Tag Archives: curricular reform

Singapore emphasizes 21st Century Competencies

In the wake of our posts on some of the current issues in education in Finland, we asked Paul Chua, Senior Teaching Fellow at the National Institute of Education, to let us know about some of the current discussions in Singapore.

Although Singapore was one of the highest-performing countries on the PISA Computer-Based Problem Solving test, a test meant to, amongst other things, measure students’ ability to think flexibly and creativity, Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) took the opportunity to reiterate the rationale and approaches launched initially in 2010 to cultivate students’ 21st Century Competencies (21CC) .

In reiterating their approach, the MOE  continues to emphasize some of the features of their framework for 21CC that are shared with other countries, including creative and critical thinking, communication and collaboration, and social and cultural skills (see for example Soland et al. 2013, and Voogt & Roblin 2012). However, the MOE has also highlighted a unique connection to the core values that the Singapore education system hopes to cultivate in all its students. Instead of learning the 21st century competencies in a vacuum, in Singapore, the competencies are supposed to be learned in the context of core values, like respect, resilience, responsibility, and harmony. From the Ministry’s perspective, such an approach should remind educators in the classroom of the role that values play in education and help them to enable students to become the self-directed learners, confident people, concerned citizens and active contributors that are the desired outcomes of the Singapore education system.

The MOE’s reiteration also includes an update of their approaches to the delivery of the 21CC.  Rather than creating a separate subject called “21CC,” the Singaporean approach calls for the integration of 21CC into both the academic and the non-academic curricula, such as Character and Citizenship Education and Co-Curricular Activities. In order to support that integration, the MOE hopes to help teachers develop the capacity to deliver a 21CC-embedded curriculum through pre-service and in-service learning courses, as well as on-going collaborative teacher learning through professional learning communities. Schools are also to collaborate with community partners to augment the learning and teaching experience with more imaginative and authentic learning environments and programmes. Finally, while cultivating a school culture that values and promotes the delivery of the 21st century competencies is not mentioned explicitly, that concern is reflected in the Singaporean school quality assurance framework.

In recent years, the MOE has also introduced a slew of initiatives to better assure the effective delivery and attainment of the 21st century competencies. These include modifications to the assessment practices in the primary schools; introduction of more varied secondary schools landscape; tweaking of the direct secondary school admission criteria at the interface between primary and secondary school education; and re-alignment of the school self-assessment and recognition framework. First, modifications to the primary schools assessment, including the development of holistic assessments, were recommended by the Primary Education Review and Implementation (PERI) Committee. These modifications were intended to better balance the acquisition of knowledge with the development of skills and values. In addition, a review of the reporting of the scores of the primary school leaving examination is currently underway “to support a more holistic education for students … on equipping students with values, attributes, knowledge and skills for work and life in the 21st century.” (Heng, 2014a). Secondly, to create a more varied and colourful (secondary) school landscape to realize the vision that “every school a good school,” and thereby alleviate the parental pressure of getting their children admitted to schools with the best academic reputations, all (secondary) schools are being supported by the Ministry to develop distinctive and rich learning programmes through the Applied Learning Programmes (ALP) and Learning for Life Programmes (LLP). Many of these Learning Programmes are themselves focused on the development of students’ 21st century competencies. Third, the Direct (Secondary) School Admission scheme is being tweaked so that a greater range of non-academic attributes such as resilience, character and leadership are recognized and hence encouraged, and yet implemented without adding to the burden of assessment. Finally, the Ministry has re-aligned its school self-assessment and recognition scheme to reflect its desire to nurture “every school a good school.” The re-alignments have been made for the intent of “broadening our definitions of excellence” (Heng, 2014b), as well as to give schools “more space to design student-centric programmes … and to create distinctive schools, good in your own ways” (Heng, 2014b).

Scan of Education News: September 19th – October 7th

In 1994, UNESCO declared October 5th World Teachers’ Day in order to call attention to the fact that “all over the world, a quality education offers hope and the promise of a better standard of living.” UNESCO identifies teacher shortage as a major problem in 2012, and recent reports confirm their claim. In the latter half of September, teacher shortages were reported in countries such as India, the Dominican Republic, and in a total of 114 countries worldwide. This fact presents a significant problem for countries such as North KoreaBrazilSouth AfricaIndia, and Barundi, which have all made efforts to increase the amount of time students spend in the classroom. In contrast, Spain has seen education cuts that have left many teachers desperate for work, Guatemala has instituted new teacher education requirements that make it more difficult, and expensive, to enter the teaching profession, and Austria’s conservative party (ÖVP) has proposed a radical reform (“Mission Austria 2025”) that would alter teachers’ working conditions, including an increase in the number of hours teachers spend in the classroom.

Several reports have also shown that many countries have differing opinions about the ease of access to education through testing. While the UK has been debating whether or not it would be “cruel” to make university entrance exams any easier, India has taken steps to ease the entry process.  Ultimately, the UK decided to replace the GCSEs with an English Baccalaureate Certificate that officials say will raise standards and streamline a overly complicated system. In a similar move, South Korea adopted a new English-language exam (NEAT), which they intend to use in place of  the American TOEFL exam in the college application process in 2013.

Meanwhile, countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia have been looking for ways to make school curricula more creative and interesting to students, in a move they believe will foster higher order thinking and cut down on test-prep approaches to schooling.  Sweden is going so far as to rethink school building design in an effort to promote collaboration and creativity in primary school students, while South Korea is implementing policy that aims to prevent excessive “prior learning,” or tutoring, sought by parents in an effort to make sure their children are well-prepared for upcoming high-stakes tests. The high standards that many countries have put in place to promote academic achievement have led countries such as Romania and Switzerland to seek vocational alternatives to higher education.

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South Korea

South Korea’s Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology leads education reform to prevent excessive prior learning from private tutoring 

*Original article in Korean

Joongang News (September 26, 2012)

Prior learning in Korea refers to educational programs offered via private institutes, which teach above-grade-level school curricula to students in advance. Subjects are taught a year ahead of  schedule, and even three years in certain cases. South Korea’s Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology announced that the excessive prior learning has caused problems in students’ cognitive, social and emotional, and educational development. The ministry has presented an outline for a new policy that plans to solve the problems through:

-Examination of public school curricula that might encourage prior learning.

-Examination of the effects of prior learning on the entrance exams for high schools and colleges.

-Exploration of the successful public school models with regard to curriculum management.

-Conducting scientific and practical research on the disadvantages of prior learning.

-Probing of private tutoring programs.

For more information:

Link to the article from the blog of the Korean Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (Korean)

Prior Learning (English)

36% of parents spend W910,000 on tutoring 

 Growing debt worries for South Korea


A new strategy for lower secondary school (in Norwegian)
Ministry of Education (15 May 2012)

For the first time in 40 years, the Ministry of Education has released a white paper on strategies for developing lower secondary education in Norway. The aim is to enhance motivation and learning outcomes for all students. The strategy plan runs from school year 2012/13 through 2016/17.

The curricula for the following eight new electives will be ready in June:
– stage and performance
– media and information
– production of goods and services
– physical activity and health
– design and redesign
– practical research
– practical technology
– international cooperation


Analysis: from concept to classroom
Denholm, A.  The Herald (11 April 2012)

New research by Stirling University highlights that “there is still significant uncertainty over [Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellent (CfE)], even as 54,000 secondary pupils move towards the first exams in 2014.”  CfE’s purpose was to move education from the regurgitation of facts to “a new style of learning, better suited to the fast-changing modern economy which relies on creative thinking and resourcefulness.”  Focus has been on the early CfE curricular materials, which have been labeled “vague and confusing.”  (A summary of the Stirling University research can be found here; additional news about the study can be found here.)