#iCTLT2010 If I were asked to give a one-phrase description of education in Singapore, I should have to say that the overriding impression is one of faith and trust. Faith in the ability of the child to rise to challenges that we might consider beyond their years. Trust in the ability of the teacher to guide the youngsters and nurture their talents and abilities.
Faith and trust also in their ability to look at what other countries have done and experiment and come up with solutions all their own.
I am not naive. I understand that when one visits a foreign country, one will be shown the best, not the worst or even the mediocre. But seeing the best is actually what should happen: we need to see what our own students might aspire to given the right circumstances and ingredients.
Two mottos struck me as especially noteworthy. One is the Ministry of Education's ideal that teachers should teach less in order that students may learn more. Teach Less, Learn More, or TLLM, appears to be another way of stating the 'guide on the side' idea, but it seems to me to run deeper. The TLLM philosophy is not simply to leave the students to it, but to encourage and guide them in asking important questions, and then seeking the answers.
The other motto is 'Every Child Ready for the World'. This strikes me as so much more positive than our own, unfortunately necessary, Every Child Matters. One of the strengths of our education system is that it considers the whole child; school is not only an educational (in the narrow sense) establishment, but the hub of the community and the locus for all sorts of services – police, social, medical – that may impinge on the individual child.
But that is also its weakness. As Michael Gove has pointed out, there is no official body in England that is solely concerned with excellence in school. We do not have a ministry of education, we have a department for children, schools and families. Even Ofsted, the inspection body, is not exclusively focused on schools, but in everything ranging from childcare provision to old age homes.
I'm not familiar enough with the Singaporean education system to be able to say whether they have cracked this dilemma, of striking the right balance between the academic and the social and emotional aspects of the child's experience. But certainly what we saw was impressive: students, even as young as 8, who were articulate about what they have done, and why; students who have worked with mentors in further education in extended projects; students who are able to work well with each other.
I don't think they have completely got it right. A teacher who has been doing very innovative work in science gives her class a pencil and paper test every six weeks. There is no slot on the curriculum for ICT, which is embedded in other subjects across the curriculum. Many will agree with this philosophically, but in my experience it's quite difficult to make it work.
Despite such doubts, for me the real issue is not whether Singaporean children are ready for the world, but whether the world is ready for them.