Dream, Design, Deliver: How Singapore Developed a High-Quality Teacher Force

By Stewart, Vivien | Phi Delta Kappan, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Dream, Design, Deliver: How Singapore Developed a High-Quality Teacher Force


Stewart, Vivien, Phi Delta Kappan


When Singapore gained its independence from Britain in 1965, it was a poverty-stricken, malaria-and opium-infested tropical island with few natural resources and a population of warring ethnic and religious groups that was largely uneducated. Today, Singapore is a gleaming, global hub of trade, finance, and transportation, one of Asia's great success stories, and its schools are high on the list of the world's best-performing school systems. Educators from around the world now visit this city-state to see how Singapore has achieved its world-beating levels of performance in math, science, and literacy. The answer, according to Singapore educators, is simple--a coherent curriculum delivered to every school by high-quality teachers.

Recognizing that it had few other resources, Singapore's policy makers decided early on to invest in human resources and to dream, design, and deliver a solid education to every child. High-quality teachers and school leaders form the cornerstone of that system. A high-quality teacher workforce doesn't simply happen by chance or as a result of a "cultural respect" for teaching; it's a result of deliberate policy choices. Singapore has developed a comprehensive system for selecting, training, compensating, and developing teachers and principals. Key elements of that system are:

Recruitment: The Ministry of Education carefully selects prospective teachers from the top third of the secondary school graduating class. Strong academics are essential, but so are a commitment to the profession and to serving diverse student bodies. Teachers receive a stipend equivalent to 60% of a teacher salary while in training and commit to teaching for at least three years. Interest in teaching is seeded early through teaching internships. A system for mid-career entry also exists.

Training: All teachers study the Singapore curriculum at the country's National Institute of Education at Nanyang Technological University, either in a diploma or a degree course depending on their level of education at entry. There is a close working relationship between the institute and schools, where master teachers mentor every new teacher for several years.

Compensation: Each year, the Ministry of Education examines a range of occupational starting salaries and may adjust the salaries for beginning teachers to ensure that teaching is seen as equally attractive with other occupations for new graduates. Teacher salaries do not increase over time as much as those in some other professions, but there are many opportunities for teachers to assume other roles, as described below.

Professional Development: Teachers are entitled to 100 hours of professional development per year. This may be undertaken in several ways. Courses at the National Institute of Education focus on subject matter and pedagogical knowledge and lead toward higher degrees. Much of the professional development is school-based, led by school staff developers, whose job it is to know where there are problems in the school--for example, with a group's math performance--or to introduce new practices--such as project-based learning--or new uses of information technologies. Each school also has a fund through which it can support teacher growth, including the development of fresh perspectives by going abroad to examine aspects of education in other countries. A Singapore Teachers' Centre is set to open later in 2010 to further encourage teachers to continuously share best practices. …

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