A tale of two innovative systems

A tale of two innovative systems

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Media Type
Today (Online)

SINGAPORE — Despite differences in culture and politics between Singapore and Finland, the two countries’ education systems were held up as role models by a pair of renowned academics from Boston College — a nod, perhaps, to the notion that many roads can lead to success.

In their latest book, The Global Fourth Way: The Quest for Educational Excellence, Professor Andy Hargreaves — who is the Thomas More Brennan Chair at the Lynch School of Education — and Professor Dennis Shirley, who lectures at the same school, also credited the success of Singapore’s education system to three factors: Innovation in technology, intensity of professional interaction and an “ability to live and work with paradox”.

While the Republic’s education system has received international accolades — with its students performing well in international tests — debate has been raging over the pressure- cooker environment in schools here, in contrast with those in other countries such as Finland, where students take their only national examinations at the age of 18.

The two professors spent a month in Singapore, during which they interviewed senior level policymakers and leaders in the Ministry of Education and the National Institute of Education (NIE), visited some schools here and collected data from these institutions. They also lived “in the culture and with its people”, in their own words.

Among the “paradoxes” they observed were how schools had autonomy even under a centralised system, the “teach less, learn more” approach that has been in place since 2004, as well as the Republic’s ability to connect its “innovation future to its national past in ways that make these two periods in time apposite and not opposites”.

The authors wrote: “At the same time as it embraces cutting-edge innovation, Singapore does not abandon traditional Confucianism that places a premium on virtues of discipline, respect, good education and hard work.”

They added: “Add this to strong traces of the traditional British colonial education system, still evident in the persistence of streaming or banding and in prominence of the Secondary School General Certificate Examinations at age 16 and you have a family, work and educational culture in which hard work, perseverance, respect for authority and individual competitiveness are accorded high priority.”

Published in September last year, the book drew extensively on projects with educators in various places apart from Singapore and Finland, such as the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Alberta, California and England. The projects — in which the authors worked with educators in the respective places — were supported with funds from organisations such as teaching institutions and policymakers.

On the chapter on Singapore, the authors worked with Professor Ng Pak Tee from the NIE, which provided funding support for the review of the Republic’s education system.

The chapter also highlighted Rulang Primary — known here for its integrated robotics curriculum — and Ngee Ann Secondary — which uses MSN Messenger and Twitter as teaching tools, for instance — as pioneers of technological and pedagogical innovation.

The book seeks to find a new approach to education or what the authors call the Fourth Way.

According to the authors, the First Way, from the 1960s, gave educators “unprecedented professional freedom in their classrooms but no way to spread what they learned or (how to) bring it together”.

The Second Way emerged in the 1980s, and created a push for standards and greater academic rigour. However, “standards turned in standardisation” — instead of innovating more, schools struggled to outdo each other at the same game, they added.

Third Way reforms gave teachers opportunities to learn from one another but “mainly according to data-driven testing processes that limited depth and scope of their professional conversations”.

The Finland and Singapore education systems “exemplify many Fourth Way principles”, the authors said.

They said: “Despite and even because of their differences, the two nations are both defined by the possession of a compelling and coherent moral purpose, an emphasis on the civic necessity of strong public education, clear commitments to high-quality teachers and teaching, and ways of securing system integration that are more about cultural coherence in beliefs and communication than about bureaucratic alignment on paper.”

The article can be viewed here

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Source: Today (Online), mediacorp