Singapore’s public education system is viewed as one of the best in the world based on its students’ continued high performance on the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) PISA test (Program for International Student Assessment). The CoSN delegation’s visit to the National Institute of Education (NIE) provided a chance for us to learn the strategy Singapore has used to push its student achievement close to the #1 spot on the international test. The NIE is charged with selecting candidates and providing preparation and ongoing support to the country’s teaching force to ensure that teacher quality is the highest possible.
Step one in this development approach is a rigorous process for selecting candidates for the teacher preparation program. Potential teachers must have scored in the top tier of the British style tests administered to secondary school students and are then subject to extensive interviews with the admissions committee to ascertain their aptitude for working with young people and their ability to demonstrate the Singapore Teacher Identity and Values of character and citizenship; professional practice and inquiry; group endeavor in service learning; and confronting biases and challenging assumptions. The NIE reports that only one in ten applicants is selected for the preparation program.
The NIE prepares teachers for work with students in grades one through twelve; pre-K and Kindergarten teachers are prepared in a two year program at the technical colleges. Key success factors of the NIE’s teacher education programs include a strong partnership model among NIE, the Singapore Ministry of Education, and the local schools. This close relationship ensures that all stakeholders understand and share the same mission and vision of developing thinking teachers. The partnership’s goals are for teacher graduates to be-
- Creators of knowledge; not merely consumers
- Facilitators of learning; not merely transmitters
- Architects of learning environments; not merely implementers
- Shaper of characters; not merely participants, and
- Leaders of educational change; not merely followersOne of the challenges in meeting these ambitious goals is the Asian culture that values respect for elders; discipline in approach to learning; and a reluctance of students to challenge authority or question information given. In an attempt to provide strategies for encouraging more student-teacher interaction, the NIE has created classroom spaces that encourage collaborative exchanges with bright colors, round tables and moveable furniture to modify spaces to accommodate a variety of activities.To support ongoing professional development every school has a full time staff development professional and continued emphasis on leadership development that emphasizes change management. Naturally, the use of technology for teaching and learning factors into leadership development and change management and is an integral part of the teacher preparation programs and staff support. While the scale of the public education enterprise in Singapore is much smaller than public schooling in the United States, we can still learn a great deal from the impressive approach to teacher preparation and ongoing support in our own educator workforce development efforts.