I went for a coffee with Susan, an assistant language teacher, in the Starbucks of a small Japanese town. She apologised for the typical ex-pat location of our meeting and introduced me to her partner, Liam, as we queued for Matcha Lattes (a mistake; they look and taste like pond water). Susan and Liam have a son of primary school age and have both worked in the public school system in Japan for years, giving them an insight into the differences between Japanese and Western approaches to schooling.
The Singaporean education system is in some ways very different to the English education system and in some ways quite familiar. Sounds obvious I know, but the ways in which it it is different and similar were not always in the ways that I expected before I arrived. By way of an overview, here are five features of the Singaporean system that struck me as being either surprising or significant in explaining Singapore's high performance in PISA.
1. Humour in lessons
Singapore is the first Asian country I've visited on this trip, and my preconceptions about strict, authoritarian teachers proved to be misconceptions in this case. In most classes I visited, teachers and students had great relationships, with teachers cracking jokes about students writing love letters, and students feeling relaxed enough to be occasionally cheeky (in a respectful way). When one teacher invited me to move seats for example, the students I had been sitting with protested with cries of "Miss, no, you're breaking my heart!" Behaviour did vary significantly between streams though, with students in less academic streams being more outspoken and less focused (perhaps unsurprisingly) than their more academic peers.
Lucy Crehan - a teacher and education explorer.