Saudis learning S'pore way of teaching

School principals in Saudi Arabia are the latest among educators worldwide being taught the Singapore way of teaching.

Since last October, the National Institute of Education (NIE) has taken leadership trainers from the kingdom under its wing, training them in curriculum design, assessment as well as science, mathematics and special needs education, among other things.

The aim is to put about 480 of these trainers in Saudi Arabia through a two-week programme here by December. They will then impart what they have learnt to some 3,000 school principals back home.

The move is part of an agreement between the consultancy and training arm of NIE and Tatweer Education, a Saudi strategic investment company that focuses on education development.

This is the latest overseas partnership inked by NIE, which has shared its expertise and helped to set up teacher training colleges overseas.

NIE, Singapore's teacher education institute, has been training school principals and teachers from overseas since 2003, using a "training of trainers" approach. The trainees include educators from Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. They fly here to attend seminars and presentations, and also visit schools.

The largest such programme involved 600 school leadership trainers from Vietnam. They, in turn, trained some 30,000 of their country's principals between 2008 and 2010.

NIE International general manager Goh Chor Boon told The Straits Times: "NIE has an excellent reputation in the Middle East because of our passion and commitment in contributing to education reform in the region."

NIE director Lee Sing Kong said it has had more requests from countries for NIE to share its expertise since the mid-2000s.

"The world landscape is changing, technology is advancing and knowledge is evolving. Other countries want to know how they can respond to such changes through curriculum designs and pedagogical changes," said Professor Lee, who is also managing director of NIE International, its private arm.

"We do not teleport Singapore's model to them. We customise programmes within the context of the needs of those who make the requests.

"NIE is in talks with a university in Chile which is keen to set up a teacher training institute and education agencies in Brazil which are keen to build up a quality teaching force."

Singapore's education system has become a brand name, education experts say, which is why so many countries are looking at its teacher training model.

The NIE was ranked first in Asia and 14th in the world, in the latest Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings by Subject published in February.

Adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy S. Gopinathan, former dean of NIE's school of education, said teacher quality is very important, and policymakers elsewhere are starting to realise this.

"NIE is a rather unique state- sponsored model. What Singapore did over an extended period of time was to try and attract good-quality candidates into teaching, make sure they were prepared, and deploy and support them in schools," he added.

At NIE, he helped set up the Emirates College for Advanced Education in Abu Dhabi and the Bahrain Teachers College.

"Many delegates want to find out the secret to how a small country with limited resources can produce world-beaters in science, maths and language," he said.

The Saudi training pact was first revealed in an Arab News report earlier this month, which featured an interview with Singapore's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Mr Lawrence Anderson.

Dr Timothy Chan, director of the academic division at SIM Global Education, said Singapore's comprehensive teacher development system has drawn attention.

"High-quality teachers and school leaders are the cornerstone of Singapore's quality education system," he said, adding that is why it remains a popular destination for countries that want to develop their education sector.

This article was published on April 26 in The Straits Times.

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