Hi. My name is Lily Liang and I studied in Singapore with Maggie Li. I have completed my 4 months exchange program and am now reflecting on my practicum experience there. We both attended the National Institute of Education in Singapore, and thus, we took courses with some of the thousands of teachers-to-be. The students at NIE were either new student teachers or veteran teachers who had came back to further their education.
Maggie and I had been placed at the Pioneer Primary School. The education system in Singapore is definitely worth mentioning in this first post, because it is very different compared to the education system in the United States. Primary school is from first grade to sixth grade. Secondary school is from seventh grade to tenth grade. Junior college is from eleventh to twelfth grade. Similar to the States, students will enter University at 18. (However, usually, male citizens would tend to choose to complete their mandatory military service before entering University.) One controversial difference between the education system in the States and Singapore is the streaming process in Singapore. Streaming is the act of separating students based on their academic ability. Official streaming starts at the end of P6 (sixth grade) after they have taken their PSLE (the national exam), where they are separated into four streams: Special, Express, Normal Academic, and Normal Technical. 10% of students stream into Special, 20% into Express, 60% into Normal Academic, and 10% into Normal Technical. Normal Technical students are usually streamed into vocational schools, where most would not attend universities, but instead start an early career. Singaporeans believe that streaming has positive aspects in that it gives all students the opportunity to become someone. Streaming has lowered the rates of students dropping out of school. It gave students motivation and belief that they can contribute back to society. Teachers work hard teaching to the academic ability level of the students.
One Singaporean (Hokkien dialect) word I learned is Kiasu. Kiasu literally means “fear of losing”. This is quite reflective of the culture in Singapore. Singaporeans are always competitive. I have talked to many Singaporean students and they feel that they are always pressured by Kiasu. Parents always want their children to be in the top level. They would push their children to study. Teachers whom I have talked to stated that children are more likely to commit suicide due to stress. An average day of a Singaporean student’s life consists of classes from 7 A.M to 4 P.M. They would then go home and eat dinner. After dinner, they would usually have tutoring sessions, where parents would hire a tutor, usually a student from NIE, for extra lessons. Their days repeat from Monday to Saturday. Parents want their children to be part of the Special Stream. Students have the ability to move to higher stream after the first year of streaming.
Students have to excel in every subject. English, Math, Social Science, Natural Science. In order for students to excel in every subject, teachers also have to be excelling in the subjects they teach. This is thus the reason why teachers specialize in subjects. Teachers usually specialize in two subjects. I have always been asked which subjects I am specialized in, however, I always explain to them that it is different in the States where teachers learn all the subjects. When a teacher specializes in one or two subjects, they would know more about that subject, and thus students would know more. This is similar to the high school concept in the States. Teachers would move around in the school, going to different classrooms to teach. Students will stay in their homeroom to learn all the subjects. Even though they stay in the own classroom, the classroom is quite bare. It is not filled with as many colors as the American elementary classrooms. The classrooms also do not have many learning resources visible. There are 40 individual blue desks that are split into 3 columns that all face the front. The classrooms are filled with a minimum of 40 students. Some students may leave to take the same subject that is more suitable for their level. There is a teacher’s desk in front that holds the computer and the visualizer, a machine that has the technology similar to a projector. There is a very lengthy white board in front, with two bulletin boards right next to it. There are small cabinets to hold some dictionaries and the students’ journals. The classroom is quite plain and gives the feeling of strict and disciplined learning, very similar to the culture in Singapore.