Sunday 12 February 2012

'Every child must be trained for the future' - Education Minister Heng Swee Keat

World economy will get even more complex, says Education Minister
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 10 Feb 2012

WASHINGTON: Every child must be educated and equipped with the skills that will let him thrive in the economy of the future, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

While Singapore has built an education system admired for its high student achievement rates and top-notch teaching force, it must now align its system to cope with the fast pace of globalisation, technological change and innovation.

The world economy will become even more complex and jobs do not have clearly defined boundaries, Mr Heng told an audience of 200 participants at the Singapore Conference here on Wednesday.

Elaborating, he said that the line between manufacturing and services has blurred. And both are also overlaid with the digital economy, he added, noting for example that IT giant Apple sells 'an experience, not just a product'.

On how technology is changing swiftly, he noted how the Human Genome Project, started in 1990, took 13 years and nearly US$4 billion to complete.

But last month, a private company in California announced a machine that will map an entire genome for US$1,000 (S$1,250) in one day.

A more complex economy means a greater variety of different jobs will exist, requiring a wide range of skills.

Said Mr Heng: 'Hence, to prepare our students for the future, it is critical for us to have some notions of the variety and demands of the jobs of the future. The education system can then tailor the right skill sets for each individual.

'Not all the jobs will require academic degrees. Indeed, in many areas, practical, hands-on skills are valued.'

He added that aligning education to industry needs as Singapore does with its universities, Institute of Technical Education and polytechnics will continue to be critical. 'But in whatever area, deep skills, high standards and strong motivation will be needed.'

A strong focus on science, technology, engineering and maths in education should be preserved, he said.

Mr Heng also touched on the diversification of the school system over the last few years, explaining the need to create multiple pathways for students to excel.

But this does not mean everyone gets to do the course of his choice, as the programmes are competitive to ensure standards, he added.

It is also critical to equip students with the basic knowledge and motivation to be lifelong and adaptable learners and have other 21st century skills such as information and communication know-how, critical and inventive thinking, and civil literacy and cross-cultural skills.

Ultimately though, he said, the best policies alone are not enough.

Ministry officials and school leaders must be clear about the principles and there must be 'fidelity of implementation'. All parts of the education system must support the policy implementation, including the teachers, parents and even the physical facilities of a school.

Educators will remain key to the structure. 'No system of education can be better than its teachers,' he said.

During his visit here over the past week, American officials have heaped praises on the Singapore education system and during the panel discussion following his speech, similar responses flowed.

Panellist Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University professor in education, said the US could learn from Singapore's teacher recruitment and development process.

Praising the Singapore Government's policy of paying teachers 'top dollar', she noted that by comparison, the US paid its teachers 'much, much less than other college graduates'.

The deep cuts in education spending in the US, she warned, would leave the country behind while other countries like Singapore forged ahead with their investments in education.

Co-panellist Joanne Weiss, chief of staff to US Education Secretary Arne Duncan and who visited Singapore schools last year, said she was impressed by the 'culture of continuous improvement' in education. 'Singapore policymakers go out, identify the best practices and bring it back and adapt them to the context of the country. They then replicate them across the schools in the country.'

To see videos, speeches, and interviews from the Singapore Conference, go to

'An education system for every student' 
by Ng Jing Yng, TODAY, 8 Feb 2012

WASHINGTON DC - Developing an education system that caters to every student while providing each of them many pathways would be essential for Singapore to remain relevant in a changing world, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat. 

Speaking to Singaporean students studying in the US on Monday (yesterday morning, Singapore time), Mr Heng noted the current "challenging and exciting times" and added that Singapore can play a role in linking Asia with other parts of the world. As Singapore has limited resources, Mr Heng felt the key would be to develop the quality of its people and education can play "a very critical role".

The education system, however, cannot only cater to the top profiles or to certain segments of the population. "It is about developing the entire (education) system so that every child is given an opportunity whether they go to ITE or polytechnic or university," said Mr Heng. "It doesn't matter as long as we help everyone to be the best that they can be and we give them the opportunity to grow and to develop."

Students raised concerns on the rigour and rote learning nature of Singapore's education regime during the dialogue with Mr Heng. Mr Chua Ee Chien, a student at Brigham Young University, shared how he was able to spend more time in his stronger humanities subjects after switching to an international school. The 23-year-old suggested striking a better balance between students taking core subjects and studying those they are good in. Other students also pointed out the "trade-offs" in the in-depth focus within the local curriculum, which they feared may stifled students' creativity.

Georgetown University undergraduate Nicole Yi, however, stood by the academic rigour in Singapore, especially during her junior college's education. It gave her a headstart in research as compared to some of her university peers, she said. 

In response, Mr Heng noted that the students' feedback - though mostly critical - reflected confidence and analytical skills brought about by the students' past education journey. "By acquiring the rigorous foundation, it sets our students up for success later," he said. "The rigours that we have, the standards that we have, are things we should not be apologetic about because that really builds our foundation for whatever learning that we want."

Mr Heng also responded to a question on Singapore's future higher education landscape, noting that institutes such as the National University of Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University are moving towards helping students acquire knowledge across various faculties.

In the polytechnics and Institutes of Technical Education, he added that the facilities and education gave pupils there a strong standing and this has resulted in overseas interest from the US and other countries.

"For us, a country with very limited resources … We have to design a system that serves not just one or two students but serves the entire population and gives everyone a solid grounding that allows them to move forward," he said.

Mr Heng is on a visit to the US and he will witness the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on collaboration in the education sector between the two countries.

S'pore and US to tie up on teacher development
Joint master's course to train educators to be leaders who can push innovation
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2012

WASHINGTON: A Singapore-United States collaboration that began with the teaching of mathematics and science will now expand into the training of teachers.

The two countries inked a deal on Tuesday to offer a joint master's programme to groom future teaching leaders.

The National Institute of Education (NIE) will offer the programme jointly with Columbia University's Teachers College, a leading postgraduate institution renowned for its work in curriculum theory, design and innovation.

The two institutions will combine their strengths and expertise to train educators to be leaders who can push through curriculum change and innovation, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat here on Tuesday.

He was speaking after signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with his US counterpart, Education Secretary Arne Duncan here.

The agreement, he said, builds on the first US-Singapore MOU signed in 2002, which focused primarily on the teaching and learning of mathematics and science.

Over the years, educators from both sides have engaged in dialogues, sharing sessions, and projects in the teaching and learning of the two subjects.

Singapore mathematics textbooks, adapted for American children, are used by many school districts in the US.

An Education Ministry delegation visited Washington in 2009 to share the Singapore method for teaching mathematics and to launch a book on the approach. There are also longstanding collaborations in the learning of science at the school level.

These exchanges will continue, but two new areas of collaboration will be in teacher development and school leadership and in education research and benchmarking studies, said Mr Heng.

On the two countries coming together to develop educational leaders, he said that Singapore needs good teachers and good school leaders working together to deliver a holistic and future-oriented curriculum.

On educational research and benchmarking studies, he said, joint studies will help both countries deepen their understanding of best practices in education.

'The US has many peaks of excellence and it is useful for us to look at what works and in what context,' he said.

He said what struck him during his meeting with Mr Duncan was the US government's strong sense of urgency and commitment to improving the education system to ensure longer-term economic competitiveness.

He said US educationists are interested in how Singapore aligns its education policy to its economic future.

The NIE, which gave out more details on the joint programme called the Master of Arts in Leadership and Educational Change, said Teachers College professors will fly to Singapore to teach the course along with its top faculty.

The degree will be jointly awarded by the parent universities of the two institutions, namely Columbia University and Nanyang Technological University.

Said NIE director Lee Sing Kong: 'The course will see the cross-pollination of expertise, research and resources between NIE and Teachers College.'

He said the course is timely and relevant to teachers in Singapore as the ministry has for some time moved away from the top-down approach in curriculum development.

'The ministry is encouraging schools to come up with their own innovations in curriculum development and delivery, to customise it to suit the needs of their students.

'The course is relevant to heads of department and subject heads who are expected to lead teams of teachers to innovate in curriculum design and delivery.'

Applications will begin in May and full-time study at NIE will commence in January next year. Fees have been set at $32,000.

Teachers College provost Thomas James said the programme will 'prepare leaders who can rise to the challenge of creating world-class teaching and learning across local contexts that are increasingly diverse, fast-changing, and interconnected in the global economy'.

'Along the way, we are learning from one another and strengthening our capabilities to discover what is most effective in shaping curriculum and school organisation,' he said.

Mr Heng said Singapore's collaborations with other countries are part of its continuing effort to provide the best possible education for its citizens.

'Whether in the US or Singapore, we all want our children to be well prepared for the future,' he said.

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