Singapore Education–Teachers Leading the Next Level of Work
So if you are one of the world’s best education systems, how do you keep getting better? In Singapore, the answer is the Academy of Singapore Teachers.
Year of the Dragon
One of the most important points that came out of the McKinsey evaluation of global education was that the strategies that get a school system from poor to fair are different than the strategies that get you from fair to good, from good to great, and beyond. In Singapore, getting from poor to great over 30 years has involved a very tight alignment of the educational system with very strong top-down leadership. They’ve aligned their curriculum with their assessments, strengthened teacher training, and aligned teacher training with curriculum. They’ve developed a culture of continuous improvement with regular effort to assess their performance to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t. They have a clear set of goals, a common language of instruction, and sound organization and financial foundations. For Singapore, the next level of work isn’t doing better on standardized tests, it’s developing 21st century skills like self-directed learning and collaboration. And the methods for getting to the next level won’t be the same as the methods that have gotten them to this point. Rather than mandating innovation from the top, Singapore is trying to support and nurture innovation from it’s teaching force. Hence, they created the Academy of Singapore Teachers, a professional development and learning organization staffed by teachers with a mission to support and nurture innovation in pedagogy across Singapore’s schools, to increasing collaborative learning amongst Singapore’s teachers, and to empower those teachers to be the developers of their own curriculum. (Another part of their mission is to bring in ideas from outside of Singapore: hence, Tom and I coming over as Educators in Residence).
Giant Inflatable New Year Animatronic
The Academy has its work cut out for it. They aren’t just leading a change in certain kinds of practices, but in a whole culture. Through strong central leadership, Singapore has one of the most professional teaching forces in the world. Now, their mission is to tap the potential inherent in that group, to distribute leadership across the system, and to shift the culture from fulfilling a centrally planned mission to developing distributed excellence and sharing successful innovations across the system. As their ethos states: “Teachers are best placed to lead and uphold the standing of the profession.” To me, it seems like Singapore needs a little bit more of the U.S., where we are quite used to innovations emerging from classroom practice (witness the spread of the flipped classroom as a model emerging from a couple of high school science teacher). It also seems like in the U.S., we could use a little bit more of the coherence and alignment that Singapore has.