The Arizona TeachersSolution Team continues our study of The Global Fourth Way: The Quest for Educational Excellence by Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley with Chapter 4: Singapore –Innovation, Communication, and Paradox.

We will use the table on page 10 (see attachment) as our template for summarizing each regional study.

Based on your reading from the book or the summary below, please consider a reply to this following prompt (inspired by the authors’ comment on page 18):

Considering Singapore in your context, what complementary narratives of high performance and educational change have similar sources of support and that embrace comparable examples, evidence bases and outlooks.

as always, feel free to respond with any other insightful observation you’d like to make.

And now, Chapter 4: Singapore – Innovation, Communication, and Paradox


The most surprising thing about the education system in Singapore is that at the foundation, what makes every innovation or improvement work well, is the common beliefs, habits and values of its citizens. Countries much larger and perhaps with more international visibility may visit this remarkable little country in order to learn how to transport the successful systems and structures into their own. But how do you translate culture-- ways of doing and being that are as natural as breathing-- from one country to the next? Along with cultural values, Singapore’s recent success can be attributed to three key factors, and these factors are the subject of the following discussion.

1. Teaching and Technology (73-79)

One of the leading factors of Singapore’s highly effective education system is the core belief of the administrative and teaching staff:

In this system, teachers clearly embrace innovation because they have no cause to feel threatened by an abrupt implementation. They know innovation will not come at the expense of maintaining or improving academic success, and that their expertise during the course of implementation is highly valued. (74-75)

Furthermore, these teachers believe that to maintain and improve student growth requires hard work, but that the key to achieving the desired academic outcomes results from enjoying what they do and engaging their students to do the same. They demonstrate enthusiasm and foster the love of learning through the subjects they teach. (75-76)

Finally, Singapore teachers understand that when technology is mindfully paired with good pedagogy it has the power to create rich and worthy learning experiences that keep their students engaged. (78-79)

2.    Paradoxes of High Performance

Pg 79 – “Technological innovation enhances access to tradition.”

The philosophy in the past in our American schools has been that in order to keep our traditional routes we must keep classrooms functioning the same way.  Schools have advertised their traditional methods to attract students.  In Singapore, schools have been able to hold on to their values while accepting innovation and technology to enhance their educational pathways.

Pg 79 – “An essential capability of leadership and change today is the capacity to tolerate, work with, and capitalize on states of paradox.”

This focus on the existence of paradox is to work in harmony of the different faces of education and not against.  It is recognizing the paradoxes in education and embracing and molding and ultimately empowering the paradox to make the educational system more effective.

The best illustrating sentence in this focus is from the top of page 80, ‘In Western thinking, oil and water don’t mix.  But in Chinese cooking, they do.’  An excellent analogy to show how perception and acceptance of educational paradoxes can be essential in educational reform.

1.  The Paradox of Control:  More Autonomy, More Control  pgs 80-81

The example we can take from Singapore is simple.  Singapore knew their country would need to be flexible, innovative, and high performing and they knew they would need to invent and reinvent their way out of any crises.

Singapore schools were given autonomy from regulation and intervention and were able to develop their own plans, at the same time, government kept the responsibility for providing value in public money and social and economic strategies.

2.  The Paradox of Pedagogy:  Teach Less, Learn More pgs 81-82

What we all would like to tell our administrations – “Children would be prepared for the ‘test of life,’ not a ‘life of test.”

Teachers in Singapore are able to introduce their own programs, undertake personal innovation, and give students space to value their own learning.  This takes greater planning, differentiated instruction, and monitoring and adjusting.

3.  The Paradox of Technology:  Digital Inventions, Classroom Conventions pgs 82-83

The administration in Singapore did not ask the question if technology was being used rather, how it was being used.  Were teachers in Singapore reinforcing or enhancing traditional teaching or were they transforming learning?

4.  The Paradox of Change:   Structured Insurgency

Structured insurgency is planning well and seeding the idea of innovation.  It is change starting small but the success is experienced individually and then the success grows.  It is the deliberate strategy of planting change.

Teachers in Singapore are also connected to practices and ideas from all around the world.  Teachers are encouraged to participate in the international education conversation.

The idea of ‘nudging’ is born in this paradox.  Structured insurgency nudges people forward in the desired direction yet still allows for control of choice.

An idea that arises is that of school climate and culture.  This persistent encouragement, continuous communication, and valued relationships need to be fostered in the school climate.  That means the right people in the right places at the right time.

5.  The Paradox of Time and Space:  Back to the Future, Inside Out

The pagan god Janus is introduced at the beginning of this focus.  She is the god of beginnings and transitions, of endings and time.  I instantly think of another term, teacherprenuerism.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this was a new title or role in our districts?

The idea of competition is discussed under this particular paradox.  The ultimate question is, why collaborate with your neighbors if they use your ideas to surpass you?   Teachers in Singapore have a mix of competition with collaboration.  A term coined, co-opetition.  In Singapore, co-opetition is expected.

Singapore does not leave tradition behind, rather they place great value on discipline, respect, good education and hard work.  These values are cultivated through perseverance and competitiveness.

3.   Culture and Communication

Note: Singapore has a total of 360 school within a maximum range of one hour’s driving time.

“Structure is what to do. Culture is how to be.” Ministry of Education (equivalent to our US Dept of Ed) holds yearly work-plan seminars which communications overall direction, sets policy for the year, facilitates interaction among school leaders around implementation. (p87)

Singapore is able to establish coherent strategies of teacher training, ed leadership development and ed research by having only one higher education-based program of teacher education. (p87)

The director of the National Institute of Education meets with the minister of ed and/or senior officials on every week. There is a commitment to a common direction. Informal process targets are provided. Schools are visited for communication purposes only (two-way learning), NOT to assess or inspect them. (p.88)

All parties are engaged in numerous meetings where constant interaction centered around good food takes place. All parties are driven by a sense of purpose and urgency. Educators have a motto, “We eat and we run!” (p.88)

The system is about trust and watching. Education officers in regular professional and supervisory experiences discuss with teachers how they are performing and provide three career tracks: potential school leader, future teacher leader, future National Institute of Education official. All conversations are on progress. Meetings are invitations to have tea. All teachers are provided training.  There is a commitment to helping teachers reach their full potential.  (p 88 & 89)

There is regular circulation of teachers across the system – between schools, the Ministry of Education, and the National Institute of Education (Singapore’s only higher level of education for teachers). This keeps communication clear and alleviates potential burnout and boredom in the education. (p. 89)

Teachers regularly interact with each other so they can teach less so students can learn more and to learn to use technology effectively. (p. 89)

In Singapore, “Communication is the catalyst; culture is the key.”

4.   Other considerations: (p. 90)

Singapore places teachers at a level of respect equivalent to an engineer.

The system is based on forward-looking, integrated planning system connecting education to national economic needs.

There are minimal variations between schools and any innovations are swiftly implemented.

Clear and constant communication between policy implementers, researchers and educators keep everyone focused on common goals.

Equity and merit encourage intense competition at the same time while requiring participation at all levels from almost everyone in the public school system.

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