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Singapore “Walks the talk”


What can Singapore, an island city-state, the smallest nation in southern Asia with population of about 4.5 million people  teach the world about education?
Visits to schools, attending the principal’s conference and listening to the prime minister’s speech revealed to representatives from all over the world that this 700 sq km nation can teach us a great deal about education!

I believe that the key is in leadership; Leadership that has :

  • proactive approach
  • planning for the future (not tomorrow’s future but years to come)
  • vision in tune to the current state of affairs and..
  • leaders who “walk the talk”

In 1965 when Singapore attained independence, the state of education was described as very poor. Nowadays, 44 years later, Singapore is the leader in TIMSS results in Math and Science.

The ICP Principals conference in Singapore this July was attended by education leaders and principals from around the world. (Out of which South Africa had the greatest representation.)
In the conference Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described the actions taken by government to improve the state of education. Following are some notes from his speech.

The government of Singapore in a mission to recover the education system had started with understanding that “outcomes expected from education reform are not ONE mountain peak but a mountain range”.

Initial action was to strengthen the ministry of education by bringing in caliber people – “a generalist is not a specialist”.

Thereafter actions were taken to establish teachers’ careers as a meaningful one. The following actions were taken to do so:

  • Teachers’ salaries was raised by 15% (principals by 1/3)
  • Training teachers would receive salaries
  • Benching teachers’ salaries to the private market
  • Career development to create external paths for promotion by Leadership track, further training qualification opportunities.
  • Performance evaluation. Promotion based on merits
  • Bringing teachers’ unions on board (there are four teachers unions in Singapore)
  • Providing autonomy to schools. Schools are free to innovate in methodology, enrichment activities and resources provided. Schools are provided each with budget.
  • Initially class sizes were not reduced so as not to compromise on quality teachers (only recently has the DOE started looking at reduce class size from 40 to 30)
  • By 2015 the aim is that ALL teachers to be graduated (by enhancing professional development)

The following statement by the prime minister has attracted applause from audience and acquired my admiration to this leader:

“Political leadership role is to shield the education system from politics”

Visiting schools, talking to principals and teachers, meeting with the Singapore teachers’ Union (STU) which is the largest teachers’ union in Singapore was proof that the “talk is being walked”!
Next post I will share the amazing people, sites and actions that we have had the privilege to meet and see.

(Special Thanks to ORT SA and JADE education.)

P1020342 Art dispaly of learners’ work at Huamin Primary school Singapore