Lessons from Singapore: A presentation by Lee Sing Kong



and a very good morning to fellow educators I believe all of us are here with a very single-minded mission in mind on how to educate our young to be relevant with a time this morning I'd like to touch a little bit upon what Singapore's education is and how it works in order to prepare the young Singaporeans to be relevant with a time you know every education system evolve very much guided by its culture its history and the context of the country as Paul has very succinctly you know summarized Singapore situation we became independent only in 1965 we are hardly 50 yet as a nation and we have a population of 5.2 million today and our education system comprises five hundred and twenty thousand school going students all fitted into 360 schools with 33,000 teachers undertaking the task of preparing our students and because our country is so compact and small that is why we have only one National Institute of Education to prepare all these teachers and school leaders and provide the professional development activities for our 33,000 teachers in the schools and we are located within a university very much an autonomous Institute fully supported by the ministry while our academic award is being given by the university let me share with you a little bit about a history of educational development in Singapore before I launch into understanding is key features when Singapore became independent in 1965 we we were born out of a very unique circumstances we were asked to leave the Federation of Malaysia and in the process we will end up with an island with a population a low literacy a population Island with our natural resource were high unemployment and even a fragmented social compact of the society because we have a diverse population of different race racial mix our Malays Indians Chinese as well as the other races that come to this city so the first task that the government encountered was to look at education as the key driver to raise up and elevate the economic development of the country and so the first step the government took with very much a little school our education system left behind by the British a government can be a colony of UK and working on that platform we started a mess if occasion of educating the young focusing on giving them a good dose of numeracy and literacy such that they were at least have some knowledge and some skills to be employable let alone what you call involving in high skill industry we just want to raise up the literacy and numeracy so that our young can have an opportunity and some foundation to be employable so starting from 1965 to 1979 we call that period the survival driven education because literally it is to ensure the survival of the nation born out of a unique set of circumstances and the government at what point of time with their focus of elevating the economic development of a country took an approach of inviting technological firms all of the world creating an environment where they can operate in Singapore at a very efficient and profitable level so the government extended the invitation and I believe even DuPont set up a base in Singapore okay to sell agro products to the region because Asia is literally an agriculture-based country at the appointed time and many countries came over our companies came over the sub base in Singapore and by the time we are in the late 80s we observe two developments that we need to have a relook at our education system and model the first is the demand for technical skills as an outcome of many multinational setting up base in Singapore production assembly and so on that was the first development the second development that we observe is that about 18 to 20 percent of our students that that was the attrition rate of students when we compare students reaching 10 years of education that means out of the student cohort up to the time of the late 70s 20% leave school the school system and did not complete ten years of education now this was an issue that worried the government a great deal simply because because a small population we look at the human capital as a only natural resource so therefore every student counts if you know we have to depend on them the contribute to the development our economic development of the country so we began to look very deeply into this the survival different a driven education model to find out why these students leave and the attrition rate is so high and we found out that many of these students who live for a very simple reason that they could not cope with the syllabus and a curriculum that was put in place to raise the literacy and numeracy so that gives us a notion that a one model fits all education since somewhat not very much functional when we reach that level of preparing our students so therefore we had a deep look at it and we want to ensure that every child can have at least a 10 year education a period then they can move on the post secondary to some vocational skills acquisition and we took a very hard decision of developing different tracks for different students to allow them to learn at their own pace some students who complete the the we call it a secondary school for years for for the for the curriculum in four years and some were completed in five years so that we allow those who are slower learners to be able to cope with a slower pace or learning but an evening them to complete that secondary curriculum now as an outcome of that initiative the attrition rate at 20% was reduced down very much the only one to two percent and that shows that our what you call decision of providing the different tracks was the right one even though it was quite controversial from an educational point of view and that was the period we call it the efficiency driven education you know we we have a great efficiency in terms of students reaching 10 years of education and that also prepared them very well to meet the needs of the multinationals for technical workers to support them in the factory and in the production but we also see that the world landscape change and evolve at a very fast pace by the mid-1990s we realized that the world has moved from an industry based economy to a knowledge-based economy now in a knowledge-based economy you require quite a different set of attributes of people and knowledge work forefront analytic knowledge workers attributes beyond just technical skills and technical knowledge when you come to knowledge-based economy what knowledge is an asset it is only an asset as far as you keep the knowledge to yourself but knowledge will become a value when you translate knowledge into something applicable that can derive certain values on so the government felt that by the mid-1990s the efficiency driven education which is very much you know based on still you know based on literacy and numeracy ohdo allowing different tracks of development we move from efficiency to what we call ability driven education in other words we now focus not just on the basic foundations of numeracy and literacy but we want to develop the students to express and be able to fully realize whatever ability and potential that they have those who are very good in science we provide pathways for them to excel in it those who are good in arts and humanities we provide that pathway for their development as well and this education focus began in 1997 and it ended last year when the fourth iteration took place and what is the fourth iteration again the government what you call letter review in response to the changes that taking place in a world today the world is very different from the one even if you compare it say five years ago why is it so I'm just repeating what all of you may have already known or fully aware better known to me the world has evolved because of the fast evolution of knowledge and a fast advancement of technology and that changes almost every aspects of the job market today were robotics and and and other technology advances even the task of a basic cleaning job has changed because of the equipment they are available for you to use in the production factory because of the usage of robotics the job skills of a production worker the demand of that skills have changed tremendously and that is only one aspect the second aspect is our students have also changed in fact today they are very much dubbed as the epic learners students who are digitally savvy whose preference of learning involves experiences participation imagery inquiry and connectedness as a group to work together very student very few student today we want to study on your own or alone they just love the study as a group now because of this fast changing shift and that changes the demands in the job skills as well as the learning profiles of students the government took another relook at the education model and paradigm that we are adopted and we begin to move from the ability driven education to student centric and value based education I will talk a little bit more about that ok so this is a short history of the four iterations that the Ministry of Education undertaken in terms of evolving the education system in Singapore so now I would like to move on to talk about you know that the crux of my the title of my presentation the Singapore education system what is the unique features that we can talk about it you know and one of the unique features as I have stated just now will be it is a evolving education system that truly focuses in responding to changes they are taking place and responding in ways that will prepare our students always having the students in mind how to prepare them to be relevant and able to meet the needs of the new landscape you know as you see that every iteration is to respond to the new landscape and to meet the demands of the new landscape so likewise in the fourth iteration of student centric and value based education it is responding to what the changes of the world is creating in terms of its new demands so many educators do ask me what is the secret that enables the Singapore education system to be able to prepare our students to perform well to be able to build themselves up to be graduates with skills and knowledge that can meet the demands of the landscape and of course although the Pisa and Tim's results are something we take with a pinch of salt but yet it is visible the Singapore students do well in these tests the question asked is how did the Singapore education system able to manage they achieved such results I will be revealing state secrets but I believe this already an open secret so I can say quite what you call loudly yeah I have a teachers voice literally loudly you know I believe the key feature of a Singapore's education system is the word alignment coherence and alignment and last year as I was resting from some health issues and I came up with this model called a 3p the PQ model a model that tries to explain how the Singapore education system work now I drew this model and put it into a triangle within the central part encapsulated within that is that triangle is the desire goals of Education is it this is a very important aspects of what educational development should be there must be very clear goals of what you want educate your children to become what do you want to educate them for unless we know what we want to educate our children for how can we plan our journey to educate them so Singapore is very conscious of the desire goes of Education and this desire goals of Education must capture the needs of the new landscape that attributes that we know built in our students so that they can meet the demands of the new landscape I will explain this in my next slide but I want to talk about a system first so once you have a clear desire goals of Education all the stakeholders within the system that contributes to the development of that education processes and journey must be aligned with this goal this goal will become the star that guides every activities that contributes towards the development of the education processes and journey and I mentioned the pole and the team yesterday stars are very important in a child Seuss who is the author of Snoopy you know he made this statement stars are important simply because they serve as compass to guide us in that journey you know sometimes we may not reach and touch the stars but they are important note and beacon to guide us in that journey so therefore this goals of Education becomes the central point through which the ministry in their role as the policy makers to guide the development education will guide them in terms of developing policies that were enabled the goals to be achieved in terms of resource allocation in terms of curriculum development in terms of pedagogical our planning in terms of teacher development in terms of leadership development in terms of assessment development all this must be guided from the design point of view and planning point of view by the goals of Education the star that guides the policy so when a Ministry of Education have a full set of policies in place but policy will only remain a policy unless it is coherent ly implemented to achieve its outcome so while planning or policy is important the implementation of policy is even more important because your results can only be as good as how it is implemented so therefore the other players in an education system must work in tandem work in alignment as guided by the goals so for the schools who are the key player in bringing about the desired goals of Education must translate the policies into practices how teaching and learning are to be executed implemented in the classroom such that the students in a process of the learning can achieve and attain the desire goes on vacation so the teachers and the school leaders must fully understand the goals and the policies they are designed to achieve these goals and translate them into practices now what about the teacher preparation institute we always feel that we may be outside the realm of policy making a policy implementation but no my friends the teacher education institutions plays a crucial role in bringing about the achievements and attainment of the desired outcomes of Education because they are the one that prepared teachers with the relevant knowledge and skills to design practices and translating the policies into the right practices in order to edge the desired outcomes or desire goals of Education so therefore the teacher preparation Institute's must translate the policies into proper teacher preparation programs that will equip the teachers with the right skills knowledge and values such that the teachers can perform their role in a relevant way back in the schools in order to achieve the desired goals of Education and with this understanding I would like to talk about the goals of Education of Singapore in 2009 a7 when the sorry in 2004 the Ministry of Education felt that extensive review of the education system needs to be looked at in respond to the changing landscape of the world we consulted many employers and employers who are actually heads of multinationals in the international arena and we consulted them and asked them what do you think are the skills that will be needed in view of these fast changes of technology and evolution and knowledge say in the year 2020 or even earlier say 2015 that was in 2004 and 2005 and we also realized that when we look at the jobs in 2005 and 2004 some of them were not heard of in the late 1990s that is how fast the labor market is shifting so as an outcome we came up with a few conclusion we cannot catch up with change because it is going to be changing so fast and furious we cannot catch up with knowledge because it's evolving so fast and the world is going to be one of which we call it the VUCA environment v you see a you know in Singapore we love acronyms yeah we are very lazy to pronounce Longwood so we have acronyms the VUCA environment and what is the VUCA environment is an environment one of volatility you know today is very volatile right you know any part of the world you take up a newspaper you know yesterday was highly peaceful and today it's a completely different landscape that is how volatile it is second is uncertainty things are so uncertain because of the changes is taking place so far see complexity you know the issues today are so complex there's sometimes if dawn upon as you know that even though with the type of wisdom that we have we can pinpoint exactly what the heart of the issue is is so complex what is that I would a yeah VUCA it is ambiguity you know uncertain and ambiguous nothing is so fixed that you can pinpoint that it is going this way everything will change and tomorrow image shift in another direction so with all these and the the characteristic of a VUCA environment and fast changing knowledge and technology how then can we educate a student who can be relevant at the time especially we also realize that a child entering year one of elementary school today will graduate 12 years later and with this fast changing rate they stick in place what will be the environment in it in 12 years time so how do we educate a child in that environment so therefore the we took a very hard stand on what education for our children is we know that the basic knowledge of numeracy and literacy is still required but we give them the fundamental basis of knowledge of this numeracy and literacy at least they can communicate they can understand town and be able to reason with scientific knowledge we cannot keep up with the fast changing knowledge we have to an able the student with the base that they're grounded will be able to sell direct themselves to learn to be able to keep up with the new knowledge so that is one what you call as some decision that we want to make the second is in this world of uncertainty what could anchor them well and help them to respond to the change without fear and without trepidation this is something that we find that it is very important to build in our student to prepare them for a new era so with all the iterations that we look at we feel that there is a certain set of core values that our students would need to anchor them in this new environment uncertainty and create for outcomes of Education for them a confident person a self-directed learner an active contributor and a concerned citizen this will be the four goals of our education let me explain to you a little bit you know because of time just a little bit what it means a confident person a confident person is not one thing to create and develop them to be proud person we want to develop them were persons with resilience and perseverance able to respond to changes without fear able to welcome changes looking at changes or opportunity rather than of here helping them to be strong India outlook self-directed learner I think it is obvious knowledge excuse advance so that's why there is three words are very common in today's context learn and learn a reelin we want the children to learn how to learn so that they can become self-directed learners active contributor now this is where the values were comes in we want our young students to understand that the path of their success is not their doing alone they are able to develop and succeed because of the support of the community and the Society for them taxpayers money contributed to support them in their educational endeavors so when they succeed they must think how to contribute back to the society if there are the lesser fortunate can they do their part out of their success to have the have-nots so that we can create a more equitable and caring society and education is a great impact in terms of what the future society will evolve and this is something we want to develop in them a sense of contribution to the society now a concerned citizen this is very unique for Singapore it's a paradox that a challenge that we face we educate our children well and they become so mobile and we always talk about globalization today you know you know if global citizens and this message of global citizens can Tinh you do you know enter their mind they will all move out of Singapore and Singapore will become empty country without a citizen so we want to inculcate a sense of belonging that yes you must be globally relevant you can contribute and work you know beyond the shores of Singapore but always remember Singapore is where you belong Singapore is your home Singapore is your where your family is it is your root of your life so we want our children to have a sense of belonging so therefore with this as the key outcomes of education then the goals of Education the desired goals of Education will in Singapore now will be to develop our children to be a confident person as self-directed learner an active contributor and a concerned citizen so with that as the goal the ministry will begin to develop curriculum policies and others to achieve this goal and the school must develop practices and programs that were able our children to build this attribute in them and the teacher preparation must align with that policies to be able to prepare teachers with a clear understanding of this desire goes on education such that they can go to the school to deliver their practices you see the coherence and alignment now I will show you how each of this has been done now for the ministry this the preparation is the policies are very clear they will refine their curriculum in terms of emphasizing or not just the basic foundations of knowledge but also the emphasis of values in Caucasian now some of you may be wondering what values are you talking about you know whose set of values that you are talking that you want a children to acquire it is a single set of universal values values such as respect integrity and honesty care and concern these are all universal values it is not a value that is very much based on a single faith or single ideology but it is a values that are universally accepted dedicated and devoted right this is a value to every culture embraces so this is something that is very much now ingrained in the educational development of our student so for the schools where they have the develop or implement practices so many of their planning and development in the schools will have to be refined and reshape and reform such that the educational practices developers can achieve that desire goes out of four attributes and this will involve teacher professional development because when you roll out certain new initiative if the teachers are not well developed and well prepared to deliver these practices to achieve these new sets of goals you will not achieve what you intend to achieve so therefore the teacher professional development will emphasize on say new pedagogy that has been designed you know in the 20th century the teaching is primarily didactic the teacher mean them being the main owner of the other than the knowledge and the student being a passive learner and like me you know is now now I speaking and you are listening passively today our students that epic learners will not accept such kind of teaching they want to be engaged so the teacher must shift from one of being the direct owner and impart of knowledge to one of facilitating learning and fostering collaborative learning among the students so the pedagogical change must come in as well as classroom reconfiguration because 20th century classrooms are very much designed for didactic teaching but for collaborative learning they must be redesigned reconfigured such that students can work as a group so the schools we have to look at all this including co-curricular activities like taking sports uniform activities these activities that may need meet the needs of the students in terms of spotting and other activities but we use this to inculcate values like teamwork discipline perseverance resilient some may fail in terms of the spotting pursuit but do we allow that failure to stop him from continuing to pursue it even where excellence no we want to encourage them to be resilient to be able to pursue with perseverance so the schools will look into others in alignment to the goals that has been set for for the students now the teacher education Institute that is my Institute I have to prepare my teachers to be able to understand fully the desired goals of Education the four attributes and I also like to see that a new row the teacher has split will play in this new area if you talk about inculcating values in the students the teachers themselves must embrace some of those values too so we have to look we look at this teacher education program a very extensive review in 2009 in responding to the new policies of the ministry and we came up with a teacher education model for a 21st century which is called the v-cube sk model what is v-cube we kill stands or three sets of values skills and knowledge now what values to be one of teachers to imbibe the three sets the first set is called learner centered values and the learner centered values will contain value such as I believe that every child can learn you know if a teacher have that belief when it goes into the class then his or her perspective or whether the the economically inclined students can learn or the slower learners can learn it will be a very very different one you know if you feel that only the academically inclined students can learn then your perspective or the slower learners would be very different so therefore the beliefs are very important for teachers they drive the behavior they drive the passion of teachers in a classroom so we inculcate in them that belief I believe that every child can learn then the second belief I be I respect diversity the teacher must understand that in a complexity of a classroom today there are many diverse circumstances children coming from the less fortunate background children coming from well-to-do background children coming from different racial background or religions background and students who are good and slow learners so in such complexity unless a teacher has the values of appreciating diversity his perspective will be very different in a class now that second set of values is the teacher identity we want a teacher to understand that he or she is a teaching professional not just someone who is doing a job in teaching because today teachers must be recognized as professionals because the teaching job is a professional job the demands of teachers in the classroom is going to be exceptionally complex I have just spoken some of the complexity so therefore the teacher if you identify himself as the professional and that would drive here him or her to develop himself or herself professionally as best as it can be to deliver a professional job in the classroom look for new pedagogical dimension that can help the slower learners or motivate the less motivated it is a complex job so we want to encourage the teachers to have their identity that I am a professional and the third sets of value is a commitment to the profession profession itself how can the professionals help one another to develop professionalism in the field of teaching so we want them to share best practices the senior teachers could mentor the junior teachers so that together the profession grows and that they can do a good job so this was a set of values that we inculcated in our student teachers so that they when they go into the schools they will impart values of professionalism and to their students but the focus of values must also look at the reformation of pedagogy because teachers will have a different set of pedagogy to deliver while in the schools to equip our students and to meet the needs of their epic learners and the classroom must be transformed as well in order to produce that environment suitable for collaborative learning now this is some of the classrooms that now you find at the National instead occasion we have move away from diabetic environment into one or collaborative and very much supported by technology every group can now link to the panels and this is another model and this is a library now I'd like to say something about a library you know in this new landscape every norm has to be challenged and change what is the normal paradigm of a library silence today if you continue to keep silent your library will really be silent because there will not be many students today we set up in the heart of my Institute's library is a star bar like cafe and the whole flow is filled with students collaborating and learning together that even when I go to the library to find a seat I can't find it see there's another picture or the library or collaborating together now in all this we also need to work with other stakeholders Leiter parents because parents are our partners in the development of Education to achieve their educational goals so the parents marks work with schools in order to bring about this alignment of the goals so in conclusion see and so fast so obedient yeah so conforming yeah if you ask me the key features of the Singapore education system literally it is one of coherence one of being responsive and one who always tries to ensure that it is relevant with the time be policy practice or preparation such that together as we work as a team as a system we are able to achieve the desired outcomes of the goals and which is really should be the heart of every educators job you know we may play our different roles in different domain you can be a union representation you can be a teacher you can be a school leader you can be a policymaker but what is common among all these players together we must have a common vision and the student the child should be the focus in all our deliberations not any other issues that talks about this or that but it is the child who is the future that you each one of us are responsible for and this is the focus or what the Singapore education system is about thank you very much [Applause] Oh

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