“The Singapore education system relies on a high quality teaching profession to achieve its aim for the nation.” — Dr. Pak Tee Ng
In Search of Professionals - Singapore
By C. M. Rubin with Harry Rubin and Michael Freeborn
Part 3 of “In Search of Professionals”
In their new book, Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School, Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan remind us that the future of learning depends on the future of teaching. Speaking out against education policies that result in a teaching force that is inexperienced, underpaid and exhausted, Hargreaves and Fullan set out a new agenda to transform the future of teaching and public education.
Singapore is recognized globally as a high performing education system with professional practices that could be adopted by other education systems seeking to improve the capabilities of their principals, teachers and overall leadership. Singapore students fared very well in the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Out of 65 countries that took part in these tests, Singapore students ranked fifth in reading, second in mathematics and fourth in science. Singapore also had the second highest proportion (12.3%) of students who are top-level performers in all three domains.
How does Singapore view the importance of a world-class teaching profession? How has its government responded? What progress has been made to date? What are Singapore’s next steps to advance the teaching profession in the 21st century?
Today in Part 3 of “The Global Search for Education: In Search of Professionals - Singapore,” we are honored to share the insights of Dr. Pak Tee Ng - Associate Dean, Leadership Learning, Office of Graduate Studies and Professional Learning, and Head and Associate Professor, Policy and Leadership Studies Academic Group, at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Republic of Singapore.
“We emphasize values very strongly because they are the beacons by which educators can navigate the seas of change.” — Dr. Pak Tee Ng
What are your views on the importance of teaching quality and the importance of a world-class teaching profession to a successful education system for your nation?
The Singapore education system relies on a high quality teaching profession to achieve its aim for the nation. While it is important for the government to formulate good education polices, the success of these polices relies on the implementation by the teaching professionals in the schools. Policies are important for they point the direction and provide the support for change. But the substance of change is dependent on the teachers and school leaders in our schools. One of my main roles is to develop school leaders in Singapore. I often say to the school leaders, “students do not experience policies. They experience teachers.” Therefore, our school leaders need to nurture teachers. Singapore takes teaching quality and the development of a professional cadre of teachers very seriously.
What decisions and actions did your government take with respect to building teaching quality and the teaching profession, and when?
In Singapore, teachers are hired by the Ministry of Education and deployed to schools after their teacher preparation programme at the National Institute of Education (NIE). Some 80% of Singapore’s 31,000 teachers today are graduates, a significant increase from 55% slightly more than a decade ago. The government intends to move towards all-graduate teacher recruitment by 2015 and seeks to recruit only from the top one-third of every cohort of students. Our teaching force is set to expand to 33,000 by 2015 and the government has put in place supporting structures to encourage teachers to acquire post-graduate degrees. We hope to enhance our teaching force, both in terms of numbers and quality.
NIE’s teacher preparation premises itself strongly on a set of values (V), skills (S) and knowledge (K), encapsulated in a model called the V3SK framework. This framework represents the underpinning philosophy of teacher development in NIE for the Singapore teacher. In particular, our set of values is premised on 3 paradigms: learner-centeredness, teacher identity, and service to the profession and the community. We emphasize values very strongly because they are the beacons by which educators can navigate the seas of change without losing their soul or direction.
The government has also put in place many professional development opportunities for the teachers, including a Structured Mentoring Programme for beginning teachers, the Professional Development Continual Model for in-service teachers to pursue higher degrees in a flexible way, in-service programmes for various disciplines, and fully sponsored career milestone programmes for school leadership development (e.g. Leaders in Education Programme (LEP) for school principal-ship development and the Management and Leadership in Schools (MLS) programme for school middle leadership development).
“Beyond stringent recruitment, enhanced career paths and better pay packages, it is the passion, commitment and professional ethos of our teachers that will enhance the quality of our education system.” — Dr. Pak Tee Ng
How do you assess your progress to date?
The Singapore education system has gone through different phases. We have made significant progress over the years. Some 30 years ago, teachers taught according to standard textbooks provided by the ministry. Today, teachers are expected to tailor education to suit their students and find breakthroughs in education practices, including curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment. Teachers now have enhanced career paths and remuneration, and teaching is a respectable profession in the country.
But, we still have a lot of room for improvement. What worked in the past may not work for the future. Therefore, at this stage of our national development, our challenge is to develop our teachers so that they are able to review for themselves the “why, what and how” of teaching. We are trying to shift the focus of our education from quantity to quality. Beyond stringent recruitment, enhanced career paths and better pay packages, it is the passion, commitment and professional ethos of our teachers that will enhance the quality of our education system. So, our teachers need to continuously hone their teaching craft and deepen their content mastery. We are currently encouraging our teachers to participate actively in professional learning communities, engage in reflective practice, and undertake action research. This is still work in progress and is a long continuous journey.
What tangible benefits have you seen?
Many policy makers, school leaders and academics have visited Singapore and they told me that they were doing so because Singapore had very good PISA and TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) results and they wanted to study the reasons for these results. I suppose results can be considered tangible benefits associated with a quality teaching force. However, in some ways more importantly, a quality teaching force, trusted by the people, is a critical asset to the nation. Schools are generally seen as a safe environment for students to study and develop themselves. Indeed, Singapore is too small to afford failing schools or schools where safety and security are big question marks. Therefore, schools provide a stable platform for values inculcation and national education. Because parents in general trust schools and the teachers, we have a basis on which different stakeholders can work together to improve educational outcomes for the students. Because different stakeholders have different viewpoints and expectations, working together is never a simple or clinical process, even though it is critical for the good of the students. Hence, it is important to have a credible teaching profession that has the trust of the nation!
“A quality teaching force, trusted by the people, is a critical asset to the nation.” — Dr. Pak Tee Ng
What additional steps or changes do you believe should be made or are you making in order to further advance the quality of teachers and the teaching profession going forward?
Singapore has a strong and robust education system, generally speaking. It is a system recognized by many for its high level of student achievements. However, we have to prepare our students for the future, not the past or the present. This may require fundamental educational reforms. We need teachers who can drive such change from within, rather than rely on central directions. Fundamental education reform requires schools to move beyond pre-specified performance indicators. Otherwise, we may end up reinforcing the current system, which is adequate for now, but inadequate for the future. We need teachers and school leaders who can think about the future and scan the horizon for change, and yet keep connected to the present and work faithfully on the ground. To do that, we need to emphasize critical reflection for the teachers and school leaders, and empower them to challenge existing thinking and practices in their own schools. Looking for a fixed recipe of reform implementation in all schools will not work. Allowing more degrees of freedom at the local level will bring out the best in a mutually dependent and dynamic relationship between the ministry that sets the central direction and the educators who work on the ground. Instead of relying on top down directions, schools draw upon the expertise of the professional teaching community to search for solutions to issues that are close to their hearts. As practitioners explore ideas, implement them and make adjustments as they go along, the quality of the teaching profession is enhanced through the cycles of empowered practice and critical reflection. Change is also more organic within the schools. Our education system has begun to move in this direction, but this is a long process and we are doing it in a patient, calibrated manner. This process may actually increase the tension within the system because the system is no longer so neat and orderly. But, as long as we have dedicated and reflective teachers, we will be able to bring positive change out of the tension.
Dr. Pak Tee Ng and C. M. Rubin
Photos courtesy of Dr. Pak Tee Ng.
In The Global Search for Education, join me and globally renowned thought leaders including Sir Michael Barber (UK), Dr. Michael Block (US), Dr. Leon Botstein (US), Professor Clay Christensen (US), Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond (US), Dr. Madhav Chavan (India), Professor Michael Fullan (Canada), Professor Howard Gardner (US), Professor Yvonne Hellman (The Netherlands), Professor Kristin Helstad (Norway), Jean Hendrickson (US), Professor Rose Hipkins (New Zealand), Professor Cornelia Hoogland (Canada), Mme. Chantal Kaufmann (Belgium), Dr. Eija Kauppinen (Finland), State Secretary Tapio Kosunen (Finland), Professor Dominique Lafontaine (Belgium), Professor Hugh Lauder (UK), Professor Ben Levin (Canada), Professor Barry McGaw (Australia), Shiv Nadar (India), Professor R. Natarajan (India), Dr. Denise Pope (US), Sridhar Rajagopalan (India), Dr. Diane Ravitch (US), Sir Ken Robinson (UK), Professor Pasi Sahlberg (Finland), Andreas Schleicher (PISA, OECD), Dr. Anthony Seldon (UK), Dr. David Shaffer (US), Dr. Kirsten Sivesind (Norway), Chancellor Stephen Spahn (US), Yves Theze (Lycee Francais US), Professor Charles Ungerleider (Canada), Professor Tony Wagner (US), Sir David Watson (UK), Professor Dylan Wiliam (UK), Dr. Mark Wormald (UK), Professor Theo Wubbels (The Netherlands), Professor Michael Young (UK), and Professor Minxuan Zhang (China) as they explore the big picture education questions that all nations face today.
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C. M. Rubin is the author of two widely read online series for which she received a 2011 Upton Sinclair award, “The Global Search for Education” and “How Will We Read?” She is also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice in Wonderland.
Follow C. M. Rubin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@cmrubinworld
“A teacher is both a worker and somewhat of an artist, and we need to balance these two perspectives.” - Principal Bjorn Bolstad
More from Norway
By C. M. Rubin with Harry Rubin and Michael Freeborn
In July of 2011, Dr. Kirsten Sivesind, distinguished professor in the University of Oslo Faculty of Education, shared her education perspectives with us in The Global Search for Education: A View from Norway. Today, with the help of Kirsten Sivesind, and Principal Bjorn Bolstad, the faculty and students of the Ringstabekk Skole in Barum, a suburb of Oslo (http://www.ringstabekk.net), we are able to share with you some additional education insights into how a model Norwegian public school is addressing skills needed in the 21st century.
Principal Bolstad, what are the backgrounds of the pupils in your public school? What is the diversity (racial and socio-economic) within the student body?
Our school draws pupils from our local community. They are teenagers living near the school. Our community is not very diversified as it is in a suburb that has a high socio-economic level with few inhabitants of other nationalities. A lot of the parents have advanced education and a lot of them have leading jobs.
How long is the school day and what meal service do you provide?
All pupils have 22.5 lessons per week, each lasting for 60 minutes. The school day schedule varies. The 8th grade starts at 8:30, 9th grade at 8:50, and 10th grade at 9:10. On two days of every week, the pupils end school between 1:00pm and 1:40pm, while on one or two other days, they don’t finish until 3:30pm.
The school does not provide free meals. Most schools in Norway don’t. We have a small cantina where students can buy baguettes, yoghurt, etc. Our students have one major break each day; two breaks if they work late. As with all lower secondary schools in Norway, we provide free fruit for the pupils every day.
What percentage of the children read and do math at their grade level or higher?
The Norwegian school system does not have defined grade level indicators. Our results on the national test of reading are at the highest level. Only about 4% of our students are under the “critical limit” in reading based on different reading tests. As for math, we have no nationally set levels, but when our students leave our school to attend upper secondary school, only about 4% of them have difficulty in finishing upper secondary. In the Norwegian school system, a student is moved up to the next level whether she has the skills that are needed or not.
“Throughout the year, every student participates in one or more stage productions”— Principal Bjorn Bolstad
How much homework do the children get each night?
This varies. A lot of our homework consists of finishing of projects and cooperating with other students. At our school, we work cross-curricular, and typical homework can be, in addition to solving math and English tasks, to read an article and write down questions that will be discussed in class next day, or to plan a performance together with the rest of your working group.
Do these children take any standardized tests during the school year?
Yes, they take the national tests in reading, math and English at 8th and 9th level. We also make the student take a test when they enter our school, to find out what they are good at and where they struggle. We don’t see that our school or our students benefit much from standardized tests developed on a national level to the extent that these tests are used to compare schools and communities. We try to find standardized tests that can give each student a formative assessment. Note: On the latest PISA test, Norway ranked #12 in reading, 5 places ahead of the U. S.; #21 in math, 10 places ahead of the U.S.; and #25 in science, 2 places behind the U. S.
How does the teacher assess the students’ work each term?
Formal assessment is of course the most important. The students get assessments on the tasks they do during the term: oral performances, discussions, written work, etc. The assessment is based on criteria that are presented to the students before they start the work. Sometimes the students participate in developing the criteria for a specific task. The assessment is usually written down. The Norwegian school law says that every student is to get a mark in each subject after every term. For some students, these marks have a motivating effect, but for a lot of our students, the mark takes their focus away from the content of the subject and from the learning itself. Instead they get very concerned about the actual mark they get. In addition to this assessment, we ask the students to evaluate themselves at the end of each term. They do this before they get their marks, and the teachers comment on their self- evaluations. This is one of the ways we try to train our students to monitor their own learning process and thus “learn to learn.”
Is the curriculum centralized or teacher driven?
In Norway, there is a national curriculum. This outlines the competences that pupils should develop. Our teachers interpret this national curriculum. They work in cross-curricular teaching teams and together they develop cross-curricular themes. A lot of the subjects are taught within these cross-curricular themes. In this way, the curriculum is to a great extent teacher driven. We think this is necessary. Otherwise we fear that the teachers will see themselves as just “factory-workers”, executing someone else’s ideas. A teacher is both a worker and somewhat of an artist, and we need to balance these two perspectives.
How much music and art (all the art forms) are there in the curriculum?
At our school we put great emphasis on music and art. In our pedagogical documents, we mention this explicitly. Throughout the year, every student participates in one or more stage productions and presents his or her work of art in a vernissage (an exhibition). We divide our school year into 6 periods. Each period has an overall theme, and in each period the students work with one of our three subjects: music, arts and domestic work. The teachers try to finish each period with a performance, a common meal, a vernissage, and they often invite the parents to these events. Our biggest stage production takes place once a year and involves all students at the school (more than 400). Our main objective is to let the pupils work with students and teachers from other classes and thus develop a good social environment at the school.
“A lot of our homework consists of finishing of projects and cooperating with other students.”— Principal Bjorn Bolstad
What qualifications do the teachers have and what is their salary range?
Either they have attended teacher college or they have studied at the university. Teacher college is a 4 year study program specified for teaching, while teachers that have studied at the university must finish a pedagogical study of 1 year to be accepted as a teacher.
A teacher with 4 years study at university or college starts off with a salary of $57,000 a year. A teacher with studies at Master level, 16 years of work, plus our local bonuses for subjects like math, science and Norwegian, earns $88,000.
What parental involvement is there in the school?
Every Norwegian school must have a cooperation committee where students, parents, teachers and headmaster meet to discuss economic and other matters. The parents are also involved in the parental cooperation forum. One parent is elected from each group of students (15 students per group). This forum meets once a month and discusses different educational matters. Usually they invite the headmaster to join these meetings. In addition to these formal bodies, most parents are deeply engaged in their own children’s teaching and development. Twice a year they have a formal talk with their child’s contact teacher, together with the student, and twice a year we gather all parents for a parental meeting where the school gives information about practical and pedagogical matters. As mentioned earlier, parents are invited to shows, vernissages, etc., and sometimes teachers also invite parents to talk to classes about their jobs and education.
Bjorn Bolstad and C. M. Rubin
Photos courtesy of Ringstabekk Sklole
In The Global Search for Education, join me and globally renowned thought leaders including Sir Michael Barber (UK), Dr. Michael Block (US), Dr. Leon Botstein (US), Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond (US), Dr. Madhav Chavan (India), Professor Michael Fullan (Canada), Professor Howard Gardner (US), Professor Yvonne Hellman (The Netherlands), Professor Kristin Helstad (Norway), Jean Hendrickson (US), Professor Rose Hipkins (New Zealand), Professor Cornelia Hoogland (Canada), Mme. Chantal Kaufmann (Belgium), Professor Dominique Lafontaine (Belgium), Professor Hugh Lauder (UK), Professor Ben Levin (Canada), Professor Barry McGaw (Australia), Professor R. Natarajan (India), Dr. Denise Pope (US), Sridhar Rajagopalan (India), Dr. Diane Ravitch (US), Sir Ken Robinson (UK), Professor Pasi Sahlberg (Finland), Andreas Schleicher (PISA, OECD), Dr. Anthony Seldon (UK), Dr. David Shaffer (US), Dr. Kirsten Sivesind (Norway), Chancellor Stephen Spahn (US), Yves Theze (Lycee Francais US), Professor Charles Ungerleider (Canada), Professor Tony Wagner (US), Professor Dylan Wiliam (UK), Dr. Mark Wormald (UK), Professor Theo Wubbels (The Netherlands), Professor Michael Young (UK), and Professor Minxuan Zhang (China) as they explore the big picture education questions that all nations face today.
C.M. Rubin has more than two decades of professional experience in development, marketing, and art direction for a diverse range of media businesses. She is also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice In Wonderland Follow C. M. Rubin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@cmrubinworld
C.M. Rubin has more than two decades of professional experience in development, marketing, and art direction for a diverse range of media businesses. She is also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice In Wonderland
Follow C. M. Rubin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@cmrubinworld