“Singapore maths” teaching tools are being adopted around the world

The National Institute of Education (NIE) takes on a new study on how to better incorporate Singapore-based maths overseas.

SINGAPORE – The present “Singapore way” of teaching maths has become global, with currently 14 countries using customized textbooks based on Singapore maths, in places as far as South Africa and Chile.

Singaporean maths textbooks published by Marshall Cavendish Education are expected to reach up to 8,000 primary schools in Britain over the next few years and are currently being trialled in 70 British primary schools by the Department for Education.

According to The Straits Times, schools in the United States began testing the use of Singapore-made maths textbooks in 2000. By 2007, the United States was already championing the use of Singaporean textbooks in 5,700 elementary schools for the state of California.

More than simply popularizing textbooks, Singaporean maths have repeatedly produced good results.

Studies in the United States, Britain, and India have demonstrated that test scores of primary school students improve when students are taught mathematics the Singaporean way.

Taking pride in being one of the most reputable education systems in the world, Singapore has continuously ranked at, or near, the top in global comparisons of mathematical ability.

Singapore students registered as top performers in the 1995 and 1999 Trends in International Mathematics and Science study, a global study by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.

In May 2015, Singapore was ranked first – followed by Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan – in a league table based on test scores assessing 15-year-olds’ abilities in maths and science from 76 countries by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

According to the Financial Times, Andreas Schleicher, head of the OECD’s education assessment programme, said that Singapore’s curriculum teaches more in-depth at the primary level than in many western countries.

“When you look at England and the US, [their curriculums] are mile-wide and inch-deep. They teach a lot of things but at a shallow level. Mathematics in Singapore is not about knowing everything. It’s about thinking like a mathematician.”

– Andreas Schleicher, Head of OECD’s education assessment programme

The so-called “Singapore way” of teaching mathematics was first developed in the 1980s by a team of teachers from the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore, with the aim of developing better-improved schooling and learning tactics among Singapore pupils.

Tasked by the ministry of education, these researchers examined the latest behavioural science research, while travelling to overseas countries, including Canada and Japan, to compare the effectiveness of different teaching techniques.

Focusing on instructing children how to problem-solve, rather than simply relying on rote memorization, the team designed specific textbooks influenced by the American educational psychologist Jerome Bruner, who theorized that people learn in three stages: first, by using real objects, then pictures, and lastly through symbols.

From then, Bruner’s theory has contributed to Singapore’s revolutionized maths model method, which emphasizes solving mathematical problems through visual aids, such as using bar-unit drawings to represent ratios or fractions.

Photo: Financial Times

The National Institute of Education (NIE) is currently taking on a new project to learn how to customize Singapore maths for teaching curriculums abroad, according to another Straits Times article.

Last September, a team of five academics from NIE’s Mathematics and Mathematics Education Academic Group collaborated on designing ways to teach mathematics using the Singapore maths model method for fifth to seventh graders in Australia.

Their resources include using visual means, such as objects, pictures, and diagrams, to teach mathematical concepts.

This was part of a project administered by the Australian Academy of Science named the “reSolve: Mathematics by Inquiry” programme to help pupils learn mathematics in a more creative, engaging way.

After their pilot study, the NIE academics will gather data from schools in the states of Victoria and South Australia and make their refined programme accessible to teachers in over 9,000 Australian schools. NIE strives to accomplish this by February next year.

The reSolve programme will also train 240 teachers to endorse the programme in their schools, with over 400 schools at present expressing interest.

The leader of the Singapore team of researchers, Associate Professor Lee Ngan Hoe, said that there may be difficulties in customizing the Singapore-based maths techniques in overseas schools.

“[Overseas teachers] may not know the philosophy and principles behind some methods, so there may be a mismatch in terms of how the (teaching) methods are used”.

– Associate Professor Lee Ngan Hoe

Emeritus Professor Kaye Stacey, the director of special topics for Australia’s reSolve programme, responded that the Australian team will have to evaluate the degree to which the resources developed are appropriate for Australian schools, even though Singapore was deliberately picked as an ally due to its “particularly well developed” approach.

Nonetheless, further rounds of trials will be conducted later this year, across more schools in other states, to determine the most effective way of customizing Singapore-based maths around the world.

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