Opportunity, Collaboration & Discovery

E-Learning in Singapore: Where Teachers are Involved in Product Development - NEW Post

CJ Westerberg, May 9, 2012 10:00 AM


Editor's Note:  Bill Jackson, former math teacher and presently math helping teacher, provides consulting and teacher training on Singapore or Japanese approaches to mathematics teaching and professional development, and regularly speaks at national and international mathematics conferences. You may be familiar with Jackson's riffs exclusively featured in The Daily Riff which have received wide-spread link-sharing and views primarily about the topics of Math education in America, Singapore Math, education and teacher professional development in Japan and Singapore (see links below post). 

Here we are featuring Part 2 of a multi-post series from Jackson's most recent Spring 2012 trip to Singapore during the International Conference on Teaching and Learning with Technology (ICTLT), and the Ministry of Education (MOE) Excel Fest, with a post or two of Q&A's from moi and readers.  
If you missed Part 1 INTRODUCTION- check it out here.

We hope you find this newest travel journal thought-provoking and insightful. 
As usual, let us know what you think.                       
- C.J. Westerberg

In fact, they are a constant presence in schools,
have a friendly relationship with teachers and administrators,
and interact with them more like fellow educators than salespeople.
 - Bill Jackson, referring to companies who provide educational products to schools in Singapore

Lessons from Singapore
Spring 2012
Part 2

by Bill Jackson

My first stop in Singapore was the headquarters of Marshall Cavendish Education, the largest textbook publisher in Singapore. Singapore math has become popular in the U.S. and around the world because of their focus, coherence, mathematical rigor, and powerful problem-solving strategies. I came to Singapore mostly to explore the use of technology in education, especially in the area of mathematics, and spent most of my time at their digital division, Marshall Cavendish Online, to learn about digital and online resources currently being used in Singaporean schools.

Compared to the U.S., in Singapore there are relatively few companies that develop Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools for the classroom. But unlike the U.S., the educational industry works closely with schools and the Ministry of Education (MOE) to further the educational goals of the country. This link between the MOE, industry and schools creates common goals that add focus and clarity needed to implement best practices in the classroom on a widespread, replicable basis. Many important projects have resulted from this collaboration, including Singapore's high quality textbooks and more recently interactive digital textbooks that are being piloted in schools.

Interestingly, E-learning became widespread in Singapore after a SARS outbreak in 2003 shut down schools for a week. In order to make sure that learning continues in the event of a future pandemic the MOE came up with a plan for providing online learning to students. The nation now prepares for such emergencies by having students stay home from school several times a year and complete online assignments that their teachers provide.

One of the main platforms used to provide these assignments is called LEAD, which includes high quality interactive tutorials, games, exploration activities, and assessments in all academic subject areas, and allows teachers to create customized learning packages that can be assigned to students online. Teachers can embed these assignments with many resources such as You Tube videos, chat capability, links to web sites, Google Docs, and files they have created. They can also track students' progress online. In addition to using e-learning to prepare for emergencies, teachers also typically assign two online assignments per week to foster self-directed learning - an important educational goal in Singapore. Families that cannot afford computers or internet access are given financial support from an opportunity fund created by the MOE.

In Singapore, the Ministry of Education issues mandates that industry must adhere to. In fact, much of the educational technology that is currently being used in Singapore was developed free of charge by tech companies based on MOE objectives. Even large companies like Microsoft are involved and must play by the same rules. If the technology that is developed is successful based on pilot projects in schools, then the companies get the chance to sell their products to schools for a profit. Companies not only provide products to schools, they are in schools, involved in pilot projects, and providing training and support aligned with Ministry objectives. In fact they are a constant presence in schools, have a friendly relationship with teachers and administrators, and interact with them more like fellow educators than salespeople. This gives teachers and schools an important voice in how textbooks, technology and other learning resources are developed.

This gives teachers and schools an important voice
in how textbooks, technology and
other learning resources are developed.

In the U.S., the goals of industry and education often seem at odds with each other. Educational companies can basically make anything they want without consulting school, educators, or the U.S. Department of Education at all. Since educational resources are so closely linked to teaching and learning, this disconnect makes it difficult to move educational policy forward in a unified way. We can't blame this on industry alone, however, because the U.S. Department of Education has traditionally exercised little influence on national educational policy, and to be fair, many U.S. companies invest heavily in education, although not in a concerted way that impacts learning on a widespread basis.

In Singapore, educational resources must follow Ministry of Education guidelines. In the U.S., they do not. This is why Singapore math textbooks are thin, focused, lightweight, and inexpensive, while U.S. math textbooks are large, unfocused, heavy, and overpriced, adding an unnecessary strain on school budgets and children's backs. Textbook companies could argue legitimately that until recently every state had different standards and in order to sell textbooks, they had to align them to the standards of the largest states resulting in too many topics taught with too little depth. However, now most states have adopted new common standards called the Common Core State Standards, which were partially based on Singapore's world-class standards. I recently attended the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Annual Meeting in Philadelphia and at the exhibit hall where publishers showcase the latest educational resources I noticed that every major textbook now claims to be "aligned to the Common Core." So what do these new textbooks look like? Surprise! With few exceptions, large, heavy, unfocused, and expensive. Maybe it's time for the U.S. Department of Education to step in.

Go to Part 1 - Technology in Education: The Big Questions - Lessons from Singapore

Go to Part 3 - Q&A with The Daily Riff - Lessons from Singapore

Go to Part 4 - Who's in Charge of Technology?  What's it for?  Lessons from Singapore -Visiting White Sands School

Note: Bill Jackson was also district wide math coach at the Scarsdale, NY Public Schools, one of the top performing districts in the country.  He is also presently the mathematics staff developer for the Franklin Lakes, NJ Public Schools.


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