Singapore is really quite an amazing place. A small island, 275 square miles (half the size of Fife), 85 miles north of the equator with a population of 4.5m people. Despite having no natural resources, not even its own water supply, Singapore seems to have prospered largely on the resourcefulness of its people with some help from geography of course – its location between India and China. Today Singapore is the 18th wealthiest country in the world, based on per capita GDP, has a thriving economy and is the second biggest port in the world after Rotterdam. [Edit: Ooop forgot about Shanghai and maybe Singapore is now bigger than Rotterdam?] From what I understand spitting out chewing gum or dropping litter is still banned and punishable by a hefty fine. The streets are clean and it feels like a pretty safe place to be work or be a tourist. Maybe being harsh on small-scale anti-social behaviour is a good thing. The issue is, as ever, finding the right balance between rights and responsibilities. Everybody I have spoken to seemed to be very proud of their country and wanted to make their own contribution to Singapore’s continuing to prosperity.
Education has very high status in Singapore; very important both to the Government, reflected in spending, and to the people, if exam results and international benchmarks can be taken as a proxy measures.
I have seen schools that would compare well with the very best in Scotland despite having class sizes of 40. I visited a primary school with 2000 pupils operating a double session, i.e. 1000 in the morning and 1000 in the afternoon. I have met many hard working headteachers over the years but the operational management of this school would be a challenge to any of them.
One 14 [Edit: actually 11] year old girl at this school, that I spoke to, gets up at 0645 for a 0715 start, gets back home at 1300 and manages to pack in 1 to 2 hours of homework before starting on some other ‘test practice’ set by her mum. I have had the privilege of teaching some highly motivated young people over the years but very few 14 year olds in Scotland would be able to compete on this front [leaving aside whether this degree of work ethic is a good thing or not for the moment].
Overall this has been a very worthwhile visit for me. Our children and young people will be competing in the same small world that Singapore’s children and young people will be growing up in. As a country we have in the past thrived on the ingenuity of our people. There is no reason why we should not continue to thrive into the future. Let’s just make sure we make the right investments in our education system, continuing to keep our eyes on the horizon with a view to ensuring that when we say world-class we really mean it.