Evolving The Language Of Education – Dr Lim Lai Cheng
HappyHappy • Aug 2020
“Positive Education is the application of the science of Positive Psychology and related fields within an educational setting to encourage students, faculty, schools, universities and communities to flourish.”
Dr Lim Lai Cheng is a public educator with a wealth of experience that spans more than 40 years from secondary schools, university and adult learning. She is currently Executive Director of SMU Academy at the Singapore Management University. Prior to this, she held key positions in corporate communications, curriculum planning and policy development at the Ministry of Education (MOE).
She was principal of three Singapore schools over 15 years, the last being Raffles Institution (RI) where she still holds the distinction of being the only female principal in the school’s 197-year-old history.
She is advisor to several education foundations in China, Slovakia, South Africa and Russia. In 2012, the French government conferred on her the Chevalier Dans L’ Ordre Des Palmes Academiques for advancing educational collaboration between France and Singapore.
Lai Cheng is also a founding member of International Positive Education Network (IPEN) and Chairman of the Singapore Positive Education Network (SPEN).
According to the IPEN website, “Positive Education is the application of the science of Positive Psychology and related fields within an educational setting to encourage students, faculty, schools, universities and communities to flourish.”
HappyHappy catches up with Lai Cheng for her thoughts on positive education in Singapore and around the world.
Here is what Lai Cheng had to say:
How It All Started
“…the group of educators present at the meeting decided to start our own ground-up movement, to draw educators and the global community to embrace positive psychology in education.”
It all started when I was principal of RI. At RI, we had a lot of partnerships with international schools from around the world.
Sir Anthony Seldon, then headmaster of Wellington College was a close friend. He once invited me to fly to London to join in a meeting with a group of very strong advocates of positive education. Martin Seligman (University of Pennsylvania) was leading this group.
On that occasion, the group presented a White Paper on positive psychology and its application to education at 10 Downing Street. The presentation was made to then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
The focus of the White Paper was on well-being and why it should be at the core of British education.
Group of Positive Education Advocates outside 10, Downing Street
Front row (From right): Hector Escamilla; Lim Lai Cheng; James Arthur; Martin Seligman
The authors of the paper wanted to advocate for more national resources to make sure that the mental health of children is catered for, which will lead to stronger wellbeing and academic outcomes.
Pending the consideration of the British government on this issue, the group of educators present at the meeting decided to start our own ground-up movement, to draw educators and the global community to embrace positive psychology in education.
And that’s how IPEN started.
Apart from Prof Martin Seligman and Sir Anthony Seldon, the steering committee of IPEN comprised very strong leaders in research, and advocates of positive psychology and education from all over the world, such as Angela Duckworth of Character Lab, Dr Illona Boniwell of Positran, Prof Felica Huppert from Cambridge University, Prof James Arthur from the Jubilee Centre (University of Birmingham), David Levin (founder of the KIPP Schools in the US), Dr Peng Kaiping, Professor of psychology at Tsinghua University and school leaders such as Stephen Meek from Geelong Grammar School in Australia, Simon Murray from St Peter’s School in Adelaide, Dominic Randolph from Riverdale School in New York, and Hector Escamillia, President of Tecmilenio University in Mexico.
Festivals of Positive Education
We set up an IPEN website to provide resources and to connect people from all over the world. We also held two Festivals of Positive Education in Dallas and Fort Worth respectively in three years.
The third Festival will be a virtual conference to be held on 27-29 October 2020 in association with Tecmilenio University, Monterrey, Mexico.
The current board members of IPEN meet once or twice a month virtually to discuss strategy, resources and how to create sustainability and visibility for IPEN.
The board also has key representatives of the Middle Eastern network, U.K & Europe network, the Australian network, US network and the Latin American network.
SPEN is the Southeast Asia network.
SPEN, The Singapore Chapter
SPEN was launched at an education conference hosted by SMU and Principals Academy Inc. on 26 July 2018.
The Guest-of-Honour was Ms Low Yen Ling, then Senior Parliamentary Secretary of Ministry of Education and Ministry of Manpower and Mayor of South West District.
Launch of SPEN on 26 July 2018. (Left to right): Lim Lai Cheng, Chairman, SPEN; Low Yen Ling, then Senior Parliamentary Secretary of Ministry of Education and Ministry of Manpower and Mayor of South West District; Pang Choon How, Principal, Hwa Chong Institution; Ng Yeow Ling, Principal, Westwood Primary School; Caleon Imelda Santos, Asst Dean of Partnerships, National Institute of Education
The SPEN core educators’ group comprises a number of educators who are strong advocates of Positive Education.
One such educator is Mr Ng Yeow Ling, Principal of Westwood Primary, who had, over the years, organised his staff to be trained by practitioners from Geelong Grammar School.
Hwa Chong Institution is also a forerunner of Positive Education among schools in Singapore. In the last 12 years or more, they’ve sent some of their teachers to do a Masters of Applied Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and have also strongly integrated positive education into their curriculum.
Plans For Growing SPEN
“Schools may already have trained counsellors but I think teachers and parents need to be trained as well to look out for the mental well-being of our students.”
Right now, what I’m trying to do is to aggregate all our resources on a new website and to connect people so that we can all be supported and inspired by advocates of Positive Education around us and across the world.
The core educators group has organised sharing sessions, workshops and breakfast networking sessions for educators who are interested to learn more about specific concepts or research findings in the area of Positive Education, mindfulness and character strengths.
We are also building a directory of who-is-doing-what in this space so that we can tap on one other’s experience and resources.
The Principals Academy Inc. (PAI) has been particularly instrumental in bringing onboard strong trainers to teach our educators about how to integrate positive education into the school curriculum at different levels.
PAI is also looking into offering training on psychological coaching for our teachers, so that they can better attend to the needs of students.
Schools may already have trained counsellors but I think teachers and parents need to be trained as well to look out for the mental well-being of our students.
MOE’s Stance On Positive Education
Positive education is a framework that can be used in any school, with varied adaptations depending on existing school culture.
Some mission schools have their own values curriculum while other clan association schools have a strong foundation in Chinese traditions.
No matter what the school culture is, positive education can be integrated into a school’s existing Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) curriculum.
All educators believe in character building and investing time to help children develop purpose and meaning.
Schools that embrace positive education do this in a more holistic manner, ensuring that there is a common language, proper staff development and curriculum integration.
“A whole-school approach towards positive education will go far to ensure that the school ethos and culture work towards the well-being of students and staff.”
Some schools may want to focus on character strengths, resilience, gratitude, positivity and meaningful relationships. Others may wish to focus on mindfulness to ensure that staff and students are attentive to their own needs, make better decisions, are more self-aware and able to regulate their emotions and see things in perspective.
A whole-school approach towards positive education will go far to ensure that the school ethos and culture work towards the well-being of students and staff.
Wellbeing In Education Conference Virtual Conference 27-29 October 2020
“I am certain that as a movement, positive education is growing and will certainly continue to gain momentum in Singapore and the world.”
The upcoming Festival from 27-29 October 2020 is a virtual conference open to anyone around the world. There are 20,000 sign-ups already and I think there will be even more participants nearer the date.
I am certain that as a movement, positive education is growing and will certainly continue to gain momentum in Singapore and the world.
Dr Lim Lai Cheng
Chairman, Singapore Positive Education Network &
Board Member, International Positive Education Network
Click here to sign up for the Virtual Conference.
“Nothing matters more than education. Inspire children to live a compassionate, healthy and creative life, and those young people will go on and change the world. This conference matters more than words can say.”
– Sir Anthony Seldon, IPEN founder and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Buckingham