Thursday, 10 November 2011


We need to constantly learn from successful examples of what works. In his brilliant article 'Singapore: Five days in thinking schools and a learning nation', which is on the OECD Education Today blog, Andreas SCHLEICHER says that he was struck most by the following features; meritocracy, vision, leadership and competency, coherence, clear goals, rigorous standards and high stakes gateways, high quality teachers and principals and intelligent accountability.

I heard not just from policy makers or educators but also from students of all ethnic backgrounds and all ranges of ability that education is the route to advancement and that hard work and effort eventually pays off. The government has put in place a wide range of educational and social policies to advance this goal, with early intervention and multiple pathways to education and career. The success of the government’s economic and educational policies has brought about immense social mobility that has created a shared sense of national mission and made cultural support for education a near-universal value.

Vision, leadership and competency
Leaders with a bold long-term vision of the role of education in a society and economy are essential for creating educational excellence. I was consistently impressed with the people I met at both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labour. These Ministries are staffed by knowledgeable, pragmatic individuals, trained at some of the best universities in the world. They function in a culture of continuous improvement, constantly assessing what is and isn’t working using both data and practitioner experience from around the world. I was speaking with Minister Heng about our Skills Strategy only to realise that he had already studied most of my slides. They also respect and are respected by professionals in the NIE as in the schools. The close collaboration between policy, research and practice provides a guiding coalition that keeps the vision moving forward and dynamic, expecting education to change as conditions change rather than being mired in the past.

In Singapore, whenever a policy is developed or changed, there seems enormous attention to the details of implementation – from the Ministry of Education, to the National Institute of Education, cluster superintendents, principals and teachers. The result is a remarkable fidelity of implementation which you see in the consistency of the reports from different stakeholders.

Clear goals, rigorous standards and high-stakes gateways
The academic standards set by Singapore’s Primary School Leaving Examination and O and A-levels are as high as anywhere in the world, and that is also what you see from their results in PISA. Students, teachers and principals all work very hard towards important gateways. Rigour, coherence and focus are the watchwords. Serious attention to curriculum development has produced strong programmes in maths, science, technical education and languages and ensured that teachers are well-trained to teach them. Having been very successful as a knowledge transmission education system, Singapore is now working on curriculum, pedagogy and assessments that will lead to a greater focus on high-level, complex skills.

High-quality teachers and principals
The system rests on active recruitment of talent, accompanied by coherent training and serious and continuing support that promote teacher growth, recognition, opportunity and well-being. And Singapore looks ahead, realising that as the economy continues to grow and change it will become harder to recruit the kind of top-level people into teaching that are needed to support 21st century learning.

Intelligent accountability
Singapore runs on performance management. To maintain the performance of teachers and principals, serious attention is paid to setting annual goals, to garnering the needed support to meet them and to assessing whether they have been met. Data on student performance are included, but so too are a range of other measures, such as contribution to school and community, and judgements by a number of senior practitioners. Reward and recognition systems include honours and salary bonuses. Individual appraisals take place within the context of school excellence plans. While no country believes it has got accountability exactly right, Singapore’s system uses a wide range of indicators and involves a wide range of professionals in making judgements about the performance of adults in the system."

You can read the whole article by visiting the OECD Education Today blog at

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