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How Singapore Developed a High-Quality

Teacher Workforce

A diverse student body in Singapore reflects its multicultural society that resulted
when its economy boomed. (ssedro/Creative Commons)

Dream, Design, and Deliver

When Singapore gained its independence from Britain in 1965, it was a poverty-
stricken place with few natural resources. It had a population of warring ethnic and
religious groups that was largely uneducated, and many of whom were malaria
stricken or opium addicted. Today, it is a gleaming global hub of trade, finance and
transportation, one of Asias great success stories. Its schools are high on the list of
the worlds best-performing school systems. Educators from around the world now
visit this city-state to see how Singapore has achieved its world-beating levels of
performance in math, science, and literacy. The answer, according to Singapore
educators, is simple: a coherent curriculum delivered to every school by high-quality
teachers.

Recognizing that it had few other resources, Singapores policymakers decided early
on to invest in their human resources and to dream, design and deliver a solid
education to every child. Good teachers and effective school leaders form the
cornerstone of that system. A high-quality teacher workforce doesnt simply happen
by chance or as a result of a cultural respect for teaching; it is a result of deliberate
policy choices. Singapore has developed a comprehensive system for selecting,
training, compensating and developing teachers and principals.

Key elements of that system are:

Recruitment

The Ministry of Education carefully selects prospective teachers from the top one
third of the secondary school graduating class. Strong academics are essential, but so
are commitment to the profession and to serving diverse student bodies. Teachers
receive a stipend equivalent to 60% of a teacher salary while in training and commit
to teaching for at least three years. Interest in teaching is seeded early through
teaching internships and a system for mid-career entry also exists.
Training

All teachers receive training on the Singapore curriculum at the countrys National
Institute of Education at Nanyang Technological University, either in a diploma or a
degree course depending on their level of education at entry. There is a close working
relationship between the Institute and schools, where master teachers mentor every
new teacher for several years.

Compensation

Each year, the Ministry of Education examines a range of occupational starting


salaries and may adjust the salaries for beginning teachers to ensure that teaching is
seen as equally attractive with other occupations for new graduates. Teacher salaries
do not increase over time as much as some other professions but there are many
opportunities for teachers to assume other roles, as described below.

Professional Development

Teachers are entitled to 100 hours of professional development per year. This may be
undertaken in several ways. Courses at the National Institute of Education focus on
subject matter and pedagogical knowledge and lead towards higher degrees. Much of
the professional development is school-based, led by school staff developers, whose
job it is to know where there are problems in the school, for example with a groups
math performance, or to introduce new practices such as project-based learning or
new uses of ICT. Each school also has a fund through which it can support teacher
growth, including the development of fresh perspectives by going abroad to examine
aspects of education in other countries. A Singapore Teachers Centre is set to open
later in 2010 to further encourage teachers to continuously share best practices.

Performance appraisal

Like every other profession in Singapore, teachers performance is appraised annually


by a number of people and on multiple measures, including their contribution to the
academic and character development of all students in their charge, their collaboration
with parents and community groups, and their contributions to their colleagues and
the school as a whole. Teachers who do outstanding work, receive a bonus from a
school bonus pool.

Career Development
Talent is identified and nurtured rather than being left to chance. After three years of
teaching, teachers are assessed annually to see whether they have the potential for
three different career paths - master teacher, specialist in curriculum or research, or
school leader, each with salary increments. Teachers with potential to be school
leaders are moved to middle management teams and receive training to prepare them
for their new roles. Middle managers performance is assessed for their potential to
become assistant principals, and later, principals. Each stage has a range of
experiences and training to prepare candidates for school leadership and
transformation. There is a clear understanding that high-quality teaching and strong
student performance require effective school leaders.

By putting its energy into the front end of recruiting high-quality people and giving
them good training and continuing support, Singapore doesnt have the problems of
massive attrition and persistently ineffective teachers and principals that plague many
systems.

Nevertheless, despite having traveled from a third-world to a first-world country in a


single lifetime, and having created an education system that has helped make it a
magnet for economic growth in the global economy, Singapore is not resting on its
laurels or ignoring its problems. Recognizing that innovation will be the key to its
future economic success and that a new mindset and new skills will be needed to
encourage innovation, it has developed a new education policy framework. Thinking
Schools, Learning Nation has the explicit aim of developing creative, innovative and
lifelong learners who can rise to the challenges of a global future where change is the
only norm. Accordingly, a committee of the National Institute of Education released a
report in 2009, A Teacher Education for the 21st Century, which outlines how teacher
training will be redesigned to further strengthen the skills and knowledge of teachers
to promote new kinds of learning to meet these goals. Singapores education journey
continues.

Culture and context matter. Singapore is small and has a more centralized education
system, which makes implementing policies easier and there is good communication
and shared vision between the Ministry, the National Institute of Education and the
schools. But it has accomplished so much with so little in terms of continuous
improvement and consistent high performance across schools and the principles they
have put in place to develop a high-quality human capacity are applicable elsewhere.
Just as Singapore developed its system by examining the best practices of others
countries, others can now learn from Singapore.

Author: Vivien Stewart