Asia | September 7, 2017

Smart Singapore is getting even smarter about education

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We spill a lot of digital ink on ImpactAlpha about tech startups solving educational challenges and financing innovation to fill education funding gaps. But education is still mostly a public responsibility.

Singapore, widely viewed as having one of the world’s best public school systems, is doubling down. “The world is experiencing global uncertainties, technological disruptions, and contestations of values, all at an increasing rate of change,” says Singaporean academic and author Pak Tee Ng.

Although Singapore’s education system is robust, Ng told C. M. Rubin of the Global Search for Education, “it is changing to ensure that students have what it takes to meet the challenges of such a context and future.”

Singapore stands atop the OECD’s Pisa rankings, a global study of quality, equity and efficiency in school systems. Nearly every adult in Singapore can read. Known for its structured and efficient classrooms, Singapore now wants to make learning more joyful, says Ng, “So that students develop an intrinsic desire for lifelong learning” and are better prepared to deal with a complex future.

The country is also introducing more experiential learning, like sports, outdoor adventures, uniformed groups, and art to help students develop values, resilience and entrepreneurial skills.

Singapore spends roughly 20% of its national budget on education (the U.S. as a comparison spends about 6%), the upper bound of what the UN calls for to fulfill SDG №4 (“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”).

The system tracks with national level priorities to produce young adults that are economically productive and civically-minded. Ng, an associate dean at Singapore’s National Institute of Education, is the author of Learning from Singapore: The Power of Paradoxes, which tracks Singapore’s journey to educational excellence. “What if teachers are seen as nation builders and that the country is committed to recruit and develop good teachers and school leaders?” she asks.

“[Singapore’s} experience… shows the importance of national commitment to educational excellence — resource investment, long-term planning, judicious implementation, continuous professional development and teacher empowerment.”