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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Differences and Similarities: Singapore and USA

I worked in a primary school in Singapore in a sixth grade classroom with both an English teacher and a math teacher. When I had first walked into the school, I felt that the experience was not going to be too different. After all, Singapore was a very modernized country with many educational resources. The national language was also English. Therefore, I found myself first noticing the similarities between the school in Singapore and the schools in America before I noticed the differences.

The classroom layouts in the classrooms that I had seen were rows in the Upper primary grades (4-6) and grouped tables in the lower primary (1-3). While I do notice that many upper elementary grades in the US still have their classes in a grouped table layout, I think the idea of rows in older grades (and more group work in younger grades) is evident in the States as well. From discussing with my CT, I believe there is much more group work in the lower primary grades, but it was not absent from upper primary. The students normally just move their chairs or rearrange themselves for her group work. The walls on the classroom were emptier than I had expected. Schools back home normally have the walls filled with student work and while I saw some of this the school hallways, it was not the case in the classrooms.

Another similarity between the two schools was the presence of assessment. I think that I especially noticed this because I had previously worked in a 4th grade class in the US during the spring semester when practicing for the MCAS played a large role in the classroom. In Singapore, I was in a 6th grade classroom, which was the last year of primary school before they go to secondary school. In Singapore, all 6th grade students must take a country-wide exam called the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination). The exam determines what secondary school they will go to and it is very important to try to get into the best school possible. Therefore, in a 6th grade classroom, very much of the curriculum in English and math are geared toward this exam.

As for informal assessments, students get class worksheets and homework sheets that are all expected to be handed in to the teacher. According to the math teacher, the process is very strict because all the worksheets eventually have to be handed in to the school (after the students take them home and get parental signatures). This process already started to make to spot some differences. The same worksheet packets are given to all the 6th grade teachers. When I had asked my CT if she often collaborated with other teachers to come up with lesson plans, she said that teachers are all working off the same resources (given by the school) so there was not really a need to collaborate. She said that generally, all lesson plans within the grade look very similar. I thought this was different from the importance placed on collaboration between teachers here in the US. Teachers here believe that the exchange of ideas will lead to improved lesson plans. In Singapore, it appears as if teachers to not try to deter too far from the resources given to them.

Another difference I noticed with teachers is that more experienced teachers begin to specialize in a specific subject. While this is the case for high schools and some middle schools in the US, it starts in primary school in Singapore. For example, both the teachers that I worked with only taught one subject (one was English, the other was math). The students will get different teachers throughout their day but for the most part, the students stay in the same classroom while the teachers go to them. I have heard of some of the newer teachers teaching more than one subject for the younger grades but the students in my class had a different teacher for each subject. They seemed to adjust to each teacher well and enjoy the break time they have when a different teacher comes into the room.

For the most part, it is hard to me to pick out distinct similarities and differences between the two education systems because I have only seem a glimpse of each. I feel as if for each similarity or difference that I can pick out, I have also seen exceptions. Nothing has been completely similar or totally different. I think that both systems are doing what they believe is the best for their students and are open to learning from others.

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