In the latest public lecture at The HEAD Foundation, Prof S. Gopinathan, a veteran academic on Singapore’s education system, identified the challenges in education reforms for the future, and how that is tied to the restructuring of Singapore’s economy.
Prof Gopinathan traced the record of education reforms since the late 1990s, when Singapore began restructuring its economy to focus on high-end manufacturing and sophisticated services, in reaction to forces of globalisation. This has required Singapore’s education system to respond by moving from a ‘performative’ to a ‘knowledge building’ pedagogy.
However, ongoing research on pedagogy at the National Institute of Education (NIE) found that the classroom curriculum in Singapore is still focused on drilling and high stakes examinations, rather than on high quality knowledge work. Labour shortages and low productivity in Singapore now require more drastic restructuring of the economy which could be painful. Increasingly, stratification of education levels among Singaporeans is also tied to social stratification.
In preparing Singapore’s education system for the future, meritocracy needs to be rethought, and differentiated between an ‘exam meritocracy’ and a ‘talent meritocracy’. Higher societal inequality disadvantages those families who cannot invest more in education such as private tuition. Citing reports by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Prof Gopinathan emphasised that the highest performing education systems are those that are able to combine equity with excellence, such as Finland’s. Recent policy moves in improving access to elite schools and university education are steps in the right direction, even as the government seeks to make every school a good school.