Education in Singapore
Last month I spent a week in Singapore visiting primary and secondary schools as well as the National Institute of Education. Although I am sure that what I saw was not representative of all schools in the country, I was immediately struck by the high level of ideological and financial investment in education (how refreshing!). In a country with no natural resources (even fruits, vegetables, and drinking water are imported), the government is cultivating Singapore’s human resources, and academic success is one goal that is shared among the multiple linguistic, cultural, and religious communities there.
Shown here is Nan Hua Chinese-English bilingual school. Each school displays its values publically – sometimes on a billboard, sometimes on the building, as here at Nan Hua. (Parents shop around for schools, and values are key in attracting students.) The principal explained Nan Hua’s values displayed left to right across the building : 忠, 孝, 仁, 爱, 礼, 义, 廉, 耻 (which translate as loyalty, filial piety, humanity, love, courtesy, righteousness, integrity, shame.” I asked the Principal if “shame” was meant in the sense of humility. “No,” she said. “It means feeling shame when you’ve done something wrong!” There was no shame on display in the classes I visited, however. Students enthusiastically showed me the virtual museum they were designing in their computer lab, which combined sophisticated imaging, rhetorical verve, and cultural sensitivity. UC Berkeley grad Mark Nelson, now a professor at the National Institute of Education, is part of a team researching the social processes through which these Chinese-English bilingual students design their technology-based projects. I did not get to see Malay and Tamil bilingual schools, but wonder if they get the remarkable level of funding and support that the Chinese bilingual schools do.
During my stay in Singapore I noticed that two buzz-phrases were on everyone’s lips, from young school children to teachers to principals to professors: “thinking outside the box” and “critical thinking.” Ironically, this was the same week that the press was opining about the Singaporean government’s lawsuit against the International Herald Tribune for having used the word ‘dynasty’ in connection with the Singaporean leadership (often referred to by locals as the ‘Holy Trinity’ of the Father, the Son and the Holy Goh–in reference to Goh Chok Tong, the former prime minister). And another story about the government cracking down on someone who had spoken out against the government. I asked Peter Teo, a professor at the National Institute of Education who trained with celebrated critical discourse analyst Norman Fairclough and who teaches a course at NIE called “Critical Thinking,” how he dealt with the interesting problem of teaching critical discourse analysis under an authoritarian government, and he said it was a very delicate balancing act.
Technology is used widely in language education in Singapore, and digital storytelling seems to be part of students’ repertoire from primary school to graduate school. At the Beacon Primary School, kids filmed language skits in a high tech lab and learned how to create their own fanciful backgrounds with chroma key compositing (greenscreens). Innova Junior College (i.e., a high school for students destined for the university) has established a Centre of Excellence for New Media. They develop courses in Second Life, give students experience in making media broadcasts, documentaries on aspects of Singaporean life, and display student work in a permanent media installation they call “La Vita Nuova.”
At all these schools, there was strong interest in collaboration with students, graduate students, and faculty here at Berkeley. For those interested in making connections with educators in Singapore, Innova New Media Centre will be hosting the “Third New Media in Education Fiesta 2010” this September. This conference for international educators will take place on Second Life, Sunday, September 5 2010 at 7:30 PM (Berkeley time) on the Centre of Excellence, Second Life Educators’ Campus. For more details, you can contact Karen Tay at email@example.com