New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 13

Accepted Abstracts

“A Racing Car Locked in A Garage”: Education and Training of Science Teachers in Singapore

Yew-Jin Lee, National Institute of Education (Singapore)


While student achievement has recently been shown to be very successful in international tests in Singapore, both qualitative and quantitative research has shown that classroom teaching here is still largely frontal, directed teaching albeit of a high quality and that students’ epistemic practices are scarce. Longitudinal studies of a “model” secondary school that adopted inquiry science practices also showed that recent reforms did not significantly improve students’ generation of new knowledge just as teaching was mainly confined to traditional methods. Statistical modeling has reported that the logic of teaching in East Asian contexts dictates high-efficiency content coverage in the face of high-stakes assessment regimes and societal expectations of success. The PISA 2012 report has even speculated that high content mastery by students has been a significant reason for their strong achievement in mathematics here that has compensated for fewer problem-solving skills.

I claim that this situation is unsatisfactory; teachers in Singapore enjoy high levels of training in curriculum, leadership, and assessment strategies but development in the liberal education tradition appears to be lacking or unable to show itself in the classroom. This is a problem that demands a shift in thinking about what constitutes genuine learning and asks if politicians are serious about the rhetoric of effective learning in the 21st century. As a science teacher-educator, I have been experimenting with practice-based teaching, which I will share during my presentation. These have included a program where preservice teachers mentor after-school inquiry investigations with groups of pupils over a school term. Here, teachers and pupils collaboratively engage in projects whereby there are often no known answers in the textbooks although the teachers explicitly act as facilitators. Such practice-based teaching that follows the US Fifth Dimension program help close the theory-practice gaps and are a viable model also for PD. As well, I share similar work done using a Microbial Fuel Cell with secondary school students and their teachers. We have much theoretical support from the ideas put forth by many from Aristotle to Durkheim, Michael Young and Paul Ricoeur about the need for intertwining abstract and practical knowledge. It is my contention that teachers in Singapore are ultimately underperforming with regard to their potential similar to a powerful car that is imprisoned in a garage and that once education (rather than mere training) is given priority, education for the young can truly advance.

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