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In 2001, he and a colleague introduced what may well have been the first full-fledged service-learning module in Singapore. In Civil Society: Theory and Practice, they assigned groups of students to various civil society organizations to work on projects, while discussing in the classroom theoretical frameworks and an international selection of case studies through which these practical experiences could be critically reflected upon. Tan published an article on this curricular innovation (see Tan, K.P. (2009) "Service learning outside the US: Initial experiences in Singapore’s higher education", PS—Political Science & Politics, 42(3): 549-57). One student, who went on to work in the arts community, described this as "The module that laid the foundation for my direction in life and in art!" (Facebook private message in 2017). He designed and taught a second, this time university-wide, service-learning module called Community Service and Social Action. Another student wrote an article on his experience of the module. In it, he noted how:


"My group created a digital map of the Faculty of Arts and Social Science with maps and photographs of the Faculty’s compound that would allow students to familiarise themselves with the architecture of the school. This was primarily to facilitate the movement of the community of physically disabled students about the complex passages in the Faculty. To accomplish this … project, we had to locate such students to learn of their difficulties in navigating the school. After interviews and investigations, we gained an awareness of how such students lead their educational lives in campus. Several things can be discerned, chiefly that communities of people that need aid are far closer to us than we imagine. In addition, and more importantly, every student has every capability to effect change and improvement for these communities. ... I learnt a great deal about the people around me and the class made me think critically on issues that impact on social domains. It only goes to show that this pedagogy can be transposed to any field in education. The class was an exegesis of the world, and I was given the opportunity to investigate its vastly different social mechanisms, as well as engage with these aspects of the social spectrum equipped with a critical imagination. This is most valuable, for similarities between social groups quickly became apparent and I gained a profound appreciation of culture across these communities."


During the LKY School’s earlier years, Tan put in place and ran a para-curricular programme called The Singapore Experience, which provided students with a carefully assembled programme of platforms to interact with Singapore leaders in various fields (see Tan, K.P. (2013) "A 'Singapore School' of public policy", in Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy: Building a Global Policy School in Asia, 125-147, Singapore: World Scientific).


In his teaching (and research), Tan often draws upon his networks in academia, civil society, and the government sector. Of particular value in this regard has been his membership of various government committees, as well as his experience as founding Chair of the Asian Film Archive’s board of directors since 2005 and member of the board of directors of socially-challenging theatre company The Necessary Stage since 2003 (and its Chairman since 2018).


The then Director of USP noted:


"Kenneth is a rare scholar who is equally adept in the world of ideas and the world of practice. He has the extraordinary gift of fostering intellectual thinking and, at the same time, motivating social action in his students. He makes an impact not only in his students’ learning, but in their lives. He is an exemplary educator in the true sense of the word. This is strongly corroborated by student and peer evaluation, … Kenneth himself lives the life of a socially-engaged intellectual. He is active and has cultivated an extensive network in the local art and civil society scene. It is his own passion that speaks so convincingly to students." (Letter in 2008)

A co-teacher, with whom he had designed and taught the first NUS-wide service-learning module, noted how:


"Philosophically, Kenneth believed that teaching should not merely involve the imparting of knowledge and conceptual skills to students, but more importantly the teaching of skills that would enable students to constantly remodel their intellectual tools to engage the real world. I owe it to Kenneth that this is now the central tenet in my pedagogical philosophy: neither giving fishes to the people nor equipping people to fish, but teaching them to continuously think of different and better ways to fish." (Letter in 2008)

An alumnus, who went on to work in the Prime Minister’s Office, noted:


"Dr Tan’s pedagogy was unique. He often engaged us to apply theoretical models to our internship experiences and vice versa, through our practical involvement with the local civil society groups, critically examine different theoretical models which sought to explain why civil society groups function in various ways. Through this course, I was able to convince myself that I would commit myself to policy work before fulfilling my ambitions to complete my graduate studies in the future." (Letter in 2008)


An alumnus, who went on to become ‎a Government Engagement Manager at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), wrote:


"I hope you will continue to touch fellow Singaporean minds and hearts through your writing and community works. All these efforts will help us to become active citizens and develop a greater sense of pride, ownership and belonging to Singapore." (Email in 2010)


One former student from Pakistan had this to say:

"it was an experience of a lifetime and one I will cherish with fondness whenever I reflect on my time here at NUS. I can only imagine where Pakistan would be if we had professors like you back home. The class was a unique blend of knowledge, life and critical thinking which I had never seen before let alone experienced. My hope now is that I have your fortitude and courage of conviction to be the change I want to see in society. I shall remain ever grateful for what you taught us through the course of this wonderful journey that was PP5518 and rather envious of the students you get to teach next year. Thank you and my warmest regards for your happy and prosperous future." (Email in 2020)

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