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Teaching social and emotional competencies: Influences from Kuo Pao Kun
Khan, S. (2017). Teaching social and emotional competencies: Influences from Kuo Pao Kun. Unpublished manuscript, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
This report delves into the key plays The Coffin is Too Big for the Hole (hereafter, The Coffin, 1984), Mama Looking for Her Cat (hereafter, Mama, 1988) and Lao Jiu (1990) written by local playwright Kuo Pao Kun (1939-2002) to point out the key themes that students of the 21st century will be able to learn from. Kuo addressed social issues within the Singaporean society in these plays that will be able to resonate with youths as they face similar issues such as the dilemma between meeting society’s standards and creating one’s individuality, the marginalisation of the elderly in a digital era, and the paradox of society’s rules.
What students cannot achieve through classroom textbooks and pen-and-paper tests are the social and emotional competencies that they are capable of learning through drama: relationship management, responsible decision making and social awareness and embedded within core values: responsibility, care, harmony and resilience. As Singapore’s education system primarily focuses on facts and fixed knowledge and leave little room for students to learn values and key competencies, it leaves gaps in pupils’ learning (Tan, 2006). These skills and knowledge that are the gaps in learning are most often learned in informal learning, which are difficult to plan, hence teachers often deem them as unproductive. However, it is through explorations of social contexts that content is learnt with experience in a dialectic manner (Lee & Hung, 2012). These gaps occur because students are not critically engaged with their learning material, and the activities they are exposed to provide little ‘hands-on’ in spontaneous decision-making, expression of perspectives and understanding and appreciating from different angles of an issue. Drama, however, enables students to express their perspectives in physical, symbolic ways that creates depth in learning where “experiences and ideas are exchanged and subjected to to criticism, where misconceptions are corrected, and new lines of thought and inquiry are set up” (Dewey, as cited in Chan, 2009).
Introducing Kuo Pao Kun to a classroom of young learners will see to a resolution of his themes and ideas fitting perfectly with the gaps in the education system. Kuo’s theme of multiculturalism in Mama Looking for Her Cat (1988) is a relevant one that proposes the social awareness competency, as students in Singapore encounter diversity daily.
In addition, in The Coffin is Too Big for the Hole (1984) and Lao Jiu (1993), the ever apparent issue of conflict with one’s principles and belief systems is an applicable issue to introduce responsible decision-making to students. These competencies mentioned are the tools pertinent to the creation of students’ own identity and individuality as they embark on other challenges in life.
In this paper, the lesson plans will demonstrate how Kuo Pao Kun’s themes within his plays can be infused in lessons to develop well-rounded individuals capable of managing relevant social issues that Kuo had pointed out in his work. Drama and theatre activities such as tableaux, hot-seating and role-playing can involve students in deep reflection and creative, critical thinking. Incorporating drama in lessons makes learning interestingly unconventional and ignites passion and interest in pupils, which is exactly what pupils need in order to close the gaps in the education system (Tan, 2006).
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