Teach Less, Learn More

The Ministry of Education (MOE) launched the “Teach Less, Learn More” (TLLM) initiative in 2005 to improve the quality of teaching and enhance student learning in Singapore. TLLM built on the “Thinking School, Learning Nation” vision, which had been introduced in 1997 to create an education system that nurtures creativity, critical thinking and a passion for lifelong learning.1

The TLLM vision was first mentioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his National Day Rally speech on 24 August 2004.2 Speaking on continuous improvements to Singapore’s education system, Lee urged educators to “teach less to our students so that they will learn more” – in other words, to streamline the syllabus, reduce rote learning and adopt teaching methods that would better engage students and prepare them for the real world. The move came on the heels of efforts to make education more diverse and flexible through integrated programmes that allowed brighter students to skip the General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level (GCE  O-Level) e examination, as well as through new schools specialising in sports, arts, and mathematics and science.3

Key features
The two thrusts of TLLM were to provide support for ground-up initiatives by teachers and school leaders, and to give students greater flexibility and choice.4

Schools could hire more support staff, such as fulltime school counsellors and co-curricular programme executives, to relieve teachers of certain duties so that they could focus on customising lessons to meet the needs of different learners.5 Teachers were encouraged to find more efficient and interactive ways of imparting content as well as explore other means of assessment apart from homework and tests.6 With TLLM, teachers were also given the opportunity, time and resources to research, design, develop and implement curriculum innovations based on the unique profile of learners in their schools. One of the hallmarks of TLLM was the Research Activist Attachment Scheme in which teachers could acquire curriculum design and research know-how to give their ideas more rigour and depth.7

The syllabus was streamlined not only to free up more time for teachers to reflect on and improve their practice, but also for students to participate in non-academic enrichment such as character-building programmes and pastoral care.8 Additionally, the school curriculum was diversified to give students more choice in subjects and space to explore their interests. For example, Normal (Technical) students could take up higher-level Normal (Academic) subjects from 2006, such as design and technology, history and literature, which had not been offered in the Normal (Technical) course previously. Secondary schools could offer new O-Level subjects such as economics, computer studies and drama, while primary schools could apply for an additional grant to develop a niche in sports, arts, an academic field or another chosen area.9

The TLLM initiative grew from a prototype involving 29 schools in 2006 to 327 schools by 2011.10 While TLLM has encouraged innovation in pedagogy, it also resulted in teachers spending more time preparing for lessons than before. Due to the continued emphasis on grades and parental expectations of their children’s academic performance, teachers have found it challenging to balance TLLM objectives against the pressing need to complete the syllabus and prepare students for examinations.11

That said, findings from evaluation studies conducted by MOE revealed that TLLM has brought about improvements to the levels of student engagement as well as the professionalism of teachers. According to the studies, students not only found learning more exciting, interesting and enjoyable, they also followed instructions better, were attentive and participated more actively in class. The capacity for curriculum design, development and research among teachers has increased along with a willingness to review, improve and share good practices with their peers.12

Janice Loo

1. Ministry of Education, Singapore, Engaging Our Learners: Teach Less, Learn More (Singapore: Ministry of Education, 2013), 3–5. (From BookSG)
2. Lee Hsien Loong, “Our Future of Opportunity and Promise,” speech, University Cultural Centre, NUS, 22 August 2004, transcript, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. 2004083101)
3. Lydia Lim, “3,000 More Teachers in Schools by 2010,” Straits Times, 23 August 2004, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Creating a ‘Mountain Range’ School Landscape,” Straits Times, 24 September 2005, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Ministry of Education, Singapore, Engaging Our Learners, 6; Sandra Davie, “Schools Get Help to Foster More Diversity,” Straits Times, 30 September 2004, 1; “More Free Time,” Straits Times, 23 September 2005, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Maria Almenoar, “Shorter Syllabus May Mean,” Straits Times, 24 August 2004, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Ministry of Education, Singapore, Engaging Our Learners, 6–7.
8. Lim, “3,000 More Teachers in Schools by 2010”; “More Free Time.”
9. Davie, “Schools Get Help to Foster More Diversity”; Sandra Davis, “Choices Open Up for Secondary School Students,” Straits Times, 23 September 2005, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Ministry of Education, Singapore, Engaging Our Learners, 3, 7, 10.
11. Ng Jing Yng and Sumita Sreedharan, “Teach Less, Learn More – Have We Achieved It?” Today, 24 August 2012, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Ministry of Education, Singapore, Engaging Our Learners, 12; Ng and Sreedharan, “Teach Less, Learn More.”

The information in this article is valid as at 19 March 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


Active learning--Singapore
Education and state--Singapore