SINGAPORE - Ms Beatrice Tan had quite a culture shock when she visited a high school in California last year.
Students called teachers by their first names, failed to hand in homework and even led lessons by themselves.
"Classrooms there were very different," said the 22-year-old National Institute of Education (NIE) undergraduate who was there on a teaching assistantship programme. "Teachers never shouted at students. They were very polite, even to disruptive students."
She spent five weeks at Dos Pueblos High School near Santa Barbara last November and December, observing the lessons for 15-year-olds. Her trip was part of a programme organised by the NIE to expose trainees on its four-year teaching degree course to different education systems abroad.
Since the scheme was set up in 2012, NIE has sent 17 student teachers overseas but it will be sending 13 this year - a sign of the success it is having.
NIE links up with universities overseas, which match students from Singapore to local schools. They are given two mentors - from the host university and school - and a supervisor from NIE.
They are attached to a teacher and get to observe their classes and help students with work. At the end of each week, they submit short reflections to their mentors.
"I wanted to see what a Western education looks like because I've always heard their students are more outspoken and creative," said Ms Tan, who plans to be an English teacher. "A lot of opportunities were given to students to speak up and lead classes."
However there were times when she sat at the back of the classroom, finding it hard to accept the differences. "Sometimes I felt the students were too noisy and if it was here I would ask them to keep quiet. But their teacher didn't do that."
Ms Yeo Jie Ting, 23, who is studying to teach physical education and geography, visited Malling School in Denmark. The third-year undergraduate said: "Geography students became mayors and designed cities using principles of urban planning. PE lessons were also fun. Warm-up activities were in the form of bonding games and ice-breakers, instead of jogging like we do here."
The overseas programme, for second-year students with a good cumulative grade point average, began in 2012 with the University of California, Santa Barbara. Since then, six universities from five countries have come on board.
These include Denmark's University College Capital, National Taiwan Normal University and The University of Waikato in New Zealand.
Dr Jessie Png, NIE's sub-dean of the diploma programme and partnerships, said she hopes the scheme will help students to "pick up other best practices from around the world".
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