12 Jan 2017

Inside Classrooms: Singapore

Singapore is consistently high in the PISA rankings and is often seen as a top performing education system. So what are its teachers doing?

Net teaching time per year – approx 600 hours (OECD ave is 700)

Estimated average class size – 35 (OECD average 22)

Salary (ave/max for age 25-29) – £26,500/47,200 (incl. bonus) (OECD average £25,400/31,200)

Salary: The average gross salary (after tax) of a Singaporean teacher is the highest in the world, as teachers are also entitled to a number of bonuses; some universal, some performance based, some awarded after a number of years service. Base pay varies depending on qualifications on entry (not all have degrees).

Class Sizes: Class sizes are planned on the basis of having 30 students per class in the first two years of primary school, and 40 per class for the rest of primary and secondary. However, this large number isn’t because there is a significantly lower student to teacher ratio than average, but because teachers officially teach for only 15 hours a week.

Pay progression Pay increases yearly with inflation, but most pay progression comes from being promoted to extra positions of responsibility. Promotion depends on a yearly evaluation that covers all aspects of a teacher’s work. There are three tracks teachers can progress along: the teaching track, the leadership track and the specialist track.

A day in the life of a teacher

6.00 Wake up. Half boiled eggs and kaya toast for breakfast. Style hair. Drive to school.

7.20 Morning assembly. I sit with my form while the students sing the national anthem and say the national pledge, and this morning we also have a guest speaker to talk to the lower secondary students about how to handle stress. The kids are asked to write one good thing about themselves on the back of their booklets; all the kids near me write “I am great” and draw lots of smiley faces.

8.00 Golden file time. Today is one of my days with fewer lessons, so I spend the first two periods catching up on my ‘golden file’, containing my schemes of work, data, lesson reflections and behaviour tracking. Every teacher has one of these files, and they are submitted weekly to school leaders to update them on our progress on each lesson.

9.00 Professional Development time. We get together as a department for two hours each week. Today we discuss a new enrichment programme we’re planning for the Sec 1 Express Stream students, and review the ‘O’ level results to learn from them for this year.

11.00 Sec 5 Art lesson (Normal Academic Stream). Students in Singapore are sorted into 5 streams on the basis of their Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE) scores. Of the three streams that do O-levels, the ‘Special’ and ‘Express’ stream students take them in Sec 4, and the Normal Academic stream take them in Sec 5 (so leave school one year later). Today I’m teaching these Sec 5 students, and am checking on their progress with their ‘O’ Level coursework; they received their question paper mid last last month. Unfortunately, most of them still haven’t taken or printed the research photographs for their observation drawings.

11.45 Sec 1 Art lesson (Express stream). We have some catching up to do to stay on course with the curriculum, as over the Chinese New Year period, lesson time was taken up with musical chairs and eating sweets. In addition to recapping on how to use colour pencils to render a flat section of colour properly, they will be learning about geometric shapes, and using warm and cool colours to complete their next assignment.

13.30 Lunch. Run down for a quick lunch and prepare for Structured Afternoon Time (SAT) for upper secondary students. They usually have one period after their last class included as a supplementary lesson.

*[Editor’s note: These supplementary lessons are not included in the official ‘hours per week’, so the true teaching time is higher than the figure given above.]

2.00 Call parents of Sec 5 students to update them on their coursework progress (or lack of progress). I am trying to encourage the parents to work with me in reminding their children about doing coursework.

2.30 Structured afternoon time with Sec 4 (Normal Academic) students, who are also preparing coursework. Students are completing their observation drawings and beginning to develop their work. The weekly expectation for them is one drawing per day, so every Thursday I check they have 7 drawings completed to my satisfaction, before they can leave.

6.15 Home time.. finally. SAT extended beyond the allotted time (this happens most of the time). Return to staff room to pack up and leave school for a swim before dinner. The students on the other hand will mainly be off to tutorials in various different subjects. I’ll do my marking and planning slowly, on the sofa, after dinner.

Editor’s note: This is not a real day in the life of a teacher, but is based on real days from real teachers, with some added notes for clarification.

This article originally appeared on edapt website

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