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Rajendran, Charlene, 1964-
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This study explores the complexities of applying drama as pedagogy in a performative examination-oriented education system from the perspective of teachers. At this point in Singapore’s progress, the key challenge of education reform is to cultivate an education culture that supports inquiry and self-directed learning, whilst maintaining the high quality of education that students and parents have come to expect from schools and teachers. To fulfill the aims of the Thinking Schools, Learning Nation vision of education, the Teach Less, Learn More policy has introduced a new emphasis on the process of teaching based on constructivist principles. However, this analysis of six teachers’ attempts at applying drama as an embodied pedagogy to improve teaching practice indicates that teachers’ capacity to implement new methods are affected by a complex interplay between teacher beliefs and factors external to the teachers. The demands of a results-driven education system, the influence of a kiasi education culture that positions teachers as all-knowing authority figures, and school leaders’ approach towards implementation of new ideas, were surfaced in this study as forces that shaped teacher beliefs and affected the teachers’ response to drama.

Teachers’ interpretation of policies filtered through their beliefs determines the extent to which student-centred learning can be achieved because new methods can be applied in old ways. For the teachers in this inquiry who believed that the fundamental examination-oriented goals of education remain unchanged, drama was eventually reduced to a novel method that had little relevance to their teaching practice and any change in teaching practice could be described as a cosmetic façade. These observations indicate that teachers tend to resist the demands of drama as an embodied approach when instrumentalist beliefs about education continue to dominate education discourse in Singapore.

For the teachers who did believe in the need to improve their pedagogical skills and were motivated to attempt drama on their own initiative, they were limited by their lack of knowledge and ability to cope with the demands of employing an art form meaningfully as pedagogy. Unable to create a new experience of teaching and learning
through drama, these teachers eventually reverted to didactic teaching methods to prepare students for examinations. The cognitive dissonance these teachers experienced was displayed by the discrepancy between their beliefs and how they actually taught, which indicated that these teachers had conflicting beliefs about drama and education in general that were exacerbated by their lack of training in drama education.

In contrast, the teachers in this study who were trained in drama education were better equipped to navigate the complexities of education reform in a competitive education culture. These teachers’ ability to manage cognitive dissonance and apply drama pedagogically indicates that adequate drama education training and engagement in critical reflection is needed to support a shift in teachers’ beliefs towards more constructivist principles of education. Regardless of how ambitious or detailed policies for reform may be, teachers are enactors of the curriculum who mediate new initiatives through their existing beliefs and habits of teaching. Thus, education reform requires policy-makers and school leaders to be fully committed to invest in teachers’ professional development to support teachers to explore new models of teaching that are aligned to Singapore’s goals of education in the 21st Century.
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PN3171 Che
Appears in Collections:Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

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