We are featuring a new 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. Here are a few of the most popular questions we've received about this topic, which Jackson addresses below. As usual, let us know what you think. Help us add to the list of questions . . . - C.J. Westerberg
about what they want to see in their products.
This is not the same, however,
as being involved in the educational process."
Lessons from Singapore
Jackson: I think there needs to be some autonomy in order for innovation to take place. Even though all schools in Singapore are essentially public schools (even the relatively few private schools must adhere to ministry guidelines), Singapore schools have a lot of autonomy. What is to be learned and basic policy is decided by the ministry but almost everything else is up to the school. For example, each school chooses its own niche area of focus, usually some aspect of the arts. Some schools are known for innovation and technology, some for science and mathematics, some for sports or the arts, etc. Students can attend any school they wish but priority is given to children whose parents or siblings attended the school and those who live in the neighborhood. In this sense, all schools in Singapore operate much like charter schools in the U.S. (except they cannot exclude students) and in some sense, they have to compete for students. I think this kind of autonomy helps drive innovation in Singapore.
In the U.S., the Department of Education and state departments of education basically function with a carrot and stick approach--get good test scores get a reward, get poor test scores, get punished, fired, and embarrassed. This mostly hinders innovation for all but the lucky few who live in wealthy districts where the DOE's stay away. I think that the role of federal and state departments of education should be to dictate basic policy and help schools to be innovative by making sure all schools are equally funded, equally equipped, equally staffed, and equally good.
TDR: Do you think textbooks are thinner and lighter because the Singapore Ministry of Education "gets involved" or because of a combination of many other reasons, such as increased collaboration with teachers as to product and resource decision-making (as you had mentioned in your post)?
Jackson: I think it is a combination of factors. First of all, the ministry of education limits the size and cost of the books. Second, there is a focused and concise curriculum with fewer topics taught each year in depth for mastery. This is also dictated by the MOE. But the ministry and schools and teachers work very closely, much more so than in the U.S. Just ask any U.S. teacher when the last time they saw someone from the U.S. DOE or even the state DOE for that matter. Singapore teachers are regularly connected to the DOE. This collaboration influences every aspect of education.
Lessons from Singapore Series 2012:
Go to Part 1 - Lessons from Singapore - The Big Questions
Go to Part 2 - E-Learning from Singapore - Where Teachers are Involved in Product Development
Go to Part 4 - Technology in Education - Who's in charge? What are the goals of tech use?
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.
Why Other Countries Do Better in Math (Race to the Tutor?)
Five Surprises in Singaporean Education
The Creativity Initiative in Singapore
What American Teachers Can Learn From Japan
The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World's Most Surprising School System
Singapore Math Demystified!
Going Beyond Singapore Math