Activties at Yishun Town Secondary School lead by Candy Tong

When the FTP arrived in Singapore, a number of backpacks were sent to Yishun Town Secondary School for their art teacher Ms. Candy Tong to engage students in transforming the backpacks into works of art. Despite living in a region that is sheltered from natural disasters and being mostly unfamiliar with facing physical hardship, it was hoped that children in Singapore would be interested and able to learn through the process of engaging with art-making that was directly linked to disaster relief and aid efforts in the region. The objective of the student engagement is the possible engendering of resilience, empathy and self, social & global awareness, all part of the desired outcomes of education & emerging 21st Century Competencies (Ministry of Education, 2015). From Doraemon backpacks that ‘provides anything the carrier needs’ to Emoji smiley faces that brings smiles to everyone, the artwork’s that students created aimed to offer emotional aid to victims. As one student aptly puts it, “other than food and shelter, they need mental support too…”

Below are results from Pre-participation and Post-participation reflections of participating students:

Pre-participation reflection (26 responses)

  1. What do you know about the Tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011?
  • 3 responses – Do not know/not sure
  • 23 responses – Had knowledge (Loss of life, family, home etc.)
  1. Did you know/hear of aid provisions locally or globally that was provided to the victims? If yes, please specify.
  • 18 responses – No
  • 8 responses – Yes

If your answer to question 2 is yes, please answer question 3.

  1. In your personal opinion, do you think the aid that was sent helped the victims? How?
  • 18 responses – No
  • 8 responses – Yes (shows people care, helped physically and emotionally etc.)
  1. If you could send aid to the victims, what would you send?
  • 19 responses – would send water, food, medical supplies
  • 6 responses – would send medics or medical supplies
  • 4 responses – would send money
  • 2 responses – would send encouragement
  1. If you were a victim, what kind of aid would you like to receive?
  • 4 responses – would like to receive money
  • 21 responses – would like to receive basic necessities for survival
  • 3 responses – would like to receive encouragement and comfort
  1. What message or items would you like to send them now, 4 years after the devastation?
  • 10 responses – do not know
  • 9 responses –send emotional support
  • 2 responses –send material support
  • 2 responses –send educational support
  • 1 response – send wishes
  • 1 response – ‘Nope you all are well’
  • 1 response – ‘Stay away’

Post-participation reflection (30 responses)

  1. What do you know about the Tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011?
  • 30 responses – Had knowledge (Loss of life, family, home etc.)
  1. Did you know/hear of aid provisions locally or globally that was provided to the victims? If yes, please specify.
  • 11 responses – No
  • 19 responses – Yes

If your answer to question 2 is yes, please answer question 3.

  1. In your personal opinion, do you think the aid that was sent helped the victims? How?
  • 11 responses – blank (no response)
  • 19 responses – 15 responses – Yes, 4 responses – Not enough
  1. What did you think about while you were making your backpacks?
  • 30 responses – How the audience/victims would feel/think = Empathy
  1. Now that you have completed your backpacks, can you explain what you have done? What do you hope your artwork will communicate?
  • 30 responses – Described in detail how their artworks would communicate their message to the audience/victims = Compassion
  1. Do you feel that you have more compassion for the disaster victims now that you have completed this project?
  • 30 responses – Yes
Pre-Participation reflection Post-Participation reflection Percentage increase
Knowledge of Event 78% 100% 22%
Knowledge of aid provisions sent 31% 63% 32%
Personal response to aid sent 31% 63% 32%
Compassion for victims 54%* 100% 46%

Students’ Written responses to the Field Trip Project

Below are some written responses from the participating students:

“we want our bags to make them feel happy and to entertain  them with the games inside of our bags with our drawings and paintings inside the bags and all of the Japanese words of encouragement for them I hope when they see the Mount Fuji makes them happy”

“We decided to use felt for the rainbow on the bag as it is flexible and…adds texture to the bag. We attached the rainbow ribbons to make the bag look like it has fringes to add more colour and fun to the bag. We want the children to wear the bags and imagine themselves on cloud 9, flying with the help of the cloud wings. We want them to feel our joy, represented by the sun and rainbow with the help of the cloud wings. We want them to feel our joy, represented by the sun and rainbow.”

“we have also came up with our customized white board which would allow the passerby to jot down their thoughts and wishes on the board and to add more enthusiasm there is a raincoat attached to the back of the bag just in case there is a bad weather. The head of the Doraemon would bring excitement to the kids and would encourage them to come forward to enjoy the lively treat…”

“We want to let the people know that one day the nuclear meltdown will be cleared from the sea just like a rainbow would appear after a rain…”

“The googly eyes represent the people who are there to support…them mentally or physically.”

Their responses suggest that students have developed not only art making skills, but also thinking skills and meta-cognitive skills. As observed by Herne (2005), students who participated in contemporary art making workshops gained visual literacy skills and started to understand how images are constructed and communicated within shared popular culture conventions.  The processes they go through in art making also help students understand how visual imagery can impact contemporary society and how through them, historical events and shared experiences can mold our identities (Yang & Suchan, 2009).

Through this art project, students were able to construct their own identities and verbalize them to their peers and teachers. In this process they not only got to know their friends better, they were able to articulate their opinions and in so doing, may better recognize their own worth. Such broad engagement through the arts helps them develop a strong self-esteem and confidence, increases their capacity to be respectful of others and ultimately prepares them to be active citizens (Herne, 2005). With increased self-confidence, they become more involved and can contribute more actively in the teaching process which feeds back to their acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitude (TomljenoviĆ & NovakoviĆ, 2012). According to Kotin, Aguirre McGregor, Pellecchia, Schatz, and Liu (2013) students began to “develop sensitivity to the role of art in the world…they realized that…they could speak from a position of power and authority”.

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