In the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) last year, Singapore ranked second in mathematics and third in reading and science.
In the computer-based assessment, the country came in tops for mathematics and reading ("Singapore students shine in global test"; Dec 4).
How does the Pisa ranking square with the perception of some Singaporeans who lament that schools here do not encourage our children to be creative and inquisitive?
Admittedly, there are some factors which appear to substantiate this view. The conformity of our education system disadvantages our children in the marketplace, which favours the eloquent. Our children have been brought up to respect authority, orderliness and conformity.
The class-size ratio of one teacher to 30 to 40 students may not always facilitate personalised instructions or the airing of differing views.
Time constraints, syllabus demands and loads of written work considerably reduce teacher-student interaction.
Opportunities to debate robustly and at length during lessons are hard to come by. Nevertheless, such exchanges between teachers and students do take place in the upper secondary and junior college levels.
Advocates of a laissez-faire system of schooling contend that the students would find learning much more enjoyable due to the smaller class size, less demanding academic demands and infrequent tests, coupled with a more informal ambience. A look at the flip side is useful to get a sense of balance.
Singapore schools cater to all citizens. Education is affordable for everyone and education policies are crafted to ensure all students have access to an all-round education.
Though their programmes are more structured and rigid, local schools cater to a wide spectrum of learner abilities, aptitude, personalities and home backgrounds without sacrificing quality, width or depth.
That the American and British education authorities have high regard for the Singapore education system, in particular the teaching of mathematics and science, is testimony to its worth.
The Singapore education system inculcates diligence, dedication, discipline and focus.
While a system which actively fosters active student participation is worthy of credit, the outspoken and attention-seekers can hijack it.
Words are the tools of the talkers. After all has been said, it is the doers who get down to the serious business of making sure things work.
Ho Kong Loon
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