Schools should be reconceived as innovative learning environments, said Prof Clive Dimmock, Professor at the University of Glasgow and a leading consultant on education with organizations such as the OECD. During his lecture at The HEAD Foundation, Prof Dimmock shared his analysis of the Singapore education system, and expounded on his ideas for redesigning school systems for the 2st century.
Singapore is the only example in the world of every school in the country being a professional learning community, he said, in acknowledgement of the accolades that the Singaporean education system has received. Being a small, closely-knit country is an advantage, and indeed most high performing education systems in the world like Finland’s have a similarly small population size. For him, the streaming of students in Singapore was not a bad thing in itself. Rather, the problem is that streaming takes place relatively early in Singapore, and the routes for “crossovers” between different educational streams are extremely limited. This severely disadvantages “late-bloomers” among students.
On the values of meritocracy, on which the successful Singapore education system is predicated, it is already coming into question with the stalling of social mobility, Prof Dimmock said. The main measure to assess school principals and leaders should be their record in closing the gap between high and low achievers within their schools. Going forward in building the knowledge-based economy that developed countries require, we need schools to reflect future workplaces first and foremost, he said in quoting David Hargreaves, a leading authority on education policy from the UK.
He strongly advocated for problem-based learning in schools, which would provide the best mode for building up trans-disciplinary learning. After all, creativity is about coming up with solutions to real world problems. This also requires flexibility in scheduling the school day – too often, schools make the mistake of building the curriculum around the time table, whereas the reverse would have been the right thing to do. He highlighted how crucial a form of “community and system leadership” for schools is, rather than leadership by diktat. What works, he said, is when good professionals in the education sector network, coach and mentor with junior colleagues. Similarly when mapping problems and implementing policies, one should start from the bottom up instead; policy failures usually crop up when top-down directives filters down and become diluted in the process.