping our minds, from attaining knowledge to how we apply what we have learnt. In this second part of our feature with Professor Tay Kheng Soon, the renown local architect and industrial expert for our recently concluded Urban Sustainability and Architecture program shares with us his thoughts on how education has influenced the field of architecture in Singapore and how students should “sail the seven Cs” to break out of the current mould.

Singapore as an Industrialised City

The year 2015 marks Singapore’s 50th year of independence and also Prof Tay’s 50th year in his architecture career. He is passionate about pushing the boundaries of Singapore’s architecture and continues to churn out innovative ideas and actively participates in experimenting for better technologies for urban and rural economies. Prof Tay laments that local architects have a “lack of self-confidence” and are too engrossed with progress, which leaves little time for imagination and creativity. “They all think that progress, to be progressive and to progress, you must be like the west. They cannot define what their future ought to be. They define their future as the western future. Industralisation involves machinery, lack of human feelings. Machines eliminate humans.”

Industrialisation can permeate through every aspect of our lives and has greatly influenced education. Prof Tay explains,“ School education is turning students into robots, trained to conform to the industry, trained to listen to instructions. This affects your imagination. [Leading students to think that] conformation is the way to survive.”

However, Prof Tay believes that the younger generation of architect students can be the change makers that break free from the shackles of industrialisation-influenced architecture. “Young people are the future. But you can only be the future if you are not a problem. Right now, you are a problem. You have been made into a problem because of education, because of the way you are motivated. Be creative and learn to change the world. But before you change the world, you must change yourself.” 

Professor Tay’s 7Cs to see life

To Prof Tay, this change can only come from the 7Cs:

1.     Competence

2.     Confidence

3.     Courage

4.     Curiosity

5.     Creativity

6.     Compassion

7.     Collaboration

“ The first C is competence. Be competent in what you do. If you are good at something, be good at it. Mastery is important. Once you have competence, you will have confidence. And when you have confidence, you will have courage. When you have courage, then you can ask difficult questions, you can exercise your curiosity. When you are curious, you will find out a lot of things. When you find out a lot of things, then you can be creative. Without all these you cannot be creative, you can only be a copycat. However, creativity alone is not enough, you must have passion. You must feel for your fellowmen, you must feel for the environment (the plants, animals etc.) [This is] compassion. When you have compassion and creativity, then you can be a great collaborator.”

The role of architecture to mould the society is apparent in Prof Tay’s beliefs. “The kind of architecture for the future… is competent: you understand nature, environment, climate; compassionate: understand people’s needs; creative: invents a new ways of how humans should live with each others and the environment and be able to involve people in the making of the place. That is participation and you create a creative society. That is the role of architecture.”


Reason behind starting Kampung Temasek

Kampung Temasek (KT), situated near Sungei Tiram, Johor, Malaysia, is one of the innovative projects by Prof Tay to educate and equip the future leaders with these 7Cs.

“Sometimes, it is necessary to get people out of their usual environment. By putting yourself in a different environment, it allows you to see things in a different light.” he says. KT gives their visitors a chance to live in a different environment, bringing visitors back to the olden days where they get to enjoy the culture and ambience of kampung living. The ‘kampung’ culture is considered endangered with the development of cities.

“Changing the environment would change the minds of people. By that, you change yourself and how you interact with the world. If one keeps living in their comfort zones, they are simply repeating and reinforcing the same old habits. When nothing changes, there will be no improvements.”

Prof Tay encourages the future generations to challenge themselves, “Give yourself a jolt and challenge yourself to face unfamiliar circumstances. That is the way you learn to get confidence. Be daring to do it!”

Indeed, KT has served as a fantastic educational platform for Skillseed’s Urban Sustainability and Architecture program, where our participants from Beijing learnt basic architecture and construction skills from Architecture facilitators. In KT’s unfamiliar Kampung environment, we hope that our young urbanite participants were thoroughly challenged and gained the confidence to dare to dream big for their futures!

(Click here to see more exciting moments built during the program!)

With Love,



Experiential Learning Endorsed by Minister of Education

Experiential learning programmes showed up recently in the news!  In a recent article from Channel News Asia, Heng Swee Keat, Singapore's Minister of Education, talked about the importance of bridging theory with practice in contemporary education. "...there [is] a need for applied learning at all levels of education. This will help students unlock the potential in their abilities and use them to solve real-life problems."

Our Biosphere participants receiving hands-on learning from Sierra, one of Biosphere Bali's on-site facilitators and scientists.

Our Biosphere participants receiving hands-on learning from Sierra, one of Biosphere Bali's on-site facilitators and scientists.

We think that's a very important distinction to make--when we put together our programmes, something that we find is always important to consider is whether the programmes allow our participants to apply their knowledge and skills to real-world challenges.  For example, when we were going through the process of partnering with the Biosphere Foundation in Bali, this was a crucial balance to keep in mind. The overall goal was to teach students hands-on environmental stewardship. To do this, we had to make sure that there were credible ecologists and experts that could mentor our participants and provide that extra layer of practical knowledge--the sort of knowledge you can only get through doing it yourself--that would provide the sort of enriching, dynamic learning experience we wanted for our participants.

Making theory become reality! Our participants help to lay irrigation lines on a local Balinese farm.

Making theory become reality! Our participants help to lay irrigation lines on a local Balinese farm.

I believe I speak for many teachers when I say that while we feel heartened to see an 'A' on the Ecology test paper of a student, we feel even more proud when we witness that he/she is able to use his/her knowledge to, for example, help a community start a small organic farm going with the appropriate mix of nitrogen-fixing crops, or propose suitable solutions to waste management issues that actually get implemented. After all, aren't we all preparing students for a world beyond academics?   

Check out the story here, and take a look at our website to see some of our other exciting programmes!