Adventures in Singapore: What would happen if you could get everyone in the same room?
Meeting People in SingaporeOne of the great things about my job, is that by virtue of being an outsider, often organizations will bring together diverse groups of people to solve important challenges around technology integration (“Justin Reich is coming next week, let’s have him meet with all the stakeholders.)¬† But the meeting I had in Singapore on Friday blew all previous similar experiences out of the water. I had a sharing dialogue about technology integration in the history classroom that included the following people:
  • The curriculum design team for history
  • The Master Teacher for history in Singapore
  • representatives of the education technology division, including the key contact for history
  • two professors from the National Institute of Education, responsible for teacher training in Singapore.
Singapore WorkshopAs I sat listening to people introduce themselves, I thought to myself– “This meeting has possibly never occurred in any United States district or state.” I’ve never heard of a meeting where the people responsible for curriculum and assessment, pre-service teacher training, in-service teacher training, technology infrastructure design and training were all together in the same room tackling similar challenges. The very presence of these people in the same room– asking questions, finding common ground, working towards next steps–was a symbol of the remarkable coherence and integration of the Singapore educational system. The content of the meeting was shaped by two themes. One was that I was there, and so I could share what I saw as the reasons for tech integration in the U.S., our own best practices, etc. But the other theme was being instigated by the Master Teacher for history in Singapore, who believed that history education in Singapore needed to shift from transmitting narratives of history to having students develop the disciplinary skills of a historian. Previous to this meeting, the Master Teacher had been meeting with the Curriculum folks and the NIE folks about advancing that theme (one that the Master Teacher and I had been talking about previously, since I think he’s absolutely correct). So that team then brought in the technology folks to have a conversation about how ICT could play a role in advancing that initiative being developed among the key history stakeholders. Afterwards, the Master Teacher called the meeting “Epochal” and believed it represented a key point in moving towards a curriculum less focused on memorizing events and more focused on developing historical thinking skills. It was a great privilege to be in the room for the conversations. Early on, I was asked to speak a lot about tech integration in U.S. history courses, and then over time I became superfluous, as the technology people and the history people got into an extended dialogue about exactly what constituted historical thinking skills¬† and how ICT could support the development of those skills. Afterwards, a history teacher took me out to lunch, and I asked him if such meetings were special. And he said no! Getting all of the key stakeholders in the room happens around every initiative in Singapore. In fact, he said they usually have someone from the admin team–a finance person–who can help people understand what resources are available for such initiatives. It strikes me that this is one insight that I can take away from the Singapore experience, one that helps explain why education is Singapore has had such a profound transformation over the last 30 years. Part of the solution is as simple as making sure that you can get all the right people together in the same room.