How Singapore has become a world leader in STEM Education

Students in Singapore are seriously excelling at maths and science. But what's their secret? Image: Shutterstock

– by Pauline Ho, Associate Director at Evidence for Learning.

Singapore is leading the way in STEM education and Australia is listening.

Teaching students to reach their potential in STEM needs to be based on evidence-informed strategies – the kind which can be facilitated by the National Evidence Body as outlined in recommendation 23 in Gonski 2.0 report. 

Evidence for Learning (E4L) recently published the results of two rigorous and independent evaluations of numeracy programs that showed promise of improving the maths outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Grattan Institute’s recent report discussed a new expert teacher career path where top teachers develop subject expertise and lead professional learning across networks and communities. The report draws on the example of the Singapore teacher model.

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Grounded in career tracks

Singapore is well-known for its students’ stellar performance in maths and science. One of the drivers for this educational success is its quality of teaching. Deliberate policy decisions were introduced from 2001 to redesign its teacher workforce with the goal to develop subject-based expertise so teachers could deliver a solid education to all children.

In this model, teachers decide on one of three career tracks: the Teaching Track focuses on classroom teaching, the Leadership Track allows teachers to take on leadership roles and the Senior Specialist Track focuses on research and policy. 

Across these tracks, teachers would focus on building expertise in a specific subject area. Maths teachers, for example, may choose to lead maths classroom instruction.

For those who do not see themselves in leading schools, they could aspire towards the role of a ‘Master Teacher’ – a prestigious role (top 1% of the teacher workforce) who are subject-specific experts stationed at the Academy of Singapore Teachers to lead and support the professional development of other maths teachers nationally.

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For maths teachers who wish to develop skills outside the classrooms, they may transfer to the Leadership Track or Senior Specialist Tracks to lead the maths department or conduct research and policy in the Ministry. 

Teachers can aspire to move upward or across the different career tracks and are supported through a cycle of performance planning and training. The Singapore teaching system’s competency-based assessment of teachers’ performance based on a range of competencies is often challenged.  However, this is not a critique of its performative system but how the structures could value-add to our understanding of the professional development of teachers in Singapore.

Room to move

Such flexibility across the tracks creates an ‘expertise flow’ and growth in the teacher system. Creating STEM expertise does not just happen. It would require a continuous process of learning and measuring student progress. When done well, vibrant communities of practice could support STEM teachers and others to generate and share best evidence about their practices. In the Singapore model, teachers and schools benefit from sharing and rejuvenation of ideas, skills and perspectives to improve STEM practices of teachers who return to classrooms from stints in the Leadership or Specialist tracks.

For example, Master Teachers may not necessarily advance directly from the Teaching Track. They may bring with them a wealth of expertise and experience from other tracks that are highly valued when they apply for roles in different tracks. 

For the individual teacher, the marriage between knowledge and skills allows them to become effective educators. To teach well, they need a combination of skills.

Australia has already made strides in teacher development. However, if we are to build a strong evidence-based profession, we need to create a system that recognises outstanding STEM teachers and supports them effectively to lead and generate evidence use of practices to improve student learning.

Pauline Ho is an Associate Director at Evidence for Learning. She oversees the program development, evaluation and community leadership of education trials under the Learning Impact Fund. Views expressed in this article are solely my own, based on her prior teaching experience in the Singapore Ministry of Education and do not express the views of any organisations. 

STEM Contributor

Author: STEM Contributor

This article was written by a STEM Contributor for Careers with STEM. To learn more, please visit our contact page.

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