Right Brain Activities for Home Practice – Tangrams

Right Brain Activities for Home Practice – Tangrams

by Dr Shen Li Lee



At Heguru, there is always one activity where the children have to create a picture using tangrams or another puzzle called “iroita”.

The outlines are drawn onto a worksheet and the children need to find the right shapes to fit the shapes on the worksheet.  It is like doing a puzzle.

You can buy a tangram puzzle from Amazon or you can make your own tangram puzzle following the instructions on the video below:

For this activity, you can create outlines for your child to fill in.  If you’re creative, you can come up with your own designs and mark the outlines onto a piece of paper.  If you want a little more help, you can buy tangram puzzle books which will give you plenty to work with.  Alternatively, you can check out youtube for videos to give you some inspiration:

The second activity you can do – which was recommended to me by one of the staff at Heguru – is to give your child the puzzle pieces and ask your child to create his own pictures and patterns.

Personally, I don’t think you need to limit this activity to tangrams and iroita.  If your child has building blocks with lots of different shapes, you can ask him to make patterns and pictures using those.  I’m sure playing with LegoDuploMegablocks, and any other similar blocks are just as beneficial, too.  I think you should also encourage your child to play with Jigsaw puzzles.

What does this activity do? Shichida doesn’t really say, but this is what I think…  Allowing your child to build his own patterns encourages his creativity.  Playing this activity as a puzzle help to train mental imaging since you need to see the bigger picture in your mind to be able to complete the puzzle.



Finland Education in Singapore : Yay or Nay? – Part 4: Parents

Finland Education in Singapore : Yay or Nay? – Part 4: Parents



In Finland, parents work together with schools as they believe in a common goal: efforts must be pooled together for public education. Parents know that they are expected to be proactive towards a child’s learning. Since their state subscribes to the egalitarian belief, it helps that they do not need to worry about finances much and fully concerntrate on enjoying family activties with the child. In Finland, it is also in their culture that less is more – from choices of how they live daily and their food. Women also wear much lesser make-up. With this culture, they also do not believe in piling lots of homework on to their child. Thus, they do not behave as “Tiger Mums or Dads”. In fact, most parents report just being happy with a “good, decent school”.

They value childhood independence and this is seen in seven-year-olds walking several kilometres to school  or being unsupervised by adults for long times. While there are some parents who believe that too much freedom may forsake values, they do not test waters or try to toe the line. This value of being independent rationally , in fact, is transferred directly to their studies.

Due to this independence, Finnish children take it upon themselves to master the subjects and be responsible for their studies. An educator recalled that when there was no formal assessment given by the teacher, he asked how did the child know they have learned. The child simply replied that they would best know it themselves and if they don’t manage to learn it, it is that they do not put in much effort. In short, they don’t display “Learned Helplessness”.

RELATED: Learned Helplessness: Are You Teaching Your Child to be Helpless?


In Singapore, perhaps due to competitive culture, many proactive parents take a step further and become helipcopter parents. One possible reason is due to the “Asian Face”. In Asia, it is very common for parents to compare their children in terms of grades, schools and many more. Thus, many eventualy become “Tiger Parents” without meaning to.

Quite often, these parents tend to take care of almost every single need of the child until the child becomes very dependent on the parent to handle daily simple tasks such as homework assignments and such. Some parents take to the extreme and call on teachers for ‘mistakes’ for simple tasks. Some parents insist that more homework must be given while there are cases where parents insist on things that are not appropriate. For example, a parent came down to complain about the form teacher for asking the girl to pin up her fringe.

When such behaviours are displayed, children learn to compare and even grow up with the sense of entitlement. Indeed, I have heard of children who actually compared with their classmates whose parents the teachers were more likely to be afraid of based on the occupations of their parents. Needless to say, “lawyers” won that round.

As such, teachers usually pray that they have principals who are willing to stand by their teachers are able to deal with these parents. However, there are principals who allow parents to berate the teachers publicly. This results in detoriation of morale for teachers.

As such, children are not taught that they are responsible for their own learning and are quick to display “Learned Helplessness”. They are generally quick to pinpoint the teachers when they think that the teachers have not taught them the topic – only to find out later that they did. Many of them do not adopt appropriate study strategies but rather, are quick to raise their hands for help before trying.

Check out the Previous Post: 3. Teachers

Finland Education in Singapore : Yay or Nay? – Part 3: Teachers

Finland Education in Singapore : Yay or Nay? – Part 3: Teachers

Indeed, no one is more critical to a student than the teachers. In Singapore, the teachers are highly regarded. Yet in the pursuit of heightening the education level, local teachers are suffering great burnout and passions that once burn brightly begin to fizzle. Should Singapore adopt the approach Finland has towards theirs?




For a long time, it is not uncommon to find news articles that talks about Finland choosing the top 10% of their teachers in this highly-competive job to teach the students. In fact, it created a mindset that only the cleverest teachers who scored the best marks academically are able to impart knowledge. This is truly a misconception.

 In Finland, they do not necessarily go for the cleverest teachers. They have to undergo extrmely rigourous testings before they are considered. In fact, the deliberately accepted those from the top 20% in academic ability and those at the bottom with academically average ability (51-80 marks). The reason for this selection is that they know that one does not need to be academically inclined as long as they posses a passion and potential to be a great teacher. Thus, they do not exclude artists, youth leaders or even young atheletes to become teachers. This is in the belief that these teachers will cooperate with one another and help each other to hone their mastery of the subject as well as teaching abilities.

There is also no criteria set for a teacher who requires Masters to become a teacher as due to their education model earlier; anyone, who wants to continue their education, will receive a Masters sooner or later.


In Singapore, all teachers are required to go through an interview at Ministry of Education before they are selected. There are four ways where a teacher can be recruited:

  1. After O levels to take on a diploma course as a Music, Food and Consumer or Language teacher
  2. After degree or mid-career switch where one can sign up to take on the postgraduate degree to be a teacher
  3. Scholarships for scholars

Thus, the teachers have varying abilities and qualifications when they enter the teaching force – where they are tagged to the tracks of GEO 1 and GEO2. It does not matter if a supposedly- lower qualified teacher can teach better than a GEO 1. Their pay will not be on par as a GEO 1. Furthermore, even if they have obtain the degree – they will be promoted to GEO 1A where they have to start all over again instead of a direct conversion.

As Singapore has neighbourhood and prestigious schools that cater to different student population and operate differently, it generally creates an impression that teachers sent to teach in a prestigious school may likely be better than one who teaches in a neaighbourhood one – even thought it is not true. Some teachers use this their advantage when they leave the profession. This may explain why there is a new stand by MOE that every school is a good school.



Teachers in Finland are never ranked. In fact, they are given full autonomy to create the best learning objectives and requirements to ensure that the students learn. There is no external inspection of schools or standardized testing of children to see if the children have learnt. They believe that by incorporating teacher-tested evaluation will only lead to competition and that teachers should cooperate and share as it is a starting point for growth – the principle of education itself.


Singapore teachers encounter a yearly ranking dubbed the Enhanced Performance Management System. Teachers are tracked by heads of department, principals and ministry officials throughout their professional careers. This allows the ministry to mete out promotions, pay increments and other performance-based awards as part of a formal system of professionalization incentives. For the latest version, school leaders look at 5 categories:

  • Quality learning of students
  • Character development of students
  • Professional Development of students
  • Professional Development of Others
  • Contributions to Projects / Committee Work

While the process started with good intentions of making teachers reflect on their practices, there have been many instances where it is more reflective of how one is able to ‘market’ themselves to sound more competent than one really is to their school leaders. This results in times where school management promote teachers to higher positions who seem to be less qualified than many others.

Learning Styles


Naysayers may love to pull out science and research about how learning styles may not be useful. Yet, in Finland, teachers study learning styles so that they are able to create and meet the learning styles of the various children under their charge. Their classrooms are also strategically decorated and aisles are utilised efficiently with pops of colour and manipulatives so that teachers are able to utilised any part of the school to cater to the various learning styles of the students and strategies to meet their needs. Thus, they believe that they cater to the individualised student.


For most part, teachers in Singapore were taught mostly for mastery of the subject and assessment. The curriculum for teaching do not teach learning styles to the teachers. Thus, Singaporean teachers have to try out various methods of teaching to reach out to their students. Most of the time, without proper guidance, many teachers only resort to chalk-and-talk as well as drill and practice as a means of communication to students.

Thr irony of it all is that most tuition and enrichment centres such as Mindstretchers and Adam Khoo had long picked up that learning styles are vital to a child’s learning. Thus, they conduct lessons utilising these styles and parents often wonder why they work while public teachers are unable to do so.

Classroom Sizes


Although most educators revere John Hattie’s work, Visible Learning, as the bible for teaching strategies and methods, Finland still adopts a smaller-class-size approach even though it was said to have little impact on teaching and learning in the book. Each class is have only 19-21 students at the most. The largest number of students in a school will usualy hover around 900. This allows the teachers to fully interact with all students and get to know them personally – which adds to the positive emotions they feel towards learning. Students usually have the same teacher for a few years and thus, the teacher that they are with are responsible for their growth in social and education aspects.


Most classess in Singapore have around 35-40 students. I have heard of classes that accommodated 45 of them. Schools are encouraged not to have less than 40 students (termed as “a full class”) in a class. In fact, schools with decreasing population will be merged with other schools so that the classess will be meet the quota once more. The Ministry of Education do not wish to adopt the approach of having fewer children in class due to three reasons:

i) it will be more costly to adopt such an approach due to increased manpower

ii) the high scores in PISA is a determining factor that the Singapore is supposed to be on the right track

       iii) small class size is not supposed to have a profound impact as research was supposedly to have say so.

Furthermore, the most schools practice the trend of switching teachers every year and thus, students have to get used to different teachers each year. The inclusion of contract teachers and interns meant that students must get used to different teachers at different points of times for a subject. Thus, it is even possible for a class to undergo three to four different teachers for a subject within a year.

Administrative Work


Teachers are free to create their own curriculum and plan their lessons. They have no other adminstrative work to carry out.


Teachers are swamped with much adminstrative work which they have to tackle outside their lesson planning and marking. In fact, the EPMS had stated that teachers were supposed to commit their time to projects and committee work as well.

While there are many dedicated teachers who try to shun committee work to plan proper lessons for their students, there are also those prefer to work on school projects and committees as it is the fastest way to be visible to the school management.

Teaching Ideas and Methodology


In Finland, they truly believe in “Teach Less Learn More”. In fact, their lessons are so relaxed and informal that many observers feel that learning is not taking place at all. Some educators even remarked that they have seen more engaging lessons conducted. Called “pedagogical conservatism”, this is where many educators miss the point. It matters a lot when students are given ample time to look through and fully understand the topic at the given time as they are aware that not all children mature at the same time.

They also paid extra attention to how boys and girls like to  learn. For example, they notice that girls prefer to work in pairs and groups to boys so that they can share their thoughts and ideas. Girls are also more likely to prefer to  have more differentiated instructions. They also include more interactive game-like activities which are able to give supporting feedback, instead of reptitive ones.

In the latest update, the world gasped when they heard that Finland was doing away with subjects and would be teaching according to themes. Interestingly, this thematic interdisciplinary  was already popular in many parts of the world but it was not part as an official overhaul of an education system. It was then clarified that Finland would not be scraping subjects all together.


Singapore actually emulates United States in terms of teaching styles and methodology. A quick look through Amazon.com shows thousands of books on education and hundreds more are being produced every year. Ironically, most of these methods are generally the same, albeit with different names. A look through TRAISI will shows hundreds of these courses which teachers are supposed to sign up for and conduct in their lessons. The only issues with these courses are that they are usually condensed and are held for the massess. Thus while some will say these courses are somewhat beneficial as they are exposed to methods they may not have been aware of, they are unable to fully try out these methods due to adminstrative work and such.

Another issue is that Singapore has to squeeze many topics into the curriculum time just to ensure that students are taught that much for the examinations. It lead to teachers becoming very exam-centred and any time spent on analyzing of thought processess of students for an answer may be seen a ‘waste of time’.

Unfortunately, this lowers the ability for the child to take risks as they are always looking for the right answers rather than the thinking processes.

Check out the Previous post: 2. Education Model

Check out the Next Post: 4. Parents

Finland’s Education Model in Singapore : Yay or Nay? Part 2 –  Education Models

Finland’s Education Model in Singapore : Yay or Nay? Part 2 – Education Models

Education Models

Before we begin, it is important to note that education is not a big commercial entity yet in Finland (and I suspect it will not be as it will be tightly controlled by the government). Remember that education is free for all in Finland, including immigrants. Thus, there are few private schools as compared to the billion-dollar tuition and enrichment industry in Singapore. The government of Finland pays the subsidised amount of those who wish to attend private schools, with parents paying the outsanding sum.

The education models of both countries are placed below:


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The education model for Finland, at first glance, is much simpler than Singapore’s model. However there are four key differences that stood out:

The Journey

The Finnish model started from early childhood education and ends at a a doctoral degree, whereas the Singapore model starts with primary school and ends at the undergraduate level. Let us keep in mind that education in Finland is free throughout (yes, even the doctoral degree) while only the primary school fees are waived in Singapore.

Work Experience

While most Singaporeans are supposed to start working only after they have graduated from universities, Finnish students can choose the vocational track which allows them to start working at the age of 16. They have also created a separate track for vocational students to continue their higher education in polytechnics which is on par with bacehlors in their country.


A quality preshool is extremely important as it strengthens the formative years of the child in the long run.

If you take a look at the education model for preschool for Finland, you will realise that they took in consideration the early childhood section with a pre-primary level. All public preschools have a standardised education system based on play-based approach and all children can attend them for free. They do not outsource their preschool section private intistuitions. In fact, from August 2015, participation in pre-primary education will be mandatory.


RELATED: Why Play is Extremely Important for Your Child

In Singapore, we have big players in the preschool market with many private companies fighting for a piece of the pie. The standardisation of the quality of teachers is unequal across the various schools as there are private organisations that offer certification in Early Childhood Education (ECE). The curriculum is also not standardised across the island.  Some schools adopt a play-based approach while others may offen intensive academic structures. There are also some preschools which now also incorporate right-brain training into their curriculum.

Interestingly, many parents actually feel uncomfortable with a play-based curriculum as many believe the academic pressure in preschool will benefit the children more. As attending preschool is also not compulsary for children so due to various circumstances, some children may even enter primary school without attending preschool earlier and this may put them at a disadvantage. This causes a disparity of education among the children at the end of their education.

Check out the previous post: 1. State of Affairs

Check out the next post: 3. Teachers

Finland’s Education in Singapore: Yay or Nay? Part 1: State of Affairs

Finland’s Education in Singapore: Yay or Nay? Part 1: State of Affairs

Is being a meritocratic state necessarily good for Singapore? Is Singapore able to thrive if we adopt the egalitarian philosophical belief not unlike Finland?

1. State of Affairs


In Finland, one pays dearly for taxes but its people do not need to worry about many basic necessities such as health care, education, retirement and  unemployment. All these services are free. In short, it is a welfare state.  This is due to they subscribe to the egalitarian philosophical belief that all people are fundamentally equal and deserves equal treatment regardless of gender, religion, economic status and political beliefs.


Singapore, on the hand, does not adopt this policy as it may cause issues such as unfair entitlement and dependency among its people. At this point of writing, Finland’s unemployment rate stands at 9.1% while Singapore stands at 1.9%. Thus, Singapore believes in meritocracy where a society is governed by people selected according to merit and it is possible for one to work his/her way out of poverty as long as they are diligent. Thus, while we pay for lower taxes, we have to pay for our medical expenses, living and many others. While our government tries to buffer the cost by introducing CPF and other aid schemes, it is a struggle for the middle-class, those who fall through the gaps and in the lower income bracket due to the rising costs of living. This cause immense pressure for Singaporeans to depend on their children to do well so that they can maintain the current lifestyle or to do better in the future.

If we take a look at the Maslow’s Hierachy, you can see Finland pretty well cover the top 3 basics for a human being while there are many in Singapore who is still struggling with this:

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The Maslow’s Hierarchy – the bottom two basic needs are fulfilled by Finland

How does it translate to Education?

Egalitarian Approach

With the egalitarian approach, people do not have to worry about basic needs as listed in the Maslow Hierachy.Their safety, security and physiological needs have already been met and thus, they are free to explore the higher ones such as love and belonging and such. With these needs satisfied, education in Finland is viewed primarily as a public effort serving a public purpose. There are several benefits for this:

  • No stress for a child to meet academic demands and parental pressure upon them as their future needs do not fall upon their shoulders.
  • Lots of time to learn through trial-and-error, which research have shown that it is very beneficial for learning. This allows Finnish teachers to check through their thought processes. Correct answers are secondary. Thus, Finnish children generally experience more positive emotions towards life.
  • The only mandatory standardised test is taken when children are 16 years old. By that time, their self-regulation in emotions will be stronger than when they are younger.
  • Perseverance in learning is easily sustained as there is no need to get the answers right the first time round

In fact, such importance that they place on meeting these needs that every school have a welfare team which attends to the children of the school. It is a team headed by the principal and consists of the school social worker, school psychologist, school nurse, study counsellor, special education teacher.

Meritocratic Approach

With the meritocratic approach in Singapore, the only way to ensure that one receives merit is to conduct constant standardised testing throughout the child’s education so that they can be identified. This creates the mentality that success in life seems to depend on almost every result that they child receive. Education here is viewed as a private effort leading to individual good as compared to the common goal of public education in Finland. While it helps those who have put in much effort and are determined to help themselves, there are some issues with this approach:

  • Learning is stressful as teachers ultimately end up rushing through the syllabus to meet exam requirements
  • Answers are expected to be correct the first time round if possible so that they can go on to the next topic. This results in teachers assessing learning by checking if the answers are correct instead of focusing on the thought processes.
  • Students who are unable to catch up with the system are suitably demoralised and go through a range of emotions ranging from disappontment to self-defeat.

Check out the next post: 2. Education Models