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Education Reforms in Singapore

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1 Education Reforms in Singapore
Ka-Ho Mok Associate Vice President Chair Professor, Department of Asian and Policy Studies The Hong Kong Institute of Education Changjiang Chair Professor, Zhejiang University, China

2 OUTLINE The Objectives of Singapore’s Education Background
Education Reforms in Singapore Implications for Hong Kong

3 The Singapore’s Education Objectives
A child to bring out his greatest potential so that he will grow up into a good man and useful citizen” (Lee, 1979, p. iii) Education for Nation Building Education serving economic development Education serving social and cultural development Education for maintaining and enhancing Singapore’s global competitiveness Education as tool for Globalizing Singapore and assertion of Singapore’s soft power

4 Background The foundation Singapore’s education system was laid in 1956 in the proposals of the All-Party Report on Chinese Education (Singapore Government, 1956). It proposed a system that met the educational needs of the various ethnic groups (Chinese, Malay, Tamil and others).

5 Background The People’s Action Party, which released in 1959 went further to propose that education should break down the walls of cultural and linguistic separation through the encouragement of multilingualism, the use of locally-oriented textbooks and by giving schools a sense of common purpose and a common direction.

6 Background The Singapore government thus provided the uniform curriculum for all types of schools, taking English as the instruction language.

7 The Changing Point (1965) The year 1965 marked the most important turning point in the history of Singapore as a complete political independent country. The new political, economic and social conditions required that national policies be re-assessed. This was also the case with education.

8 Changing Education Policies (1960s - 1970s)
The study of a second language (native language) in all secondary schools was made as compulsory since With the export-oriented industrialization in the late 1960s, the school system experienced the shift in emphasis from academic to technical education.

9 Changing Education Policies (1960s - 1970s)
To develop post-secondary technical and vocational education at the polytechnics, the Singapore government has set up the Vocational and Industrial Training Board in 1979 through a merger of the then existing Industrial Training Board and the Adult Education Board.

10 The Consequences of the Changes (1960s-1970s)
For a large part of the 1970s, education managed to provide a workforce to meet the manpower needs of a burgeoning industrial economy. However, as the economy matured, the types of skills required were changing. In addition, there was high attrition when the education system became too rigid and inflexible and thus inefficient. The bilingual requirement, as understood then, was also seen to be making an excessive demand on the students. Reform of the system was therefore inevitable.

11 Report on the Ministry of Education (1979)
The 1979 Report recommended a method of streaming pupils based on academic ability, principally ability in languages and mathematics. On the basis of a series of tests, examinations and teachers’ reports, pupils were to be streamed into different courses of study to cater better to their needs and pace of learning. This type of academic tracking or streaming was adopted at both the primary and secondary levels, marking a major structural innovation to the system, which was then called the New Education System.

12 Report on the Ministry of Education (1979)
This New Education System comprised the provision of streaming and changes to the school curriculum including the provision of an additional year in school for those in the weakest stream. Notable changes in the curriculum included greater emphasis on language education in primary schools, the provision of moral education as a subject in both primary and secondary schools, and the introduction in 1982 of religious knowledge as a compulsory subject in the upper secondary curriculum.

13 Other Developments in 1980s
There are two other developments, namely, the establishment of the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore (CDIS) in 1980 and the Schools Council in 1981 were very significant during this period. CDIS was designed to produce teaching materials for schools, including textbooks, multi-media materials and educational television programs. The Schools Council itself involved principals in the decision-making process at the Ministry level. The establishment of the Schools Council was also seen as the first step towards giving school principals greater autonomy and wider responsibility with regards to decision-making.

14 Recession in 1985 Since “in the modern world, education and economic performance are indivisible” (Tan, 1992), the recession in 1985 has deeply influenced the education system in Singapore. The negative economic growth in 1985 reminded the government of the vulnerability of Singapore’s economy to both internal and external factors.

15 Recession in 1985 The Minister for Education thus announced in 1986 principles or guidelines for Education Ministry as: Education policy must keep pace with the economy and society. The basics, i.e. languages, science, mathematics, and the humanities, will be stressed to encourage logical thinking and life-long learning. Creativity in schools must be boosted through a ‘bottom-up’ approach whereby initiatives must come from principals and teachers instead of from the Ministry (Tan, 1986).

16 Working towards Excellent in Education (1985–1995)
The guideline has marked a new era in Singapore’s education: the effort to establish excellent education system. The Ministry of Education then organized a study tour made by 12 senior school principals to the USA and the UK to identify factors which would make for a good and effective school. The report prepared by this group of principals, entitled Towards Excellence in Schools (1987), was seen as a “breakthrough” in fostering educational innovation at the school level, and marking “a new phase in the development of education in Singapore” (Tan, 1986).

17 Working towards Excellent in Education (1985–1995)
To support the move towards greater excellence in the school system, teacher education was also upgraded with the formation in July 1991 of the National Institute of Education (NIE), by merging the former Institute of Education and the College of Physical Education.

18 Globalization and Economic Crisis
The 1990s saw globalization processes accelerating, aided by the widespread use of the. In the later part of the decade, East Asian economies also experienced, as noted earlier, a sharp recession—beginning in 1997, with differentiated rates of recovery as the decade ended. These two developments, among others, accelerated the questioning of the resilience of the existing education systems in the context of new demands for economic competitiveness.

19 From Quantity to Quality
Under this context, the Singapore government has conducted another education reform emphasizing “Thinking Schools, Learning Nation” (TSLN), which provided direction to the transformation in the education system since Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, then Prime Minister, explained that it was a vision for a total learning environment, including students, teachers, parents, workers, companies, community organizations and the government (Goh 1997).

20 From Quantity to Quality
To be more specific, thinking Schools is a vision of a school system that can develop creative thinking skills, lifelong learning passion and nationalistic commitment in the young. Learning Nation is a vision of learning as a national culture, where creativity and innovation flourishes at every level of the society .

21 From Quantity to Quality
Realizing the importance of advanced technology, The Singapore government issued the Master plan for Information Technology in Education in the same year, attempting to incorporate information technology in teaching and learning so that the quality of education could be improved. The government has been generous in its pledges of support both for physical infrastructure and for pre- and in-service training. Whole-school networking is to be installed in all schools: the target is one computer to be available for every two students and one notebook for every two teachers.

22 From Quantity to Quality
To further improve the national competitiveness, in 2004, Prime Minister Lee called teachers to “teach less” so that students might “learn more”. In 2005, the Ministry of Education clarified this philosophical statement to mean transforming learning from quantity to quality—“more quality and less quantity” in education. This is in line with the national vision of ‘Thinking Schools, Learning Nation’. This policy initiative, which began in 2004, is set to change the fundamental nature of education in Singapore.

23 From Quantity to Quality
Just as Minister Tharman (2005) said that: Our basic approach, as we go forward, is to go for more quality and less quantity. We will focus on the quality of learning, quality of CCA and community engagements and the quality of the whole school experience that the student goes through. We will seek to cut back on quantity, careful and calculated cuts, so as to provide more “whitespace” in the curriculum, space which gives schools and teachers the room to introduce their own programs, to inject more quality into teaching, to reflect more, to have more time for preparing lessons and to give students themselves the room to exercise initiative and to shape their own learning.

24 From Quantity to Quality
Aims “to touch the hearts and engage the minds of our learners. It reaches into the core of education—why we teach, what we teach and how we teach”, Tharman (2005) claimed “less dependence on rote learning, repetitive tests and a ‘one size fits all’ type of instruction, and more on engaged learning, discovery through experiences, differentiated teaching, the learning of life-long skills, and the building of character through innovative and effective teaching approaches and strategies.” Moreover, more opportunities will be created for “holistic learning so that students can go beyond narrowly defined academic excellence to develop the attributes, mindsets, character and values for future success”.

25 Higher Education Reform
The education reforms were also conducted in higher education area. There have been three major stages of higher education reforms in recent years: The first stage was started by setting up an International Academic Advisory Panel (IAAP), comprising prominent scholars from international higher education institutions or community leaders from big corporations, to help the universities develop into world-class institutions in terms of teaching and research (MOE, Singapore, 2001).

26 Higher Education Reform
Taking the recommendations made by the IAAP seriously, the government started to review its university admissions system by adopting a more flexible admissions policy (MOE, Singapore, 1999). Moving beyond recruiting students almost based solely on their academic scores, both the public universities announced in 1999 that they would henceforth pay attention to students’ non-academic performance and recognize their achievements in co-curricular activities and school-based project work.

27 Higher Education Reform
In order to prepare and equip students for globalization challenges, the Singapore government has reviewed the curriculum design of university education and emphasis is now placed on a broad-based cross-disciplinary university education. More innovative ways of teaching and assessment have been introduced with a focus on creative and critical thinking.

28 Higher Education Reform
Meanwhile, the role of universities in knowledge creation has been strengthened through postgraduate and research education in the universities. Universities constitute a significant resource of new ideas and inventions with the potential for commercial applications by enhancing their research capabilities and engaging in more multi-disciplinary research.

29 Higher Education Reform
The second stage of higher education reforms saw the establishment of Singapore’s third university in August The privately owned Singapore Management University (SMU) was formed in collaboration with the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. The foundation of the SMU was a landmark in Singapore’s higher education history. By introducing different governance and funding style, the government intends to make its higher education sector more vibrant and dynamic. It also intends to inject a certain degree of “internal competition” to the university sector (Lee and Gopinathan, 2001).

30 Higher Education Reform
The third stage of higher education reforms is closely related to University Governance and Funding Review in 2000 embarked by the MOE, Singapore. The purpose of such a review was to ensure that systems and structures in relation to talent management, organizational processes and resource allocation within the universities were properly linked up to their mission and objectives of development in the long run. Overseas study trips to Hong Kong, Canada, the UK and the USA were conducted in September 1999 to identify good practices in overseas universities (MOE, Singapore, 2000).

31 Higher Education Reform
The review committee released its recommendations on public university governance and funding in July 2000, In exchange for greater autonomy, the NUS and the NTU were urged to be more responsive in making timely decisions and adjustments in order to achieve excellence. At the same time, the universities had to put in place systems and structures of talent management, organizational processes and resource allocation to achieve highest value for money and rates of return from public investment in university education.

32 Quest for Education Hub
During this period, repositioning itself in the globalizing world, together with the ambition to assert the “soft power”, Singapore government has openly declared its intention and plans for regional education hub projects. When discussing education hubs, we should realize the diverse meanings of “education hubs” since some may interpret such hubs as “knowledge or innovation hubs” (Olds, 2007; Wong, Ho, and Singh, 2007), others may refer to the “education industry” (Lai and Maclean, 2011) or “a way to internationalize higher education” (Chan and Ng, 2008; Knight, 2004; Mok, 2007).

33 Quest for Education Hub
However, the pressing need for transforming into the knowledge-based economy has exceeded the capacity of Singapore to quickly expand their public institutions to offer sufficient opportunities for higher education to their population. One major strategy adopted by some Asian governments to enhance the global competitiveness of their higher education is to bring in overseas campuses to offer different forms of international education programs, attracting students in the region and beyond.

34 Quest for Education Hub
However, as far as the quest for a regional hub of education is concerned, policies of quality enhancement and corporatization of public universities alone may be far from sufficient. More opportunities for higher education, both in terms of the number and variety, have to be provided to Singaporeans as well as foreign learners from the region.

35 Quest for Education Hub
The outcomes of Singapore government’s active measures were obvious: by 2003, Singapore’s public universities and polytechnics could only enroll around 40,000 and 56,000 students respectively; on the other hand, 119,000 students were enrolled by around 170 private tertiary providers, of which 140 offered programs in collaboration with foreign institutions and enrolled 75% of the total student population in this section. The importance of transnational education provision in Singapore has therefore become obvious.

36 Quest for Education Hub
Meanwhile, in order to tap into the lucrative education market more aggressively, the Singapore government launched its Global Schoolhouse initiative in In fact, ever since 1998, the government, through efforts taken by its Economic Development Board (EDB) instead of its Ministry of Education, has strategically invited “world-class” and “reputable” universities from abroad to set up their Asian campuses in the city-state.

37 Quest for Education Hub
As a result, Singapore is today home to 16 leading foreign tertiary institutions and 44 pre- tertiary schools offering international curricula (EDB, Singapore Government, 2009), ranging from business, management arts, media, hospitality to information technology, biomedical sciences and engineering.

38 Quest for Education Hub
In 2003, a further and more integrated step was taken by the government to promote Singapore as a premier education hub. Singapore Education, a multi-government agency initiative, is led by the EDB and supported by the Tourism Board, SPRING Singapore, International Enterprise (IE) Singapore and the Ministry of Education.

39 Quest for Education Hub
According to the official website of Singapore Education (Singapore Education, 2006), EDB is responsible for attracting “internationally renowned educational institutions to set up campuses in Singapore”, whereas the Tourism Board is tasked with overseas promotion and marketing of Singapore education, and IE Singapore is in charge of helping quality local education institutions to develop their businesses and set up campuses overseas.

40 Quest for Education Hub
Another significant strategy adopted by the government in promoting transnational higher education is the joint-degree program arranged between the local universities and their overseas partners. Local Singapore universities are actively collaborating with peer universities across the world in a diversified spectrum of academic programs, bringing together rich resources in such fields. Students are granted the freedom to study at both campuses and receive supervision and teaching from the faculties of both universities..

41 Quest for Education Hub
And finally, as part of its policy to support transnational higher education, the Singapore government also offers a comprehensive package of financial aid to international students through several public channels. The tuition fees for them are only 10% above the local rate, and they can apply for whatever financial assistance schemes open to local students, including scholarships provided by the “Singapore Scholarship” and tuition grants conditional on the agreement of working for a Singapore-registered company for at least three years upon graduation. Moreover, there are numerous bursaries provided by individual tertiary institutions, and student loans are also available at favorable interest rates.

42 Quest for Education Hub
In short, the most recent achievements of Singapore’s quest for education hub are as follows: In 2007, there were an estimated 86,000 international students from 120 countries studying in Singapore. Over 1,200 private HEIs and 44 pre-tertiary schools offer international curricula in Singapore. RafflesEducationCorp,thelargestprivateeducationgroupinAsia,hasestablished its international headquarters in Singapore. About 61,000 students are studying in its 28 colleges around the Asia-Pacific region.

43 Quest for Education Hub
Public universities have also played a role in its quest to be a regional hub of education. The three autonomous universities enroll 20% international students who mainly come from ASEAN, China and India. Most of them were enrolled in Engineering and Science courses. As of 2008, the education sector (all levels) contributed about 2% of Singapore’s GDP and is forecasted to reach 5% by 2015.

44 Implications for Hong Kong
Strategic role of the government in education planning Closer cooperation between the state, education sectors, market and civil society Education not only for locals but also for international students for soft power assertion Education and nation building, as tool for economic, social and cultural developments Planning matters, importance of having strategic vision and concrete implementation plans

45 Reference Chan, K.K., & Ng, P.T. (2008). Developing transnational higher education: Comparing the approaches of Hong Kong and Singapore. International Journal of Educational Reform, 17(3), 291 – 307. Cheng, Y.-C., S.-W. Ng, and C.-K.A. Cheung A technical research report on the development of Hong Kong as a regional education hub. Hong Kong: The Hong Kong Institute of Education. Garrett, R. (2005), “The rise and fall of transnational higher education in Singapore”, International Higher Education, Spring, pp. 1-3. Goh, C. T. (1997). Shaping our future: Thinking schools, learning nation. Singapore Government Press Release. Speech by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong at the Opening of the 7th International Conference on Thinking, 2 June. Ho, B. T., Netto-Shek, J.-A., & Chang, S. C. A. (Eds.), (2004). Managing project work in schools: Issues and innovative practices. Singapore: Prentice Hall.

46 Reference Kam, H. W., & Gopinathan, S. (1999). Recent developments in education in Singapore. School effectiveness and school improvement, 10(1), Knight, J. (2004). Internationalization remodeled: Definitions, approaches, and rationales. Journal of Studies in International Education, 8(1), 5–31. Lasanowski, V. (2009). International student mobility: Status report. London: The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education. Lee, H.H. and Gopinathan, S. (2001), “Centralized decentralization of higher education in Singapore”, Education and Society, Vol. 19 No. 3, pp Lee, H. L. (2004). Our future of opportunity and promise. Singapore Government Press Release. Address by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the 2004 National Day Rally at the University Cultural Centre, National University of Singapore, 22 August.

47 Reference Ministry of Education (MOE), Singapore (1999), Singapore Preparing Graduates for a Knowledge Economy: A New University Admission System for Singapore, Ministry of Education, Singapore. Ministry of Education (MOE), Singapore (2000a), Greater Autonomy for NUS and NTU, along with Greater Accountability, press release, Ministry of Education, Singapore, 27 January. Ministry of Education (MOE), Singapore (2000b), Government Accepts Recommendations on University Governance and Funding, press release, Ministry of Education, Singapore, 3 July. Ministry of Education (MOE), Singapore (2001), International Academic Advisory Panel Third Meeting, Singapore, 8-11 January 2001, press release, Ministry of Education, Singapore, 8 January. Ministry of Education. (2005). Project work. Retrieved July 14, 2007 from projectwork/

48 Reference Ministry of Education, Singapore. (2010). List of external degree programme. Retrieved from Mok, J. K., & Lee, M. H. (2003). Globalization or glocalization? Higher education reforms in Singapore. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 23(1), Mok, K.H. (2007). The search for new governance: Corporatisation and privatisation of public universities in Malaysia and Thailand. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 27, 271–290. Mok, K. H. (2008). Singapore's global education hub ambitions: university governance change and transnational higher education. International Journal of Educational Management, 22(6), Mok, K. H. (2011). The quest for regional hub of education: Growing heterarchies, organizational hybridization, and new governance in Singapore and Malaysia. Journal of Education Policy, 26(1),

49 Reference Mok, K. H., & Yu, K. M. (2011). The quest for regional education hub status and transnational higher education: challenges for managing human capital in Asia. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 31(3), Ng, P. T. (2005a). Students’ perception of change in the Singapore education system. Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 3(1), 77–92. Ng, P. T. (2005b). Innovation and Enterprise in Singapore schools. Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 3(3), 183–198. Ng, P. T. (2008). Educational reform in Singapore: From quantity to quality.Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 7(1), 5-15. Olds, K. (2007). Global assemblage: Singapore, foreign universities, and the construction of a “global education hub”. World Development, 35(6), 959–975.

50 Reference Tan, K.Y.T. (1986, July). Economic change and the formulation of education policy. Speech delivered at the Nanyang Technological Institute Forum. Tan, J., & Gopinathan, S. (2000). Education reform in Singapore: Towards greater creativity and innovation. NIRA review, 7(3), 5-10. Tharman, S. (2004). To light a fire: Enabling teachers, nurturing students. Speech by Mr Tharman Shan- mugaratnam, Minister for Education, at the MOE Work Plan Seminar 2004 at the Ngee Ann Polytechnic Convention Centre, Singapore, 29 September. Tharman, S. (2005). Achieving quality: Bottom up initiative, top down support. Speech by Mr Tharman Shan- mugaratnam, Minister for Education, at the MOE Work Plan Seminar 2005 at the Ngee Ann Polytechnic Convention Centre, Singapore, 22 September.

51 Reference Wong, P.K., Ho, Y.P., & Singh, A. (2007). Towards an “entrepreneurial university” model to support knowledge-based economic development: The case of the National University of Singapore. World Development, 35(6), 941–958.


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