Did you know that Singapore got the best academic results of any country tracked by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2016? It also took top place in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. What is Singapore’s secret? Attention has focused mostly on the drive to improve the country’s fortunes through education, but it is useful to look at how that has manifested.
In many countries, a high proportion of those entering teacher training do so because they have not been successful in finding jobs elsewhere. In Singapore, only the top 5 percent of graduates are eligible for such training, and salaries are high enough to attract the best talent to the profession. The standardisation of training makes it simple for the government to ensure that every teacher entering the classroom measures up, and the single curriculum means outcomes can easily be compared so that adjustments can be made where necessary.
The better educated the average child is, the more parents are willing to invest in making sure that their children are doing better still so that they can get ahead. Singaporean parents are famous for this, and the result is that many children have private tutors or take booster classes in addition to their lessons at school. Early help with maths seems to be particularly beneficial, although it’s important to make sure that children also get time to play and develop their social skills.
The government has been making moves to ensure that children get a good balance between formal learning and other aspects of their lives. Moves like the end to national comparisons of the best students are aimed at reducing stress, as is the increased focus on fun outdoor activities. Researchers have found that decreasing stress leads to students getting better grades overall, and this may be what has finally allowed Singapore to get the edge over close competitors like China and Japan.
Another important factor is the presence of great international schools in Singapore, whose results are considered alongside others when assessing overall success. Offering intensive support to students from a range of different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, they combine a focus on academic learning, understanding, and successful preparation for exams with an opportunity for students to learn from one another and acquire a rich, cosmopolitan understanding of the world.
Singapore stands as an example to the world of what can happen when investment in education is made a priority. A cultural focus on education and achievements stands in stark contrast to the growing climate of anti-intellectualism in some parts of the world and ensures that children who do well are socially rewarded and enjoy the clear economic advantages that education can bring. This has, in turn, made a strong contribution to the growth of the Singaporean economy, increasing the potential for investment and creating a virtuous cycle in which the greatest beneficiaries are children.