Our neighbour Singapore started with little natural resources but became one of the fastest developed country in the world. Education was among the country’s key strategies for nation building and for economic growth. Singapore’s improvement in education was not an accident, or some kind of natural phenomenon – it was a deliberate decision to use education as a foundation for building an advanced economy.
Today Singapore’s education is considered one of the best in the world. We should emulate some of these approaches:
> Make teaching a highly skilled and respected professionTeachers must be ranked on par with other professions like doctors, lawyers and engineers. The status of the teaching profession in a country has a profound impact on who aspires to enter the profession.
> Recruit the right peopleThere must be a strong emphasis on recruiting and developing excellent teachers. Recruit graduates with outstanding grades and skills, with the aim of attracting the brightest and the best into the classroom.
> Training and development The government must provide enough funds for a coherent, consistent and carefully-designed approach to teacher training and development.
> RetentionTeachers’ performance evaluation should be appraised annually by a number of people and against different competencies including their contribution to the academic and character development of the students in their charge, their collaboration with parents and community groups, and their contribution to their colleagues and the school as a whole. Teachers who do outstanding work should receive a bonus. After three years of teaching, teachers should be assessed annually to see which of three career paths would best suit them – master teacher, specialist in curriculum or research or school leader.
Each path should come with salary increments.
> Strong focus on Mathematics and Science Focus on the universal development of strong mathematics, science and technical skills. The goal in class should be to help students understand how to solve a mathematics problem – focus on the goal instead of one right answer. Make extensive use of visual aids and visualisation to help students understand mathematics. A concrete-pictorial-abstract model based on an understanding of how children learn mathematics rather than on language considerations, is good.
> Adapt curriculum to changes Consistently review the syllabus, curriculum and assessment, to adapt to the changes in technology and human development. A successful education system does not emerge perfectly-formed, but has to develop from an efficiency-based and ability-based system to current aspiration-based one.
> Lifelong learning
To ensure that the workforce remains competitive and to increase the education level, provide an array of workforce development programmes for people from various backgrounds. To support these efforts, varsities should provide incentive for its alumni to continue to upgrade their knowledge and upskill.
Singapore’s success lies on its purposeful commitment to nation building, rigorous and efficient implementation and constant fine-tuning of its education system to ensure relevance. If a small nation with limited resources can make it to the top in education, I don’t see any reason why we – with a Malaysia Boleh spirit – can’t.
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