Singapore's Investment in Children and Teachers
Asia Society recently held the third Global Cities Education Network Symposium in Singapore. Leaders from 10 cities around the world gathered for two days to discuss common problems in education. But before the discussions kicked off, participants were able to visit schools around Singapore to learn more about this impressive system. Today Barnett Berry shares observations from his visit.
by Barnett Berry
Still in its infancy, Crest Secondary School will serve 800 high-need students (96% of whom live in government housing) and employ some 150 teachers. Students will experience a customized curriculum that integrates academic learning and vocational training, offering practical experiences in the retail and service industries.
Here are some observations that may interest you:
Singapore invests approximately $10.6 billion each year on 510,000 students, served by 34,000 teachers and 5,500 administrators. A great deal of the funds are committed to the preparation, support, and compensation of teachers, who are highest-paid in the world.
"We care for our teachers," noted Ho Peng, Director-General of Education for the Singapore Ministry of Education, reminding us that in Singapore, "Every teacher gets first-class preparation."
Singapore spends far more on its high-need students than its most gifted and privileged learners. The Singapore Ministry of Education fully funded the development of Crest, allowing founding principal Fred Yeo to work with 2 vice-principals and 16 teachers over the course of a year to plan and launch the school.
Teachers in Singapore teach less (and spend more time planning effective instruction) than their counterparts in many other countries. At Crest, teachers are assigned to teach only 16-18 hours a week so they can spend the rest of their time integrating curriculum, developing and scoring assessments, revising lessons, and working with community partners to serve their high-need students.
Singapore's teacher evaluation system does not fixate on student test scores. At Crest, how well teachers "identify with the kids" is a key factor in hiring decisions—remember, all teachers have already received "first-class preparation." Fred was adamant that effective teachers for the country's "gifted" and "much wealthier" students may not be the "right ones" for Crest. Fred was insistent that teachers "would never be rated 'down' just because of their students' academic scores." Teachers are assessed by administrators and peers on how well they teach, the pastoral care they offer their students, their relationships with parents, and their contributions to the school and beyond. As Fred put it, "I cannot decide who is an effective teacher or not all by myself."
Singapore's education system takes on "out-of-school" factors in student achievement and strives to develop a "culture of care" in schools. At Crest, teachers and administrators make home visits to ensure there are strong connections with parents—many of whom had "very poor experiences when they themselves were students." My visit revealed how the school's "culture of care" is experienced by students—like these I met—who told me how their teachers were "helpful" and "kind" and "made learning fun."
Read accounts from others who attended GCEN as part of the CTQ team.
Barnett Berry is CEO and partner at the Center for Teaching Quality. His most recent book is Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don't Leave (Jossey-Bass, 2013), coauthored with Ann Byrd and Alan Wieder.