THE (Times Higher Education) - - WORLD ACADEMIC SUMMIT: NEWS - Paul Basken

Sin­ga­pore has long been seen as a pro­ducer of stu­dents who per­form well on tests but lack the cre­ativ­ity to in­no­vate and com­pete in the global mar­ket­place.

That stereo­type felt overblown, Sin­ga­pore’s ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter Ye Kung Ong told the sum­mit. But to the de­gree that the stereo­type con­tained some un­pleas­ant truths, Mr Ong said, Sin­ga­pore was now well into the process of fix­ing it, even if it might be a few years be­fore the out­side world recog­nises this. The ef­fort goes back sev­eral years, with ini­tia­tives to give school­teach­ers more flex­i­bil­ity in their cur­ricu­lum. Now, in the realm of higher ed­u­ca­tion, it means mak­ing uni­ver­sity learn­ing more ex­pe­ri­en­tial and pro­mot­ing over­seas ex­changes and en­trepreneurial skills, Mr Ong (pic­tured in­set) said.

The goal is “not just flipped class­rooms”, Mr Ong told the sum­mit, re­fer­ring to the in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar prac­tice of em­pha­sis­ing class­room dis­cus­sions over lec­tures, “but flipped cam­puses, and flipped fac­ulty”.

The prow­ess of Sin­ga­pore’s ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem has long been renowned. The na­tion’s 15-year-old school stu­dents reg­u­larly pop­u­late the top ranks of in­ter­na­tional tests run by the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment, called the Pro­gramme for In­ter­na­tional Stu­dent Assess­ment, or Pisa. But Sin­ga­pore’s lead­ers ac­knowl­edge that pres­sure put on chil­dren to spend their hours study­ing has left them too one-di­men­sional. Among the ev­i­dence cited are low patent counts and a US Cham­ber of Com­merce sur­vey that ranked the coun­try’s work­force high on tech­ni­cal skills but poorly on mea­sures of cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion.

Mr Ong said that such im­pres­sions might be un­fair be­cause stu­dents and work­ers need to un­der­stand a sub­ject well in order to do much cre­atively with it. A new Pisa test aimed at assess­ing cre­ativ­ity be­gan in 2015, and Sin­ga­pore came out at the top, Mr Ong said. The new em­pha­sis on ed­u­ca­tional risk-tak­ing might not yet be ev­i­dent to peo­ple out­side Sin­ga­pore, but it will be­come much clearer within a decade or so, Mr Ong said.

And com­pared with other coun­tries, Sin­ga­pore comes to the prob­lem with some ad­van­tages. Asma Is­mail, vice-chan­cel­lor of Univer­siti Sains Malaysia, told the con­fer­ence that she could only look en­vi­ously at her neigh­bour­ing coun­try, given Malaysia’s strug­gles to fi­nance ba­sic lev­els of uni­ver­sity re­search. Nev­er­the­less, she holds out hope that the new Malaysian gov­ern­ment ap­pre­ci­ates the need to pri­ori­tise ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing. “For­tu­nately for Malaysia,” she said, “the po­lit­i­cal willpower is still there.”

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