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.
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.
Picture this scene... You walk into a year 4 classroom during Literacy. Straight ahead of you two boys are on the computer, researching the worlds most dangerous animals. Two computers along, a girl is creating a PowerPoint on ballet. On the desks at the back of the room, three girls are working on a joint project writing their own story, and are each writing character profiles.
In front of them, two boys are writing their own descriptions of someone else in their class. On the floor at the front are two circles, one group of students reading a story quietly, and another discussing the meaning of a different, more difficult story with their teacher. Below is a Maths version of the same setup.
Finland and Canada are the only two Western countries that score significantly above the UK in all three PISA tests (reading, Maths and Science) while at the same time having a more equitable education system than the UK. Several East Asian countries achieve this feat too, but the cultural differences between these countries and the UK are greater than between Finland and the UK, or Canada and the UK. It is therefore worth asking what Finland and Canada do to achieve this combination of high performance and equitability, and in particular whether they have any policies in common.
Lucy Crehan - a teacher and education explorer.