Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Curriculum - Singapore Heads in a Bold New Direction: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Curriculum - Singapore Heads in a Bold New Direction: News

Article excerpt

High-performing Asian nation shifts towards 'holistic' approach.

Singapore's performance in international school league tables has placed it among the world's elite and won it praise in the West for its rigorous approach to education.

But as reformers in the UK and the US emphasise the importance of core knowledge and traditional teaching methods, Singapore is sending its schools on a different trajectory. Holistic child development, student- centric lessons, a less prescriptive curriculum and flipped learning are among the radical reforms being introduced by the country.

"We go beyond academic education to work on the holistic development of the child," Lee Sing Kong, director of Singapore's National Institute of Education, told a seminar in London last week.

"We are emphasising a holistic education rather than one that just emphasises knowledge and skills," he added.

Professor Lee said the country was now aiming to give children the confidence and resilience to contribute to a "more equal and caring society". To create this "value-based and student-centric education", classrooms were being redesigned to encourage collaboration, with rows of desks replaced with circular or hexagonal tables.

"We are dealing with 21st-century digital learners who have a very different expectation of what learning is about," Professor Lee said. They prefer learning from their experiences and "like to study as a group", he added.

Singapore finished second out of more than 60 jurisdictions around the world in maths, fourth in science and fifth in reading in the most recent results of the influential Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).

England's education secretary Michael Gove originally planned to base his GCSE reforms on the country's two-tier exam system. But his curriculum changes are going in a different direction to Singapore, with a focus on prescribing core academic knowledge. In the US, influential academics including ED Hirsch and Daniel Willingham have argued for the need for schools to focus on core knowledge.

But John Bangs, a consultant for global teaching union confederation Education International, said that Singapore's shift in emphasis could result in other countries changing their approach. "Where Singapore leads, others follow," he said. "This shows a country with a highly responsive and flexible system, and is a harbinger of the things that are going to be argued for in the most successful countries elsewhere."

Professor Lee's National Institute of Education is one corner of a "triangle" that determines how education is run in Singapore. …

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