An Institute of
Learning That Sparks Joy

Meet Mr Ow Yeong Wai Kit, whose unconventional approaches to teaching Literature has won him admiration from his students — as well as an unexpected award.

Friends and students may know him as an educator, writer and literary enthusiast. But many may be unaware that Ow Yeong Wai Kit (NIE Class of 2015) has helped to create a card game for teaching Literature, served as an advocate for inter-faith harmony, and was one of six recipients of the Outstanding Youth in Education Award 2019.

The national award, which recognises outstanding efforts in teaching, inspiring and nurturing students, had amassed some 4,100 nominations. “I wasn’t expecting this honour at all,” the 31-year-old said, having returned recently from a learning conference in St Louis, Missouri, made possible by the award. “It has been a clear affirmation that the joy of learning is worth cultivating and nurturing.” | Read More |

With both parents in the teaching profession, Wai Kit already knew that teaching was not an easy career. “The lesson preparation, the projects, the committee work, the CCAs—there are no short cuts. But isn’t that what makes teaching so fascinating and rewarding?” asked the Literature teacher from Bukit Batok Secondary School, citing the poet Taylor Mali who described teaching as ‘the world’s greatest job’.

“When I was a beginning teacher, I asked as many experienced colleagues as I could for permission to observe their classes. I just wanted to see how they established discipline, built rapport and checked for understanding. I’m certainly obliged to them for their practical insights on classroom management and learning assessment,” he explained.

Wai Kit also enjoys having in-depth conversations with his students. “You can’t timetable these conversations—they have to be organic, spontaneous and informal. I actively look for pockets of time during morning assembly, recess or after CCA to get to know students, especially those in my form class. It’s crucial to understand their hopes and dreams as well as their fears and desires.”

When it comes to the classroom, Wai Kit believes in enlivening his lessons through gamification, role-play and even mock trials. During these trials, students have the opportunity to hone their skills in argumentation and evidence-based reasoning. Is it challenging to conduct all these activities? “Props and costumes can be hard to procure, and activities can be significantly time-consuming to plan and conduct.”

But for the mock trials he conducted in class, Wai Kit managed to borrow school graduation gowns for the ‘judges’ and NPCC uniforms for the ‘bailiffs’.

He has also used popular songs by Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran to spark deeper interest in poetry. He recounted another occasion when students squealed with delight upon viewing a mah-jong scene from the film Crazy Rich Asians—which he used to explain a similar setting in the O-level text, The Joy Luck Club. “When students are able to experience the joy of learning for themselves, all these efforts are worthwhile,” he commented.

Admittedly, there are some who believe that joyful learning experiences are secondary to academic results. “My response would be this: when students are led to enjoy the process of learning, the results will take care of themselves. By finding joy in learning, students genuinely become self-directed learners, developing the self-confidence they need to succeed in life,” Wai Kit observed.

We were curious to know if Wai Kit’s teaching style could have been inspired in any way by the late Robin Williams’ role in Dead Poets Society. Quite the contrary—Wai Kit believes his teaching approach has been the amalgamation of different sources, influences and role models. “I’d like to see myself as a life coach. I seek to discipline without being harsh, to be compassionate without being passive, to be calm without being aloof, and to be knowledgeable without pretending to be omniscient. When dealing with student apathy, I prefer to respond with patient humour rather than perplexed indignation.

“The teacher-writer Trevor Wright once asked new teachers to write down the single most important development in their learning curve. The most memorable response was: ‘I bought a filing cabinet.’ I agree with that whole-heartedly. Early on, I realised that the more organised I became, the better I would be at my job, and the more time I could devote to new activities and projects for students. Most teaching anxieties can be eliminated simply by being organised. “I would also advise beginning teachers to be like a magpie: collect and document everything. If possible, retain resources in soft copy so that they can be retrieved more easily. You’ll thank yourself in future,” he added.