How difficult is school in Singapore

The system leaves no teacher alone - and no one alone


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Rector Koh leads the guest into his most modern classroom. Screens hang on the walls, microphones from the ceiling. Koh leaves the room, a short time later his voice can be heard: "You don't see me now. I do you." Koh stands in the next room and looks through a one-way mirror.

In this "Teaching Lab" the teachers of the Frontier School observe each other at work. While one of them is teaching, the colleagues stand behind the window and take notes. Later they evaluate the lesson together. Every teacher is required to use the teaching laboratory twice a year. Many do it more often. Often they try out whether the lessons that have been prepared together reach the students.

But even in schools without a teaching lab, cooperation is a duty of educators. The system leaves no teacher alone - and no one alone. From beginners to rectors, everyone has a tutor with whom they meet regularly. Once a year it is assessed by a ministerial supervisor. Has the colleague completed his 100 hours of advanced training? What does his parenting work like? Does he need special training himself: the chemistry teacher maybe an internship in the university laboratory? And at the end, each teacher receives a grade.

Those who are better rise up: from teacher to senior teacher to master teacher. This advancement does not reward management skills. As in the West, there is the traditional school principal career. In Singapore, however, there is another educational path: the two senior teachers (senior teacher) for Mathematics on the Frontier Secondary are the best didacticians in their subject. The master teachers are the best in the whole country, they advance didactics and earn many times that of their colleagues.

For some time the Frontier teachers were concerned with the question of how to quickly grasp what the students understood in class. The result can be seen in the form of triangular signs on the desks. With green ("everything clear"), yellow ("have questions"), red ("no idea"), girls and boys show how far they can follow the lesson. In other schools, students hold up cardboard boxes with a pattern for a particular answer option. With two or three swings of his smartphone, the teacher scans the cardboard with the QR code, and in no time at all it becomes visible on the electronic board who knows the correct answer - and who does not.

This is the teaching principle in Singapore: The teacher always has the teaching process firmly in hand. You can hardly see idle, but also little free space. As if the school in Singapore was obsessed with an educational horror vacui.

Where should imagination and obstinacy grow? The authorities have severely cut the subject matter, the school books are thin. But that doesn't mean the pupils have to study less. The best students no longer appear in the newspaper, school rankings are officially abolished. However, all teachers and parents know exactly where their school is. Rector Martin Koh preaches to his parents that additional private lessons are actually superfluous. But he also sends his daughter to tutoring in Chinese.

It is difficult to learn free thinking in a system built on awe of authority. Creativity cannot be crammed in. Above the entrance to the Frontier Primary School is written in large letters: "Be special, do something special" - dozens of other schools have exactly the same motto.

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