In my last post on the education systems of Singapore and Finland, I have highlighted the differences between the two with regards to the area of student ranking and streaming, and high stakes examinations or testing. I have also indicated the difference in the two systems’ approach to assessment with Finland paying more emphasis on formative assessment. In this post, I will look at the difference in teacher quality and their approach to teaching in the classrooms.
In Finland, all teachers are required to have a Masters degree while those in Singapore varies. In Singapore usually for those teaching in the secondary schools and above they are required to have a degree and are usually chosen from the top one-third of the university cohort each year. Even then there are exceptions with some new Mother Tongue teachers having only GCE
AO levels. In the lower levels, there are still many with just A levels and a growing number with university degrees. At the preschool levels, in child care centers and kindergartens, a minimum GCE O levels is the norm with certification in early childhood.
In Finland as has been mentioned in an earlier post, teaching is a highly regarded profession which is given as much status as even professionals like lawyers. In Singapore, while parents still in general defer to teachers and expects their school-going children to be respectful towards teachers, teaching does not enjoy the same position as other professionals. It is for this reason the Singapore government’s approach to attracting and retaining teachers has been through a quick succession of pay increases. No doubt the Ministry of Education (MOE) has also introduced different tracks for teacher mobility and career satisfaction within the teaching service but without a doubt it is the relatively high pay that has attracted and retained most of the teachers. In contrast in Finland, the Finnish National Board of Education has consistently sought to make good working conditions as the attraction of the teaching profession.
The difference in teacher quality is also seen in the approaches to teaching that is employed in the two countries. In Singapore because of the heavy emphasis on high stakes testing or examinations, the approach used has generally been a very traditional teacher-centered one where the teacher does most of the talking while the students listen. In other words, it is very much the factory assembly line approach to teaching. This is made necessary as the high stakes examinations has always been the tail that wags the dog. The focus on examinations means that a lot is to be covered for students to do well in the examinations. There is an emphasis on width as opposed to depth. Speed becomes a necessity in the “coverage” of the examinations-centered syllabus. This in turn necessitates for the traditional teacher-centered approach generally carried out in schools as student-centered discovery and exploratory approaches will require time. A recent study on science teachers in Singapore supports this contention (see here). This is despite all official policy claims of the MOE like “Teach Less, Learn More” (TLLM), “Thinking Schools, Learning Nation” (TSLN) and others. As a result, while Singapore teachers are highly professional with regards to fulfilling the goals of schools, which is to do well in the national examinations, they are a lot less skillful at honing the “new” skills that students need to acquire for the 21st century.
In Finland, an exploratory and student-centered approach are the fundamental approaches to teaching done in schools. The absence of high stakes examinations also means that much curriculum time is freed for deep learning rather than spent in examination preparation.What this means is that the usual stress, anxiety and demoralization that occurs in an examination-centric systems do not happen in Finland’s schools.
This approach does not seem to have negatively affected the quality of learning that is done in Finnish schools as Finnish students to do well in international educational surveys. More importantly perhaps is that the Finnish system reduces the human costs in terms of quality of life in schools for the students and teachers.
(End of series)