The benefits of studying abroad have long since been embraced by a generation of students looking to broaden their horizons, diversify their knowledge and embrace different cultures on their path into the professional world. Destinations galore are vying for attention, amping up their global curb appeal to attract international students. Some are bestowed with innate qualities that lend themselves particularly well to the role of host nation to those looking to study abroad: a rich linguistic and cultural repertoire for visiting students to tap into, high quality of life and an engaging, inspiring atmosphere, for instance.
Singapore – the Southeast Asian city-state comprised of 63 islands – certainly covers these bases, as the Times Higher Education would agree. Thanks to forward-thinking government policies and confident foreign investment, Singapore has also come alive with entrepreneurial activity and innovation. Simmering creativity seeks to meet local demand, while political stability has fueled a surge of economic growth in recent years. An enticing backdrop for a semester abroad – or indeed an entire course of studies.
Just how did Singapore manage to go from newly minted independent country with few friends and even fewer natural resources in 1965 to the great trading and financial center it is today?
Recognizing the value of people
According to its first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, the solution lay in “developing the country’s only available natural resource: its people”. “Human resources”, in the most quintessential meaning of the term, are afforded great value in the Lion City. As the centerpiece of this thriving economy, they are deemed worthy of great investment. Of course, Singapore takes care of its people by providing good healthcare – maintaining its stock, so to speak. But to propel the country forwards, people must be provided with good education. And so education became a defining pillar of Singaporean success.
Measurable education excellence
Investing in education means investing in pupils and students, affording the curriculum the attention and financial backing it deserves and fostering highly skilled teachers with targeted training and working conditions befitting such a crucial profession. That is what Singapore did, and with outstanding results. For over a decade, it has ranked at or near the top of international league tables alongside education heavyweights of the likes of South Korea, Japan, China and Finland. The OECD’s most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) saw Singapore outrank every other participating nation in all three major literacy disciplines: science, reading and mathematics. Boston College’s Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) seconded this evaluation for the respective fields.
How do they do it?
It’s all very well and good deciding education is important, but what are the ingredients of Singapore’s recipe for education success? The entire instructional regime seems engulfed with purposeful results-orientation. Primary and secondary school teachers have a crystal-clear understanding of what is required of their pupils in their end-of-semester exams. Armed with strategically conceptualized textbooks, worksheets and worked examples, they steer their pupils through drills and practice. Embracing a no-nonsense pedagogical approach, they convey factual and procedural knowledge in scripted, uniform lessons that cover the curriculum with missile precision.
Grit, diligence and determination are rewarded in an environment heralding meritocratic achievement. Following a syllabus The Economist describes as “narrower but deeper”, particularly well-suited to mathematics instruction, with mandatory extra sessions for struggling students, no-one is left behind.
As The Conversation points out, the country’s education model is clearly rooted in a teacher-dominated, “learning is listening” mindset. This is offset, however, by a genuine willingness to pursue evidence-led, holistic education reform. Since the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, policy makers have grown more aware of the importance of high-leverage instructional practices that foster conceptual understanding – learning how to learn – in equipping their fledglings to meet the complex demands of today’s globalized economy. The merit of personal skills has also been recognized, with Singaporean pupils coming first in PISA’s new collaborative problem-solving ranking.
After delivering outstanding hospitality education in Switzerland throughout its long history, EHL has been given the green light to offer its Bachelor of Science in International Hospitality Management in Singapore. Looking to the future, when students wonder where to study abroad, they might consider a location inherently infused with a results-driven attitude and an institution in touch with what people want.