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Improving Schooling Outcomes: Teacher Capacity and School Improvement

The role of educators has not changed over the centuries; we still strive to prepare, equip, inspire, but the means and methods in which we do this has changed and will continue to do so. How do we make sense of these changes and understand what is required of us, as educators?

Back for its fifth run, the Marshall Cavendish Global Conference addressed these pressing question in the field of education, at Marina Mandarin Hotel in Singapore from 17 to 19 August. Centered on the theme ‘Putting Change into Context – A Journey into 21st Century Learning’, the three-day conference addressed the essential mechanisms imperative to ensure student mastery of 21st-century skills and competencies.  This conference brought together renowned researchers, educators, subject experts and key opinion leaders in the education sector from Singapore, Asia, Europe and the United States, who shared and exchanged their views, findings and experiences.

This conference successfully brought to light the different ways we can prepare, support and empower our students, educators and leaders through advancing our perspectives, strategies, technologies and our models to equip our future generation with the skills and competencies required in the 21st century. It also encouraged further discussion, debate and research on these matters to keep our educational standards up to date with the fast-paced world. At the same time, it propelled educators and policy-makers to work with developing countries to allow them to be able to compete in the global knowledge economy.

Professor S. Gopinathan, Academic Director of The HEAD Foundation and Adjunct Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, spoke on Improving Schooling Outcomes: Teacher Capacity and School Improvement during this event on 19th August 2016.

How can we fully develop the capacities of all students to embrace the challenges and opportunities of the future? Are industrial-era systems up to the task? How can teacher quality be enhanced?

Professor Gopinathan deliberated on these issues and with regard to the Singapore education system, he observed how academic performance has increased over the years but did so at different rates among different ethnic groups. The central problem of schooling today is providing opportunity to learn, enhancing inclusion and reducing achievement disparities. System-wise, Singapore is still in an industrial mode with teacher dominated classrooms, high stakes examinations and a weak teacher-education model.

On the 21st century educational challenges, Professor Gopinathan set the context by pointing out that the future requires flexibility and judgement. New jobs will arise that require creativity, problem solving skills and social collaboration. Beyond basic numeracy and literacy, advanced competencies are now needed in a highly disruptive computational economy and thus foundational to socio-economic mobility.

What this means is that, in schools, in addressing what and how schools should teach, we have to choose the right drivers for change, not structures, procedures and other formal attributes but those associated with the culture of the school and the system (values, norms, skills, practices and relationships).

In the second segment, Professor Gopinathan highlighted the need to enhance teacher quality. The McKinsey report identified teacher quality as being crucial to high quality education. There is a direct relationship between teacher quality and student achievement. Much of the wide variations in classroom learning was a function of teacher quality. So, no school system can be better than the quality of its teachers. This can be tackled by using professional learning communities, which refers to a community of practitioners coming together to engage in continuous cycles of inquiry-based teacher learning (Lee; Hong; Tay; Lee; 2013). Hence, the commitment of teachers towards life-long learning was emphasized and the systemic improvement in Singapore’s schools was emphasized.

He ended his talk with a concluding wish for the future: ‘let us focus on what education is (or ought to be) rather than what it is for. And remember, it is always about the children we teach and nurture’.

Professor Gopinathan was also a panelist in the Panel Discussion on Thriving for 21st Century: Changing Learning Environment and Implications for the Students Learning, Moderated by Dr. Ho Boon Tiong and accompanied by other panelists Mr.Reinhold Steinbeck, Dr. Chan Wai Hong & Dr. Yeap Ban Har.

Dr. Yeap set the stage for the panel discussion through his presentation that focused on the following questions and more. What are the demands of education systems on graduates? How well is the school system preparing them for those? What kinds of learning environment are conducive for the development of competencies that make young people thrive in the 21st century? What are the implications on student learning?

Following Dr Yeap’s presentation, the panel discussed the evolving global educational landscapes and how schools in Singapore and around the world are moving beyond the past and defining the way we learn in the 21st century.