Sep 25, 2010
Top marks for S'pore education
Finland, S.Korea also praised in global report on quality of teachers
Tanjong Katong Girls' School teacher Chen Ziyang gave up a place in medical school to join the teaching profession and has no regrets. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
A GLOBAL management consulting firm has attributed Singapore's excellent education system to the 'integrated approach' it has taken in building up a pool of great teachers.
It has done this by making teaching appealing to its top students with the offer of competitive salaries, rigorous training and opportunities to grow professionally, said McKinsey.
The report, Closing The Talent Gap, noted the common emphasis on the quality of teachers recruited here, in Finland and South Korea, which have the world's best- performing education systems.
Students from these countries outperform their US counterparts in international assessment tests in mathematics, science and reading, the report noted.
One main reason was that these three countries focused on hiring, developing and retaining quality teachers.
Singapore recruits its teachers from the top 30 per cent of each cohort; Finland does so from the top 20 per cent of its high school cohort and requires all teachers to have a master's degree, while South Korea draws its primary school teachers from the top 5 per cent of each cohort.
In contrast, only about a quarter of new teachers in the US come from the top one-third of their cohorts, the report said.
Professor Lee Sing Kong, the director of Singapore's teacher training body, the National Institute of Education (NIE), said that attracting the best and giving them the best training is the way to a top-quality teaching force.
To attract the cream of the crop, the Education Ministry (MOE) offers a remuneration package on par with the industry's.
MOE's director of personnel Lu Cheng Yang said: 'Compensation matters when you want to get those people who are high- quality, have some interest in teaching, but who also have many other career choices.'
He added that it was MOE's hope that new teachers discover a passion for the job within five years, see it as a meaningful vocation and then stay in it for life.
Apart from a basic salary, teachers here get merit increments, performance bonuses and outstanding contribution awards.
They are paid a salary while being trained at NIE, and a retention bonus in the form of a cash payout every three to five years.
In Finland, salaries are modest but teaching is a top career choice; teachers there are more highly regarded than doctors and lawyers, partly because of the profession's prestige. In South Korea, teachers' salaries fall somewhere between those of engineers and doctors.
Salary aside, passion is what MOE wants in its teachers - and Mr Chen Ziyang has it in spades.
This teacher of English and biology at Tanjong Katong Girls' School gave up his place in medical school to pursue his passion, inspired by Chinese writer Lu Xun, who was a medical student before becoming a writer.
Mr Chen, 26, called 'foolish' by his parents and peers, has one of Lu Xun's sayings as a retort.
'Lu Xun said: 'Why cure the ills of the human body when you can't change a person's behaviour? I believe moulding character, making a difference to students, is more meaningful than healing a body.''