Orientation, part 1
I write this at the end of a wonderful week interacting with my hosts at the Academy of Singapore Teachers. It is an organization within the Ministry of Education focussing on teacher professionalism and personal development. Within the organization is a core group dedicated to supporting the Fulbright program. Teachers from the US travel here each year, this year there are three of us, and teachers from Singapore travel to the US.
This week was a beautifully blended experience that introduced us to the education system in Singapore, key personal in our respective interest and content areas, and included cultural activities. It also provided us with time in the afternoon to acclimate and reflect. We never felt rushed and they respected our need for unstructured time each day which promoted independence. We all stay connected via the messaging application Whatsapp. I’ve also been using this to chat with Audrey each day.
Each of us were assigned two buddies. In my case I had three delightful teachers that kindly shepherded me around, monitored the time, taking notes, and answering my questions. Lin Li, Chin Quan, and Fiona were delightful and we had interesting individual conversations throughout the week.
I was met at my apartment by Chin Quan and Lin Li and they mapped out the most efficient route to the Academy complex. The transportation system here is the most efficient I’ve ever encountered and there are multiple apps for the phone that provide real-time updates for all route options. We took two trains and one bus. When we arrived, I was welcomed and able to put faces to the many names I’ve exchanged emails or chats with in the past 6 months. After a lovely reception and warm welcome, we were given an overview of the system by Mr. Derek Tan, the Deputy Director of the program we are attached to.
I’ll share a few key elements with readers here, but a much more detailed and reflective post will follow after I’ve had more time to explore. I’ll draw a comparison between the Ministry of Education in Singapore and a very large County Office of Education in the US. The biggest difference perhaps is that MOE is responsible for overseeing all education in a nation of 6 million - primary, secondary, and tertiary. There is a common curriculum and common researched based teaching practices.
We all experience periods of self-doubt and those are often amplified on the cusp of life-changing moments such as this and I am no exception. I’ve been questioning my skills and abilities since being awarded the Fulbright so was greatly comforted when Mr. Tan explained to all of use why we were invited here. He emphasized that to classroom teachers, the international PISA scores in which Singapore excels mean little. Educators here do not teach to that test. They seek and explore best practice opportunities and consider education a national imperative. Despite being a shipping and financial juggernaut, Singapore has no natural resources. It places great emphasis on the education of its people and supports it financially, but the population is declining and they are concerned about students seeking opportunities elsewhere.
So, why am I here? Research has driven them to the conclusion that a system based heavily on memorization and recall does not promote longterm success nor does it address the whole child. It is of national importance to promote critical and creative thinking skills. Along with this they seek to give more voice to students and promote independent and lifelong learning practices. Mr Tan let me know that they have never had a Fulbrighter apply with games-based learning experience and they were intrigued.
Teachers here are expected to lead by example while demonstrating and promoting lifelong learning themselves. There are multiple professional development communities and opportunities and teachers are given the freedom to explore their passions within this framework. Outside of their time at their school sites, which includes professional opportunities for growth, educators are given 100 hours that they may use to attend conferences, workshops, and short courses. A principal must approve each request. Substitutes are provided as necessary and overseas conferences can, and do, receive approval. MOE supports much of these workshops, but educators can also use these hours to share information with others via presentations, tutorials, and mentorships.
In a future post, I will examine how students in secondary schools are “streamed” based on their performance and assessments in primary school, but I’ll wrap up this post by describing how educators are expected to follow a pathway of their own choosing to demonstrate their commitment to the profession.
Educators select one of the pathways, or tracks, described below as a foundation for their professional journey. Those that choose the Teaching track are seeking to become teacher leaders while raising the level of their instructional practices. There are only a handful of Master Teachers in the country and I’ve already had the distinct pleasure to meet one and you can read about it in the next post. The Leadership track is designed for teachers that are interested in becoming full-time administrators. The third track is for educators looking to explore a range of opportunities within education. These teachers work within their area of expertise in the classroom, but are then reassigned for up to 3 years within the Ministry in an area of interest to them. It could be something like running a museum dedicated to education (see next post), learning management skills within a program of interest to them, or even helping to implement the Fulbright program. This track allows you to become a highly specialized teacher that can fill critical roles within the larger system.
After we spent the morning with our new friends, they took us out to a delicious Chinese lunch where I was introduced to a very special dish - sea cucumber. It was wonderful! In the afternoon, the three of us got to unload a pile of paperwork we brought with us that had been requested in anticipation of getting accepted at a university where we will be taking classes. Once we are officially accepted, the immigration and customs folk will supply us with student visas that will allow us to stay beyond the 90 day stamp we received at the airport.
Final thoughts - There are over 100 people subscribed to this blog and I am very pleased to see several “locals” on the list as well. Perhaps we can get a bit of cross-Pacific dialogue going in the comments. Please feel free to ask any questions you have and I will try to clarify, or seek an answer. I will be writing about the rest of the week in the next post, and next weekend, I will reflect on my first week at my initial assigned school. If you would like to see photos from our visit to Chinatown, click here. Thanks for reading!