Articles on Singapore Education in German Newspaper, Die Zeit  published on 9 February 2017

Articles on Singapore Education in German Newspaper, Die Zeit published on 9 February 2017

Thursday, 09 February 2017

 1) And now, everybody starts being creative (p. 29)

 In the learning comparison Pisa report, Singapore outperforms all other countries by far. While the rest of the world is still puzzling over how this is possible, the schools in the city state are suddenly supposed to do many things differently. A visit with surprising insights

A visit of Singaporean education institutions confirms all stereotypes about “Asian swotting cultures” and yet, at the same time, it also surprises again and again – with pupils studying mathematics for hours on end while talking a lot and doing little arithmetic; and with teachers being in a corset of constant observation, yet having more opportunities to develop than their German counterparts

In Singapore, there are elite schools (“factories of the elite”) and so-called neighbourhood schools such as Frontier Primary School, whose students come from the residential towers surrounding it; half of them does not speak English at home but Mandarin, Malay or Tamil.

Mathematics is the supreme discipline at Frontier Primary School, like everywhere in Asia;Backwards thinking is a problem-solving strategy, and in Singapore the entire principles of teaching are based on this concept. “Many people in Western countries think that our pupils are that good because they do a lot of rote learning. This is wrong. Our maths lessons strongly emphasise the importance of them understanding mathematic concepts”, says Berinderjeet Kaur, mathematics professor at the National Institute of Education. Indeed, Singaporean primary school mathematics (Singapore maths) has acquired international renown and is nowadays influencing school books in the USA, Israel and England.

Metacognition, i.e. thinking about (mathematical) thinking, has been a goal of Singapore’s schools for a few years;Maths is important. You need maths in life. Maths is fun. The pupils of Frontier Primary School hear these messages from their first day in school. Even during breaks pupils take part – partly on their iPad – in mathematical games or puzzle courses that are organised by the teachers.

Pupils who have problems in maths (or in other basic subjects) get remedial tuition in the afternoon from the start;

Mathematics also plays an important role in the Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE) at the end of the sixth school year. The exam results set the course to secondary school and determine the twelve-year-olds’ future life: whether they will go to university, what career they will pursue, how much they will earn... even the choice of their future spouse and friends is predetermined by the PSLE results in Singapore’s meritocracy.

Around 80 % of school graduates in Korea, Japan or Singapore are short-sighted, a result of the big amount of time they spend reading books and working in front of monitor screens;Three sixth graders are mentioned as example – they all get private tutoring after school, not because they experience any problems but to improve their performances to turn good grades in very good ones;

The official Singaporean education policy seeks to bring more creativity into schools; pupils are supposed to think unconventionally. The government’s concern is that good grades alone are not enough to prepare young Singaporeans for life. And indeed, companies complain repeatedly that while Singaporean employees are unbeatable when it comes to dedication and discipline, they are at a loss in cases where things they have learned or proven approaches do not help; Education Minister Ng Chee Meng is quoted as saying recently that an engineer should not only be able to operate a complex machine, but that “he also has to be capable of developing it”;

The Singaporeans seek to top not only the Pisa ranking but also corporation hierarchies; they want to produce inventors, start-up founders, Nobel Prize winners and, since lately, also top artists and top athletes; therefore, in addition to the classical academic subjects, the schools have been provided with a second curriculum to train the pupils’ social, athletic and aesthetic capabilities; every pupil has to attend a character building class in the afternoon – and every teacher has to give such a class, too. Of course, even here everybody strives for top performances – doing something merely for its own sake does not exist here;

The Singaporeans look out for new ideas around the world and adapt them to their own particular circumstances; every principal-to-be has to study a foreign educational system intensively as part of his or her training; While a form in Singapore consists of 40 pupils on average, there are enough teachers to focus on small groups of pupils, if necessary – a staff principle that is much more economic and reasonable than the German form system;

Frontier Primary School has a teaching lab where teachers observe their colleagues during classes; afterwards, there will be a common assessment; but also at schools without teaching labs, cooperation is the teacher’s obligation. The systems leaves nobody to him-/herself – and it also leaves nobody alone; from the novice teacher to the principal, everybody has a tutor for regular consultation. Once a year there is assessment by a supervisor from the ministry – and in the end, every teacher gets a grade;Those whose performance is better are promoted.

The education principle in Singapore is as follows: The teacher always remains in control of what happens during classes; there are few slack times, but also little freedom; as if the Singaporean school was obsessed by an educational horror vacui. Where are imagination and self-will supposed to grow? ... While top pupils are no longer mentioned in newspapers and school rankings have been abolished officially, all teachers and parents know exactly what their school’s position is. ... It is difficult to learn free thinking in a system that builds on reverence for authority. Creativity simply cannot be swotted up.

2) “Singapore – advancement through education” Box Article

Today, Singapore is one of the richest countries in the world; the per-capita income of its citizens is higher than that in Germany or Canada. This has been made possible by an educational dictatorship [Erziehungsdiktatur] at the top of which Lee Kuan Yew preached discipline, diligence and education over  five decades; spendings on education are the second largest element of expenditure in the state budget. Teachers are highly respected and there is even an official holiday dedicated to them. A teacher’s prize is awarded by the president each year; Singapore is currently becoming a centre of science in Asia.

Singapore’s school system is similar to the German one. After six years of primary school, the pupils are allocated to a technical, an academic and a work-oriented branch – all of these are located in one school building.

3) Studying well into the night (p. 30)

 To parents in Europe or the United States, Asia’s performance-based culture comes as a shock

Singaporean students have to study not only in school, but most of them also attend private tutoring centres well into the evening every day. Even elementary school students.Parents are very involved in their children's education, as it reflects on them as well .This is all due to Confucian culture that places lots of emphasis on education as a means of social advancement Studies have not confirmed the benefit of tutoring yetSingaporean education officials also point out that there is no need for private tutoring In recent years, parents have started to send even three-year-olds to private tutoring .Journalist Martin Spiewak's impression of the education system in Singapore varies between enthusiasm and horror

Translation of articles provided by the Singapore Embassy in Berlin.
Please visit here for the articles in German

Source: Die Zeit, Copyright of Die Zeit 2017