Posted by: Principal/Editor | October 25, 2013

More discussion questions related to philosophy of education

(1) On the aim of education: How can you incorporate Eastern and Western aims of education as an educator?
(2) On the values in education: Do you believe that there are universal and objectively valid moral principles that are relative neither to the individual nor to society? If so, which moral principles (Divine Command Theory, Utilitarianism, Kantianism, Ethical Egoism and/or Virtue Ethics) do you subscribe to?
(3) On the curriculum in education: Do you think you are teaching ‘knowledge’ (justified true belief) or mere ‘belief’ as an educator? Which theory/theories of truth and types of justification does your conception of ‘knowledge’ rely on or privilege? Is your conception of knowledge consistent with your personal philosophy of education?
(4) On the pedagogy in education: How could you incorporate elements of Dewey’s Inquiry/Pragmatism as an educator? How can you promote Socratic dialogue and Community of Inquiry as an educator?

Posted by: Principal/Editor | October 25, 2013

Finnish Education System vs Singapore Education System

Recently, I came across a report on the internet about the education system in Finland. In the report, the Finnish education system was compared to that of Singapore. Singapore has one of the best education systems in the world. Equally, the Finnish educational system has consistently come at the top for the international rankings. However, the interesting thing is that the education system in Finland is totally different from Singapore’s.

In short, the Singapore education system, in a way, encourages competitive learning. On the other hand, the Finn’s promotes collaborative learning. Students in these two countries learn under a completely different atmosphere.

In Singapore, children start receiving formal education at a very young age of three and the young children are constantly under societal pressure to view the assessment score as an “all or nothing”. The score decides which secondary school, which stream and which subjects a 12-year-old student will go to. In Finland, children don’t start school until they are seven years old and they are not measured at all for the first six years of their education. Finnish children rarely take exams or do homework until they are into their teens. The only mandatory standardised test is taken when children are 16 years old.

If we are to replicate the Singapore education system (eg. Primary School Leaving Examination-PSLE, different academic streams etc.) in Finland, it would have been illegal. The Finnish education system focuses on fairness and equality among students. Putting students of different abilities into different classes is illegal in Finland. All children, with either high or low ability, are taught in the same classroom. Children have long recess times (75 minutes) in elementary school. Extra tuition class is foreign to Finnish parents. Young children do nothing but play in school.
While the Finnish education system looks totally odd to Singaporeans, it is ranked as one of the top in the world. The followings are some facts about the Finnish education system :

– 93% of Finns graduate from high school.
– 66% of students go to college.
– The difference between the weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the world.
– 43% of Finn high-school students go to vocational schools.
– Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom and take 2 hours per week for “professional development”.
– Science class is capped at 16 students per class so that they students can participant in practical experiments.
– Finland spends about 30% less per student than the US.
– In an international standardized measurement in 2001, Finn students came top or very close to the top for science, reading and mathematics.

The education system in Finland is made very laid-back deliberately and we can see the benefits of it from the above facts. The point which is worth commenting is the small difference between the weakest and strongest students. Although I do not have any statistical proof, I believe this is not the case for Singapore. Personally, I reckon that the equality and fairness emphasised by the Finns help bridge the gap between the strong and weak students.
One more fact which is worth noticing about the Finnish education system is the quality of the teachers. All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree which is fully subsidized. They are also selected from the top 10% of the graduates. In Finland, teachers are very well respected and are given the same status as doctors and lawyers. In 2010, 660 school teachers were selected from 6600 applicants. Teaching as a career is highly regarded in Finland. In Singapore, we seem to be facing a shortage of teachers all the time. Is this phenomenon linked to the high expectations we have on our students?
As a mother of two young children, I wish the Singapore Education System can be more like the one of Finland. Singapore is placing far too much emphasis on producing “top” students. “Top” students are defined as the ones having outstanding academic results. More often than not, they are the ones with PSLE aggregate scores of more than 280 and/or O or A-level marks with all As. Looking at producing students with excellent academic result by itself is not wrong, but in the process of achieving this, most students are under tremendous pressure and this situation creates a very competitive learning environment. Personally, I think the pressure and being overly competitive is unnecessary.

Students can learn through many ways. For young children, they may be able to learn better through games under a relaxed atmosphere. Imposing assessments on young learners may have adverse effects and students learn for the wrong purpose. Looking at the Finnish system, young children learn through games and collaborative efforts and they do not have to worry about examinations until they are 16 years old. Yet, their academic performance later on is still good. All Singaporeans are just too immersed into the current educational system which focuses on academic performance. Nearing PSLE or other main examinations, not only the student himself/herself is feeling stressed out, the parents are equally pressurized. Many parents have the perception that their child’s PSLE result will define his success in the future. In case he does not do well in the examination, his future will be gone. I feel this negative thought demotivates the child further and there is a need for change in this perception within the society. Having said that, there is much more to do than just changing this perception. Or rather, before this perception can be changed, there is a need to transform the attitude towards education.
As citizens of a country known for having a knowledge based economy, many of us will question if this can ever be achieved in Singapore. If we would like to shift towards an education system which is similar to the one in Finland, a large-scale educational reform will need to take place and it will have to start with a change in culture and people’s mind-set. Such reform will take a very long time to launch and yield effects.

There are obviously many areas in the Finnish education system we can learn from, from education philosophy, school-starting age, curriculum design, assessment methods and frequency to teachers’ motivation. From my point of view as a mother and an educator, I can see many benefits of the Finnish education system which are severely lacking in the context of Singapore. With some recent initiatives from the government such as changes in the PSLE policy, I hope we can move away, gradually, from the overly pragmatic education system (as I would call).


Barr, G. (2011). Success of Finnish Education System. Retrieved from
Chang, R. (2013). PSLE tweaks among impending policy changes as OSC Ends. Retrieved from
Taylor, A. (2011). 26 Amazing Facts about Finland’s Unorthodox Education System. Retrieved from

Posted by Wendy Wong

Posted by: Principal/Editor | September 17, 2013

The Curriculum in Education

Film: The Ron Clark Story

This film is based on a true story of Mr Ron Clark, a teacher who teaches in one of Harlem’s toughest schools. Mr Clark’s personal curriculum drives his students towards success, and won him the American Teacher of the Year Award in 2000.

Watch 2 excerpts of the film:

Ron Clark Story section 4:

Ron Clark Story section 5:

Q1: From the film, identify the following:

·         Total curriculum of the school & Mr Clark

·         Planned curriculum of the school & Mr Clark

·         Formal curriculum of the school & Mr Clark

·         Informal curriculum of the school & Mr Clark

·         Received curriculum of the students

·         Hidden curriculum received by the students


Q2: Reflect on your own institution. Can you identify the above types of curriculum at your institution?

According to Prevedel (2003), there are three main approaches to curriculum:

·         Traditional approach

·         Learner-driven approach

·         Critical approach

(Read her article online:

Q3: Which approach do you prefer?

Q4: Which approach is/should be adopted in your institution?

Q5: What are some further thoughts you have about curriculum?


Posted by: Principal/Editor | August 6, 2013

My personal philosophy of education

What is your personal philosophy of education as an educator in Singapore? Are you (more of) an Idealist? Realist? Pragmatist? Existentialist? Postmodernist? Others?

How do you integrate your personal philosophy of education with your understanding of your profession, practical situations and dilemmas?

Posted by: Principal/Editor | August 6, 2013

Philosophy of Education: A Case Study of Ms Marie Stubbs

PART 1: Introduction to the film ‘Ahead of the Class’:

‘Ahead of the Class’ was based on Marie Stubbs (60 years old)’s book of the same name. The former headmistress (principal) was retired when she got the call to take over the hopelessly failing St George’s School in London. The previous headmaster Philip Lawrence had been murdered at the school gates. Arriving in the spring of 2000, she walked into the school where teachers had lost hope, and violence, gang culture, vandalism and truancy were just a few of the problems to be faced.


You may watch this film on Youtube:

PART 2: Questions for reflection & discussion:

(1) If you are Ms Marie Stubbs, what are 3 things you will do as the principal? Rank them in order of priority.

(2) What do you think is her vision of, values in, and aim of education?

(3) In your view, what did she do that was right?

(4) In your view, what did she fail to do or do adequately? What should she have done?

(5) In your view, to what extent did she provide sufficient spaces where the voices of teachers could be heard and negotiated agreement could be reached?

(6) What could/should she have done to work better with all the teachers?

(7) What are your vision and aim as an educator?

(8) How do your values shape and influence your vision and aim of education?

Posted by: Principal/Editor | November 2, 2012

Creative Thinking- An amalgamation of imagination and innovation

Creativity is a process that requires change therefore, it is important for leaders who implement changes within an organisation to be equally skilled in facilitating creative thinking, both in themselves as well as in others around them (Zacko-Smith, 2009). Creative leaders have a clear view of future needs and opportunities. They have the ability to attract people and possess competencies to parallel challenges by discovering effective solutions to resolve them. They are able to introduce positive change and make quantum leaps for the organization.  The school is a rapidly evolving milieu. I believe in order to lead a department or school, leaders need to think creatively to address, manage and solve challenges so that they are able to meet the demands of the 21st century. Moreover, this viewpoint is confirmed by a study conducted by IBM to 1500 CEO’s in which the collated data showed that creativity is the topmost important quality a leader should encompass.

At the school or classroom level, we need to create our own definition what creativity means base on our students’ context. Sometimes I wonder should we embed a lesson of creativity in our curriculum. For instance one of the elective modules I attended has taught me to integrate Creativity Problem Solving (CPS) within our lessons in the curriculum. This will not only engage students during lessons but allow them the space and environment to embark on a higher level of thought process.

In planning curriculum, it is imperative that teachers recognise how creativity allows new ways for teaching and learning to co-exist. A CPS lesson can help children develop more in- depth understanding while allowing them to delve beyond content areas. Furthermore, research has indicated that teacher’s role model will undeniably enhance students learning. In a creative lesson, teachers model the process of finding, solving problems and communicating their ideas. Students then are able to see that their teacher brings a spectrum of creative and differentiated ideas to enhance their learning experience.  Thus, conceivably by immersing themselves in a CPS directed lesson, students formulate questions, make connections to solutions and bring diverse ideas to discussion which benefits both teachers and students in their learning experience.

In general our schools do poorly at developing creative-thinking skills (Trilling & Fadel, 2009).One of the hurdles in the current school curriculum is generating students’ imagination. There appears a greater need to complete syllabus which compromises imaginative thinking as there is no allocation of time for our students to generate their imagination. Imagination is one of the key factors of innovation and creativity.

Teachers face a myriad of challenges in trying to encourage imagination in students.  Consequently, if sufficient time and resources are not employed for students to explore their imagination, we cannot thus expect students to innovate and come up with creative ideas.  One other challenge faced by teachers is time or rather the deficiency of time when they want to introduce CPS lessons in their class. CPS lessons are usually not welcomed with open arms by teachers.  Most teachers race to complete their syllabus and ensure that they meet the school targets. The buy-in process can be a big challenge. Teachers must first and foremost believe that a creative lesson benefits the student in their learning and then transfer this believe in their lesson delivery.

The good news is that the many years of research and practice in the field of creativity have clearly demonstrated that creativity-skills can be enhanced through training (e.g., Scott, Leritz, & Mumford, 2004). A teacher needs to have the required skills to teach a CPS lesson. Schools need to realise that just by sending teachers to attend one training session will not equip them with the skills to conduct a good CPS lesson. This is a progressive journey where constant sharing of ideas among teachers and post lesson reflections are some of the ways teachers could continually improve their CPS lessons.

Posted by Ravindran

Posted by: Principal/Editor | November 1, 2012

Singapore and Meritocracy

The compulsory education Act was implemented in 2003 and it was outlined that compulsory schooling for all Singapore citizens will be from 7 till the age of 12. Besides passing this bill, Singapore also prides itself from practicing meritocracy. Meritocracy has often been viewed as one of the key tenets of Singaporean culture and local identity. We strive to provide equal opportunity in education for all, regardless of race and religion compared to places like Indonesia and Malaysia where certain race or religion may receive greater priority.

Yet, most recently, there has been some controversy in The Straits Times forum pages over the idea of meritocracy, and its relationship with social and economic inequality. The Online Citizen (TOC) mentioned that some commentators continue to argue that Singapore’s version of meritocracy provides the right incentives for an individual’s competitive drive, that it can promote social mobility, thus putting at bay fears of the consequences of social and economic inequality in Singapore. TOC added that many other commentators feel that meritocracy is elitist and heartless.

Citing meritocracy as the reason to provide the ‘best’ to every individual, schools in Singapore are segregated in several ways. Just looking at the primary level, you see stratification within school through the Subject-based Banding exercise when the child completes the Primary 4 exams. You also see segregation through the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) and Schools for Special Education on the other extreme. A child enters the GEP at the age of 10. To paint an ideal picture, this child will most likely do well at PSLE and continue on in an elite secondary school followed by a two-year junior college experience before graduating at one of Singapore’s esteemed universities. At the same age of 10, if the child were to end up in the Foundation stream, he would go on to Normal Technical stream in secondary school and proceeds on attaining a Higher NITEC certification at the ITE. He would then go on to work as a blue-collared worker in one of the factories in Singapore. Two kids; both merely 10 years old yet their fates have been sealed.

Much needs to be done to truly embody ‘equality of education’ and what meritocracy essentially means. Unless we are able to break away from the incessant obsession of not leaving things to chances, we will continue to treat our students like factory products that can be labeled and branded. How then would such ‘meritocracy’ lead to self directed learners of the 21st century?

Posted by Rezia

The ideals that support the educational policies in Singapore, i.e. of meritocracy and multiracialism have remained unchanged since independence. However, this does not mean that the Singapore education system has not seen any changes over the years. Be it small or big, initiatives are constantly being rolled out in the name to keep the system ahead of perceived changes while reviews with accompanying recommendations for implementation on curriculum and programmes are consistently conducted in a 3- or 5-year cycle. As a need as well as a result, educators in schools are not unfamiliar with implementing new or updated policies formulated by Ministry of Education (MOE).

Communication between MOE and schools

The implementation of a policy involves various processes. Among them, communication is one that cannot be overlooked. While effective communication may not guarantee a successful implementation, poor communication will most likely lead to unsatisfactory results. Hence, it is necessary to ensure that communication is a friend and not an enemy during the process of policy implementation. A guide on implementation of policies endorsed by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government in 2006 spelt out the following rationale and objectives of communication:

“Communication is a central component of any change process. The greater the impact or change, the greater the need for clear communication of the reasons and rationale behind it, the benefits expected, the plans for its implementation and its proposed effects. Without effective communication, stakeholders may miss out on vital information and may not understand why change is needed, or the benefits to them of the change.

The objective of communication is to:

  • keep awareness and commitment high
  • maintain consistent messages
  • ensure that expectations do not drift out of line with what will be delivered.”[1]

In the Singapore education system, communication to schools, the implementing agent of policies is always given due consideration by MOE. From the receivers’ perspective, in line with the common perception that education policies in Singapore are implemented using a top-down approach, communication by MOE is interpreted as the series of announcements and information-giving sessions that happen after a policy is formulated at the HQ level. The communication process may takes place along such the following 2-step procedure. After the initial announcement (at perhaps significant events by members of the senior management for the “heavy-weight” policies), further direct communication will be carried out by MOE in the virtual space or/and on other face-to-face platforms. The former includes the spotlight in the intranet, an email blast, a LAN broadcast, or a discussion thread in the MOE forum while the latter includes platforms such as Townhall, In-conversation with DGE and zonal/cluster-level meetings.

In reality, communication done by MOE also goes beyond the processes done after the policy formulation. Understanding the limitations of post-formulation communication in engaging educators as well as to tap on the tacit knowledge within the fraternity, MOE has started to incept elements of bottom-up approach in the top-down model of policy implementation. Representatives of the general teaching population sit at certain HQ committees. For instance, the Teachers’ Council which plays a strategic role of advising and steering the Academy of Singapore Teachers comprises esteemed teacher representatives from various schools. Groups of educators are involved in the formulation process of some policies through ad-hoc focus group discussions. Existing platforms which are conducive for feedback and ideas to be gathered are also tapped to seed the ideas behind initiatives, such as the Work Plan Seminar and various milestone programmes.

Yet, despite the many communication channels tapped by MOE, it is not uncommon to hear teachers at the ground displaying dissatisfaction with the way MOE communicates with them. Disparity exists between the intended and received messages which leads to less than satisfactory results of policy implementation. Level of commitment towards and awareness of certain policies and how they should be implemented vary amongst educators. It is not surprising that at the latest MOE HQ climate survey, communication was identified as one of the main areas of improvement.

So, where do the gaps lie? The next few paragraphs are some of my random thoughts with regard to the gaps that exist in the communication process of policy implementation in the Singapore education system.

Is communication of unsatisfactory level for all groups?

Firstly, it may be useful for us to first question who exactly holds the perception that communication between MOE and schools is unsatisfactory. Although the schools are treated as an entity, each school is actually made up of different personnel who are engaged by MOE in different capacity. A quick slicing of the staff population in schools excluding the executive and administrative staff will reveal at least 4 different groups, namely the school leaders, the middle managers, the teacher-leaders (i.e. Senior and Lead Teachers) and the non-appointment holders. Among the 4 groups, school leaders are the ones most courted by MOE in policy implementation as they are often deemed as the champions and entrepreneurs of policy implementation. School leaders have frequent meetings with the Director of Schools in a year, and polices are usually first communicated to them on such platforms. They also receive circulars and notifications of policy changes. Should this group of school personnel perceive the communication between MOE and schools is unsatisfactory, there will be an urgent need for MOE to review its communication process. The perception of unsatisfactory communication should hence be held by the other groups.

Are current platforms and leverage effective?

In view of the above, if the communication process is to be improved, how the other groups receive information from MOE should be the area to be relooked into. As mentioned before, there are many platforms which MOE can tap on to disseminate information to or receive feedback from the general teaching population. MOE has also ridden on the social media wave with facebook, twitter and YouTube accounts. However, does a large quantity of communication channels guarantee effective communication on a wide scale? If we look beyond the quantity of the channels and look at the type of channels in existence, it is not hard to see their main inadequacy that is they require the receivers to be active agents. Regardless of the platforms tapped, the receivers can choose to ignore the messages by simply either deleting the incoming messages or not signing up to receive the messages. As a personal sensing, a certain number of non-appointment holders treat messages on policies from MOE in such a way. As a result, the rationales of policies are lost, the actions to be taken are interpreted in another way, and eventually expected results of policies are not observed.

To circumvent the issue of receivers being passive, one method will be to package the communication in a more attractive way to entice others to actively seek out more information. For instance, a well-crafted question may attract people to log in My Forum to find out more. A well-designed poster may prompt people to click on it to access more information. Above and beyond, engagement where receivers partake in clarifying the issue at hand and feel a sense of commitment toward the issue will need to be actively carried out.

Currently, active engagement is done with the school leaders as they are identified as the highest leverage for policy implementations. The assumption is that upon receiving the messages from MOE with regard to the policies, they will implement the policies in their schools accordingly, while making slight adjustments to the implementation process to suit their school contexts. However, does this assumption hold true? Given that education policies should eventually affect students’ learning, changes can only be realised by teachers who have direct contact with the students. Hence, it is necessary for communication to teachers to be effective. However, when the teachers are passive receivers of information, they often form the bottom group in receiving messages of policies, after school leaders, middle managers and teacher-leaders. And, as a usual situation in all cases of information dissemination, bits of information are lost between the layers of communication, especially when the in-between layers are ineffective communicators or are affected by their own mental models and have different agenda. The objectives of communication are eventually not met when teachers are being communicated to as the last layer. As such, the strategy to have school leaders as the highest leverage may need to be reconsidered.

Is engaging teacher representatives enough?

MOE is not totally oblivious of the need to engage teachers directly. While it is impossible to engage all teachers due to resource constraints, various divisions do meet up with teacher representatives directly during the communication process, especially when the intended changes pertain to curriculum and/or professional development matters. If the teacher representatives are the connectors, mavens or salesmen in their community of practitioners, by the “law of the few” stated by Gladwell in his book “The Tipping Point”, they will be able to create a social epidemic with regard to the policy initiative. However, such a phenomenon is not always observed in schools. The extent of influence and impact of teacher representatives is not exactly known.

There could be various reasons to why the engagement of teacher representatives does not result in a social epidemic. The engagement of the teacher representatives by MOE may not have created sufficient buy-in from them; the teacher representatives may have misinterpreted the policies despite engagement efforts; the teacher representatives are overloaded with other work to take initiative in engaging others in schools; the teacher representatives do not see themselves as multipliers within the community. An understanding of the reason(s) is required before the appropriate remedy can be adopted.

Last but not least, while the above point out certain inadequacy of the current communication between MOE and schools (which may be biased and incomprehensive as it is from a personal perspective), it should also be recognised that the current process is not without its merits. The Singapore education system is well-known internationally for its efficiency, which is only possible when the communication between MOE and schools is effective. Nonetheless, tension can still be sensed between MOE and schools, and there still exist gaps in communication (and probably in other areas too which are beyond the scope of discussion here) which will affect the results of policy implementation. If some of the gaps can be properly identified and closed, the good intentions of policy will have a greater chance to be translated into good actions, which will eventually benefit the students whom we care most about.

Posted by: Jennifer Wu

[1] Commonwealth of Australia. (2006). Implementation of programme and policy initiatives: making implementation matter (Better Practice Guide). Downloaded on 22 October 2012 from

Posted by: Principal/Editor | October 30, 2012

A Glimpse into Classroom Teaching in Beijing

For my maiden trip to Beijing, capital city of China, I was provided the opportunity to observe an Art lesson on Chinese paper cutting, conducted by a Master Teacher at Beijing No.10 Middle School.  A co-educational public middle school for students in grades 7 to 12 (ages 12 to 18) whereby its focus is on learning for life. The medium of instruction in this school is Chinese and students learn English as a second language.

Despite the lack of sophisticated teaching aids, and lesson being largely teacher-centred, the students impressed me by remaining engaged and interested throughout their lessons.  Such classroom scenario is common in China, probably stemmed from the universal assumption in Chinese society is that the teacher tells the single and absolute truth, and the job of the students is to absorb the knowledge conveyed by the teacher without question.

The lessons that I observed showed the Chinese teachers’ commitment and dedication to student learning.  What impressed me from the lesson observation was the thoughtful and meticulous lesson planning by the teacher.  From the relating of paper cutting to its significance in Chinese festivals and asking of questions to probe students’ understanding on given instructions.  The questions also facilitate the teacher to assess the students’ understanding and difficulties.  The teacher provided scaffolding, ample time and space for students to explore and be more creative. To encourage students’ creative spark in this lesson, the teacher created a safe and conducive learning environment for students to experiment, make mistakes and learn.  The teacher also though of in the event that students failed often in their experimentation and eventually giving up, some guidelines were also developed and explained thoroughly.

In facilitating students to think of new design, different designs of paper cutting and that done by an earlier group of Korean students on exchange visits were shown.  To encourage students the spirit of trying and innovating, the teacher assured the class that ‘it is not the end of the world, if you fail in your effort.  Just do it again and improvise from the previous mistakes.”  His reassuring words left a deep impression upon me.  In our classrooms, we often rush to give students right answers or hurry through as many questions as possible.  In doing so, have we forgotten to assure students that it is safe to provide the wrong answer?  Teachers are around to guide and support students in arriving the right answer and explaining the earlier process that went wrong.  In the working world, our students will bound to encounter challenges and failures in their process to develop solutions.  Hence it is critical for them to understand that failure is fine as long one is resilient, able to pick up the pieces and learn from earlier mistakes; as exemplified in the lesson observation.

This teachable moment was not incidental or left to chance, rather created through the careful planning by the teacher.  For example, the questioning approach that triggered deep and critical thinking and the provided guidelines that did not impose on students’ creativity but facilitated the process.  The entire lesson was conducted within the 45 minutes duration and there was smooth transition from one segment to another.  The lesson preparation was impressive, thoughtful and purposeful.  This brought back to mind the memories of lesson planning done, as an NIE trainee.  This experience definitely set the benchmark, which I hope to expect from my experienced teachers.  This also made me ponder as a Head, have I ever emphasized the importance or efforts in lesson planning to my experienced teachers or assumed that every teacher know the importance of it and each has a personal record of lesson planning?  Curriculum time is precious and learning should not be left to chance or by the way.  To facilitate such headway in teachers’ professionalism and having such expectations from my department teachers, being a Middle Manager, I will have to role model the professionalism, which I hope to see in them.

I was also impressed with the dedication and commitment by the Chinese teachers to continuously develop and improve their craft.  They are open to peer lesson observations and welcome feedback that will improve their teaching and learning, eventually benefitting their students.  This was observed at the dialogue session after the lesson observation, whereby the Master teachers are actively pursuing feedback and comments from us on ways to further improve their lesson.  I see an example of teacher taking ownership and initiatives for their professional development to level themselves up in terms of teaching and learning.  This spirit of professionalism is certainly something that the teaching fraternity could aspire for.

Posted by: Fong Li Sar

Posted by: Principal/Editor | October 3, 2012

Leadership and Education Policy Reforms in Singapore

The central premise of Singapore’s educational policy reform is leadership from the top. The ‘bottom-up’ approach seems to be missing. Even as Singapore’s education system prides itself as award-winning with recogntiion from fellow educators worldwide but Singaporean educators know that it is inherently driven by the senior policy-makers in MOE HQ. Education policies are now fast-changing; often ‘scheduled’ to roll out at ‘opportune’ times and delivered in ‘piece-meals’ to address specific pent-up frustrations faced by key stakeholders of the system. Ironically, with the implementation of these policies, teachers, parents, students and the public are increasingly stressed and perhaps perplexed to understand how policy dynamics can help cope with the challenges of a globalized world and social expectations in demanding Singapore. It is questionable if the ministry see educational policies as holistic or simply ‘measures’ alone (i.e. not policy work at all). One ponders the total ‘effect’ of these policies on Singapore’s future and if leadership is exercised diligently to ensure the new facets of these educational policies coming into fruition. Is leadership to blame when policy reforms are deconstructed this way? What would be the final outcomes for these educational reforms? Would anyone from the senior management able to answer (especially if we follow the timeline and trajectory of policy implementation closely)?

As much as educators know that students’ outcomes matter, it is also equally important to examine the major trade-offs at the policy level and at every level of the Singapore’s education journey. The policy design of these cutting-edge policies should go beyond the ultimate outcomes of getting professional qualifications such as coveted degrees from National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU). Education has to be comprehensive to nurture new and existing responsibilities of students who are also able citizens and engaged Singaporeans that can be empowered in exciting ways to mold the future of Singapore. If education is student-centred, then it is also possible for education policies to be driven by students’ inputs and ideals. How would MOE leadership inculcate these possible developments in policy making?

Given the notable fact that Singapore’s education policies are elitist and self-serving – it is even more logical for school leadership and education policy makers to ignore student and public participation. New leadership in educational policy making should exercise greater wisdom and citizenship participation so that every child’s talents and abilities can be celebrated within the havens of schools. The recent spate of ‘SG conversations’ helmed by the current Minister of Education, Mr. Heng Swee Kiat and the policy announcement of abolishment of school banding are ‘thumbs-up’ experiences for Singaporeans as their voices are finally heard. It has been a long haul for younger Singaporean learners who have been stifled in a results-driven system and trying to prove to others. Striving for the ‘many peaks of excellence’ is equally good as competing in the rat race from a layman’s point of view. The ‘I am the best’ mentality is still perpetuated in the schools.

Even without the strategic push for school leaders and teachers for better grades and academic standing, the students will know implicitly the eventual consequences for being seen as ‘failures’ and ‘incompetent’ within the system. It is only right if leadership in such policy reforms can muster boldness and creativity to derive policy measures and shifts that will ‘transform’ learning and academic achievements to possible sustainable knowledge clusters (such as new technology & innovations) and actionable movements (such as lifelong learning and activists for a cause) that will birth a new beginning and a new dawn in our education landscape. It is almost deadly to reside the aggressive ‘paper chase’ ideology within the policy formulation. It will only serve to run a self-fulfilling prophecy of a myopic system that only cares for exams and worksheets.

If leadership is about change, then transformational change in policy leadership is what’s necessary now for Singapore’s educational policies. So what if every student is imbued with the 21 century skills? This is a short term policy stunt. In the near future, can the ‘piece-meal’ policies be aligned and coordinated between ministries and government agencies so that the 21 century student can also leverage on new opportunities at the same time? By doing our sums and ‘backward design’ in policy making, our educational polices can be more integrated and synergized to give students a better tomorrow. It is worrying if leadership in policy making has become a routine job than leveraging on true leadership that will customize new policies to change lives. In addition, will Singapore’s education policies allow our children a fair chance to survive? Is education still an effective social mobility lever for Singaporeans from low-income households? Our education system might have the right intent but possibly lack the leadership foresights to do so. The vision of the Ministry – ‘Thinking Schools, Learning Nation’ was first conceptualized in 1997 to inculcate ‘a nation of thinking and committed citizens capable of meeting the challenges of the future, and an education system geared to the needs of the 21st century.’ (Goh, 1997). However, the educational mission is still a ‘business in progress’ after 15 years. Why so? Apart from the complex business of education and its evolving nature, are we also lacking in certain leadership capacities and skills to tackle the policies in manners that it should be?

Education in Singapore is an emotional issue as it is directly linked to one’s future and social prestige. The concept of ‘good schools’ in Singapore is an understatement – the whole point is how leadership can be explicitly used to value-add schools and making new breakthroughs in our education story. If indeed ‘Every School, a Good School’, the discourse on education policies should also spell out clearly how it is so to nurture potential, active citizenship and nationhood experiences for young Singaporeans. How would the future of these new generations of Singaporeans looks like? Policy leadership is required to ensure the governmental approach to educational policies remains open, equitable, holistic and accountable to the citizens. These policy makers have to be compassing, forward-looking and enlightened.

At this point in time, it is mission-critical for the Ministry to review its policies with her people so that it is resolving the policy ‘cause’ than the ‘symptoms’. From politicians’ speeches to editorial and social media write-ups, we can see how the face of education has changed over time with participation. Leadership in education reforms cannot be a ‘solo’ experience. It needs to be kept  imaginative with creative inputs from the citizens who are direct recipients of the public good. Leadership shall remain as a central feature in designing educational policies. If leadership is to be deemed by the people as another ‘top-down’ exercise, the soon-to-be ‘overheated’ educational policy scene (with new policy announcements almost every 2 weeks) will leave little room for herself to rejuvenate and innovate. ‘Parrot talk’ in educational policies will not create the positive long term impact on social development in Singapore desired by the electorates. This mode of leadership and rigidity in policy-making – i.e. passive leadership – will inevitably disrupt the course of policy development in education than to garner greater political legitimacy and implementation in schools.

Posted by Kelvin Yew

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