Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Guardian: Lessons From Singapore

I always thought it is an interesting read, about how others view our education system vs our own people.

One thing I have to agree, I do love those extra curriculum days much that I found them a chore sometimes in those time pressed days. However thinking back, those days were truly fun! I rem more from those activities days than the drumming dull moments in classrooms.

It was the charity flag selling days that opened my eyes about this society - that some poorer people who are tanned from slaving in the sun whole day, dressed in old and somewhat torn clothes were richer in their hearts to part with their money than those well dressed professional in shenton way, clicking their tongues in impatience, buzzin us off like annoying flies, or ignoring us like we dont exist...

While I often receive $2-5 from the manual labourers, I get 10-20 cents from a well heeled executive. At 13yrs, this charity flag day not only overcame my fear of approaching a complete stranger for a good cause, more importantly, it opened my eyes about all these adults that rushed past me. It's funny how such moments stuck in your head for life, helping me make a resolve never to be like those very people who had once snubbed me.

Anycase, enjoy the short read below from the UK papers - The Guardian.

Mike Baker
The Guardian, Tuesday 17 February 2009

How do you achieve a school system consistently in the top three in the world for maths and science, fourth for literacy, and described by experts as leading the world in teaching quality? Moreover, how do you manage to get 80% of pupils to pass five or more O-levels when they are taught in their second language in classes of 35? The answers are found in Singapore.

I have just accompanied winners of the Teaching Awards on a study visit to Singapore. It was organised by the charity CfBT Education Trust, which has sent British teachers to several countries to see what they can learn from other school systems.

So what did they expect to find? One assistant headteacher from the Midlands expected to see "a very traditional curriculum, rows of pupils, teacher in front, students there to learn". And indeed she did. But she also saw a whole lot more: traditional methods blended with more progressive thinking, and a focus on teaching the whole child, not just on exam results. It gave the British teachers plenty to ponder.

International comparisons are fraught with difficulties; it is easy to forget that what works in one country will not flourish in another. But Singapore has many similarities to the UK. The official language of school instruction is English, there is a national curriculum, and the national examinations are O- and A-levels, administered by Cambridge Assessment.

It was soon clear to the British teachers that there are similar challenges. Singapore is a multi-ethnic, multilingual society. Pupils are obsessed with mobile phones and computer games, and are, as one Singapore school principal put it, the "strawberry generation: easily bruised and damaged".

So why does it work? First, education is the government's top priority. That is not just rhetoric: a country with no natural resources (it even has to import water) knows it lives and dies by its collective brainpower. The ministry of education is very close to schools; as all teachers and principals are civil servants, they regularly rotate through postings to the ministry.

Teachers speak approvingly of the way the ministry supports initiatives with targeted funding. Or, as one former headteacher put it, the system runs on "top-down support for bottom-up initiatives".

For example, there is a drive to boost learning outside the classroom. The government provides funds for school visits, clubs and extra-curricular activities, enabling them to make such activities compulsory. Pupils are regularly graded on these activities, and the grades count towards entry to further education.

In another reform, the ministry announced recently that all primary schools would move to single-session teaching, with the juniors taught in the morning and the infants in the afternoon. This will bring smaller classes, better pupil-teacher ratios, and allow a programme of compulsory extra-curricular activities for the juniors in the afternoon.

Like England, Singapore is undergoing a big school building programme. But there is no disruption while the builders are in, as the whole school decamps to a vacant school nearby. The government maintains spare capacity for this very purpose.

In a reform called the Integrated Programme, schools with more able pupils are encouraged to bypass exams at 16, allowing greater curriculum flexibility right through to A-levels.

One visiting headteacher from Essex was struck by the real stretch offered to more able pupils, the "clear articulation of ideas between government and schools", and the way the whole system not only "talked the talk, but also walked the walk".

Perhaps the real key to Singapore's success, though, is the rare combination of traditional teaching and discipline, and a holistic, child-based approach. In the UK, we tend to see these as mutually exclusive opposites.


dreams come true said...

Are they referring English as our second language here? If so, what is our first language? Definitely not our so-called mother tongues because we're so bloody poor at them! Is it Singlish then?

Anonymous said...

Well, Singaporeans have such strong accents in Singlish English that the British visitors must have assumed that surely that can't be our native language. It's rather embarrassing, isn't it?

jun said...

singapore english can be roughly divided into the standard and colloquial varieties, each with their own accents.

and in case anyone didn't know, there ARE colloquial varieties of english in uk too, like cockney. and believe me, most speakers of cockney and the like are definitely not ashamed of their accent. what's wrong with ours again?

"me-no-mad" said...

i COULD be wrong but I believe our national language is prescribed as malay? Our WORKING medium is English.

Anycase, we are the only unique country that has majority chinese as population, speaking English as our "first" but not native language, but with a Malay National Anthem. So i cannot blame other nationals for not thinking English as our first language.

I agree wtiht Jun that there are many varient of English colloquial in UK. Can any of us understand without trouble what an Irish man is saying with his thick accent when he speaks English? Or how about a Queenslander from land of Oz?

However, there is a big BUT. I think the point to emphasis is nothing wrong if we have a strange accent or even if we mixed malay-mandarin into our speech. However I draw the line when people cannot even pronounce the word correctly and pass it off as Singlish. How do you define Singlish? Perhaps rojak of words but definitely not bad grammatical english.

Example, One cannot simply excuse Singlish with bad speech such as say "Vomit" as "Wo-mit", or "Thigh" sounding like "Tie", or "Almond" sounding like "L-mond".

We can have our peculiarity due to our multiethnic-heritage, but we should not obstinately stick by our mistakes by insisting other people should accept it as that is our way of saying it, especially when whatever some people could be speaking english but completely uncomprehendable.

dreams come true said...

Hmm..I have to disagree with you on bad pronunciation & grammar as not being part of Singlish. "Can or not?" definitely is poor English grammar & I can think of many other examples, another being "Where got?". That's because we directly translate them from Chinese.

And about pronunciation, seriously, except for "thigh", which I know how to pronounce, all thanks to my ABC lecturer in poly who corrected the Singaporean way of not pronouncing the "-th" sound, I really thought "vomit" & "almond" was pronounced the way you wrote it! That's because we were taught that in school & everyone else around us (except those lucky people who've got native English teachers at school) pronounced it as it is, not knowing or caring that it's wrong. I hope I haven't uttered those two words to other native English speakers so embarrassing!

littlecartnoodles said...

I'm sure we have met people who pronounce "question" as "kwes-tien". I want to smack those people.

"me-no-mad" said...

ah.. I think u misunderstood me. I meant to say I disagree with people who pass off bad pronouciation and bad grammar as Singlish - as an excuse for their bad english.

What I mean to say was I much prefer people to view Singlish as our own perculiar way of speaking, intermixing english with our own terminology (eg:wah pianz), rather than defining Singlish as our way of horrible grammar. I also hate and disagree with locals to use Singlish to disguise their horrible accent which mainly stem from bad pronounciation a big portion of the time.

I had to laugh when about the almond part because trust me, MANY singaporeans pronouced it as "L-mond."

Little cartnoodle..yours was tough!
"kwes-tien". It took me many seconds to try to figure out how to "MIS pronounce" question. I am laughing as I fail to promounce wat your wrote correctly!