Hazirah, on Learning Circles

Beyond Education

The purpose of Learning Circles is to really try to re-define learning for the children, to empower the children and youth to take ownership of their learning goals, and to allow a more diverse set of topics and subjects to be explored to increase interest in learning for children and youths. 

Last year we had a Theory of Change conversation where we shared some challenges we had in running the Learning Is Fun and Exciting (L.I.F.E) programmes. We wanted to direct ownership of the programme back to the community and build their capacity in running it. We brainstormed with community members on questions such as: What if we don’t have volunteers? How can the community band together and do something? How can we make the programme self-sustaining?  

We then introduced parents to the structure of peer learning. A volunteer researcher from the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) helped us to provide the narrative, programme structure, and research brief, which we then used to share with parents about the benefits of peer learning. Parents were quite uncertain because it was different from the teaching style in the Singaporean education system. Peer learning is based on a circles format and would also be different from the 1-to-1 attention that their kid gets with a tutor.  

We were honest with the parents by saying that we see the potential in the kids in trying this even though it is not commonly seen in the Singaporean education system. We did our best to manage their expectations and affirmed that it is not just about boosting academic results, but also about helping the kids have a better relationship with learning! 
The kids take ownership of the things they want to learn. In school they don’t really have the opportunity to do that. They formulate goals and plans together with volunteers and our task is to hold them accountable. In the learning circle with secondary 2 and secondary 3 kids, there were 2 youths who created a Kahoot quiz for their peers because they understood the topic better and wanted to make it more interactive. The kids will text personally to ask if there will be lessons and they look forward to the sessions, even during the Ramadan period. The youths slowly open up to each other and over time new friendships are formed.  

Peer learning brings the kids together and we observe that the slightly older youths begin to see the potential in themselves. They realise they have knowledge and talents they can share with younger peers, so it creates opportunities for their talents and skills to be in the spotlight. We also make sure to recognise their knowledge and talents. 

It really increases their confidence and self-esteem to be able to feel like they have something to contribute back to the community and that they have their own talents and knowledge. This is very meaningful for them, especially since we know they often face demeaning narratives in school, discouragement, negative statements from other peers that really damage their self-esteem.