Thursday, May 05, 2011

If only Mrs Tolley - A vision for education from Singapore

Singapore - from a left over British colony in 1945 to a vibrant Asian Tiger. The power of Vision.

While Mrs Tolley is busy taking New Zealand down the testing agenda other countries are heading for creativity and innovation as the answer. It is ironic that Mrs Tolley, a believer in the testing agenda, is following the two countries, the US and the UK, that have followed this path both who are well down the list of successful schools on international testing. The accountability testing agenda ( for all the money spent on it) has not shown any improvement in such countries and, worse still, has distorted the education process of both countries. Equally ironically is that New Zealand has, for decades, been in the top group of performing countries. Mrs Tolley harps on about the 'achievement gap' ( the 'one in five children failing' ) happily ignoring all the uncomfortable research that points to the failing being a bi- product of poverty.

Back to Singapore.

Just note the difference between Mrs Tolley limited rhetoric and Ms Ho Peng's, the Director General of Education of Singapore, vision .

Here are some quotes from a speech she gave in 2009.
She begins by saying Singapore's educational journey 'is at an inflexion point.'

Singapore she begins, 'is recognised for our strong education system with high standards of of achievement and pockets of innovation, So certainly we have come some way'.

Ms Peng outlined significant milestones in the journey saying that the 'Thinking School, Learning Nation' of 1997 stands out an initiative that 'gave school leaders greater autonomy in terms of school management.We moved away from a top down approach.'

'An inspection system gave way to a cluster system under the guidance of Superintendents who served as mentors...On of the outcomes which exceeded expectations was the rapid professional growth through sharing by teachers across schools'.

'In 2005 the Teach Less, Learn More was another significant initiative which saw innovation entering the classroom.Teachers were encouraged to innovate in teaching and learning.The purpose was to make sure that learning was meaningful and enjoyable to all our students'.

Ms Peng outlined that top down support, workshops, and resources assisted the professional growth of principals and teachers in curriculum development, research, and pedagogical skills.

This brought her to the present.

'I see the growing confidence of teachers: teachers taking ownership in designing learning for students'. She sees emerging teacher leadership as encouraging and that this is all about 'mobilising the still largely untapped attributes of teachers'.

'With the rapid professional growth of our teachers, I see Singapore teachers as beginning to chart the future of our profession.'

'So' , she continues, 'where do we want to go as a teaching fraternity?'

'In 2010 , we are entering a new decade in the 21stC, the next lap of our education journey. It is therefore timely to have a Vision for the Teaching Service which would express the aspirations of the professionals and points the way forwards for us, as a teaching fraternity.'

To achieve this vision a team was set up whose role was to enter into dialogue with groups of principals and teachers to draw from them 'the core of teaching beliefs, as well as their aspirations'.

Zonal conversations were set up involving thousands of teachers. These conversations involved asking teachers, 'how that saw themselves, what was meaningful to them, what gave then fulfillment, and what they wanted to see of the teaching service?' All together 20000 teachers were involved and resulted in certain key thoughts being expressed.

These thoughts were put into three baskets.

The first basket revolved around the word "Care".
'We teach because we care'. 'We believe in the child'. We want 'teachers to go the extra mile'.'Every child is important'.

The second basket of phrases revolved around the word "Inspire".

Teachers inspire by 'touching lives', by 'making a difference' and by believing 'I am the one who can change the student for the better'.

The third cluster of phrases surrounded the word "professional".

By appreciating the 'mentor in me', by 'building each other up', by 'continuous learning' and 'professional exchange' and by 'being a community of learners'.

In their conversation teachers also expressed the wish that 'We need the support and understanding of parents and community.We need parents to work alongside us, to weave a web of support for each and every child we teach.'

Ms Peng thanked her teachers for 'launching the Vision' and said that it was a challenge to distill all that had been said.

Ms Peng then went on unpack the three elements: Lead, Care, Inspire.

'The word eduction originates from the Latin word " educere" which means, "to lead out, to draw out from the learner". There is a quote that says. 'One mark of a great educator is the ability to lead students out to new places that even the educator has never been". 'The starting point is how we relate to the learners, drawing them out of their shell, and drawing out the potential in all of them through the opportunities we provide them. Teachers, she said, need to work in Professional Learning Communities to learn from one another - for teachers 'to be leading teachers'. There is a need to nurture teacher leaders.

The second element, Care, 'is the core to what we do every day as is about teachers who go the extra mile to dhow kindness and care for their children..for the well being of of the child in holistic way.Physical safety, moral character - being able to do the right thing at the right time and at the right place - as well as being well adjusted socially and emotionally.'

Ms Peng said "Inspire", the third element is about great teachers inspiring through the love of the subject , teaching skills, the care of students, or because it simply personifies certain time honoured values. 'The greatest satisfaction to many of us teachers that you know you have made it, is when many students go on to take the subject to a higher level'.

Ms Peng summed up the full explanation of the 'Lead, Care, Inspire' vision:

'By word and deed, through the care we give, we touch the lives of our students.We make a difference- leading and inspiring our students to believe in themselves and to be the best they can be.As individuals and as a community of professionals, we seek continually to deepen our expertise.Respectful of fellow educators, we collaborate to build a strong fraternity, taking pride in our work and profession.We forge trusting partnerships with families and the community for the growth and well being of each students.

Concluding she asked 'how can we take this vision forward?'

Her advice was to 'take some time to reflect on the Vision and also the explanation.Think about the professional values that you hold dear and see how these ae aligned to the Vision.Share this from time to time in school with your colleagues.Record your own journey in a log... continue your conversations about the Vision so we can refine it'

'In conclusion , it is together as a fraternity - teacher to lead, care and inspire - that we can continue to do the best for Singapore'.

Cannot see Mrs Tolley ever being so wise!


Anonymous said...

It is interesting to see Singapore go from a virtual dictatorship under Lee Kwan Yu(?) after WW2 to an open creative democratic society. At the same time eductional dictatorship is on the rise in New Zealand under Mrs Tolley as she reaches back to the standardized past for answers.

And you are right failing children is all about poverty.

No comparison between Mrs Tolley and Ms Ho Peng - they come from different centurys!

Bruce said...

It seemed to me, from reading the speech, that Singapore has made the effort to tap into the best intentions of their teachers to develop a shared vision. We should be having such a conversation in NZ.
We already have an excellent curriculum to get behind if only schools weren't been distracted, or high-jacked, by the National Standards.