Learning from Singapore to reform Education systems

Ismail Ali Manik
5 min readSep 1, 2018


As Yan Song, a pupil at Deyi Secondary School who moved from China mid-way through his education, puts it, in Singapore they focus “on how you behave as a human being.” In China, in contrast, “you just study from day to night.” — The Economist

A great article on education reform in Singapore from the latest edition of The Economist;

THE library at Woodgrove Primary School has been turned into a “MakerSpace”. After regular lessons end at around 2pm, pupils sign up for sessions like 3D design, stop-motion film-making and coding for robots. Instructors leave the children to it once they have explained how things work. The overall message is that it’s OK to fail, says a teacher. On a Thursday afternoon just after the summer break, one young boy stops to explain that these sessions make a nice change: if he wasn’t here, he would only be studying at home.

Andreas Schleicher of the OECD reckons Singaporean education is going through “a silent revolution almost entirely unnoticed in the West”. Politicians now hope to marry good exam results with the promotion of skills that will help pupils work in the city’s growing service sector, and even to lead contented lives. “It’s not just about teaching how to be smart, but how to be a better human being,” enthuses Heng Swee Keat, the country’s finance minister, who was in charge of education in 2011–15.

For Discussion: See the two articles from The Economist, and comment on the replicability of Singapore’s education sector reforms to other countries. See also the OECD publication, World Class- How to Build a 21st-Century School System.

The second lesson is to embrace Singapore’s distinctive approach to teaching, notably of mathematics — as America and England are already doing to some extent. It emphasises a narrower but deeper curriculum, and seeks to ensure that a whole class progresses through the syllabus. Struggling pupils get compulsory extra sessions to help them keep up; even the less-able do comparatively well. An analysis in 2016 in England found that the Singaporean approach boosted results, though it was somewhat watered down in transition.


Woodgrove Primary School

School Vision — Every Child Succeeds — A Learner. A Thinker. A Leader with Character.

School Mission — Building Character, Nurturing Hearts, Enriching Minds.


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Founded by a team formerly from Raffles Institution (RI), and made up of both Heads of Departments and teachers, we believe that good education should not be limited to a few, but should be shared with the many.

At Paideia Learning Academy, we believe in educating the whole person for society. Apart from providing tutorial classes in English, GP, Humanities, Math and the Sciences for primary, secondary, junior college and integrated programmes (IP), we prepare our students for society as well as for the future through our computing and other enrichment programmes.

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World Class, by Andreas Schleicher

After the 2008 crisis, Schleicher says there was pressure to add more financial education to curricula in an effort to improve students’ financial literacy. But it may have been misplaced. Shanghai schools, for example, added little such material but its pupils scored best on financial literacy in the next Pisa round, since they had a deeper understanding through maths of relevant concepts such as probability, change and risk.

Schleicher argues that the fad for coding risks using “today’s techniques for today’s problems”. OECD survey data show that while moderate use of technology can enhance learning, students in systems which use it extensively perform badly.

Pisa has long been criticised, not least by compilers of rival tests and officials in countries whose school systems rank poorly. Survey data certainly have their limitations. For instance, the UK emerges on paper as having very high teacher autonomy, which does not tally with their frequent complaints of having to “teach to the test”.

Singapore: Math Curriculum in Primary Education

The objective of the last curriculum review was to update it, so it can continue satisfying the students’ needs, constructing a solid base in math, and improving math education in schools. In order to carry out this review, the analysis of the students’ performance on national exams was taken into account, as well as the international studies derived from TIMSS and PISA. Of course, it is also consistent with the general objectives of Singapore’s global curriculum: search for the ideal balance between content and skills, create opportunities to develop twenty-first century competencies, foster self-directed and collaborative learning through lessons based on ICT, and develop evaluations to support learning.



Ismail Ali Manik

Uni. of Adelaide & Columbia Uni NY alum; World Bank, PFM, Global Development, Public Policy, Education, Economics, book-reviews, MindMaps, @iamaniku