First of two parts
I AM very thankful for the opportunity given by my office bosses (as distinguished from my other bosses, our Filipino people), Bro. Armin A. Luistro, FSC, and Undersecretary Alberto T. Muyot, when they allowed me to accept the invitation of the government of Singapore to attend a very rigorous two-week course on Singapore Basic Education System, which they called “Leaders in Education Program International 2015,” sponsored by the prestigious National Institute of Singapore (NIE). The NIE is ranked 10th in the world and second in Asia by the QS World University Rankings in the subject of education in 2015.
I feel that I am now “an expert in some way” on the Singapore Basic Education System and its concept of “education leadership” after going through all the modules given, plus visiting some elementary and secondary education schools and its Singapore Ministry of Education Museum and Heritage Center. Considering also the report and experiences on common basic education issues shared by some high-level education officials coming from 20 or more countries who also participated in this intensive two-week program, I was exposed to latest thinking on education leadership and innovation, which I think may definitely be applied to our Philippine basic education system. The following shall be substantially based on NIE Professors Goh Chor Boon’s and Toh Chye Seng papers and other modules given during the two-week program.
Colonized by the British in 1819, then occupied by the Japanese in 1942 (during World War II), then again “repossessed” by the British in 1945, it may be said that the history of Singapore, insofar as being colonized by other countries, is similar to that of the Philippines. Unlike the Philippines, however, which gained its independence in 1898 (but may be considered to effectively exercising self-rule only in 1946), Singapore was formally separated from Malaysia and became a sovereign, democratic and independent city-state only on August 9, 1965, under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew.
So, Singapore has only 50 years of experience in developing its education system, but for me, its education system may be considered one of the best in the world. And this superior and world-class Singapore education system is really the reason an impoverished state with no natural resources and a population, a majority of whom were illiterate 50 years ago, is now transformed to a country of more or less 5 million people with very high-living standards definitely comparable to the most highly developed industrial nations. The Singapore education system may be divided into phases: First is the survival-driven education (1965 to 1978); second is the efficiency-driven education (1979 to 1997); third is the ability-driven education. Currently, it says that it is now in the “learner-centered phase” of education. Under the present phase, Singapore views learners as “partners in change and in leadership.”
Survival-driven education refers to the period of 1965 to 1978, when Singapore education system had to cope with educating large number of children as a result of high birth rates from the previous decade. The primary objective at that time was to quickly build schools, hire more teachers and equip its students with skills that made them employable in labor-intensive work. (It may be said that our Bro. Armin has achieved this with the massive construction of 66,813 classrooms as of December 2013, and the hiring of 128,105 teachers as of December 2014, thereby effectively addressing the shortages we faced as of 2010). Efficiency-driven education refers to the period of 1979 to 1997, when major reforms were introduced like a “tracking system” with the aim of reducing the dropout rate and ensuring that students with low academic performance exit school with some skills. Education was “geared to become more efficient and effective” through “streaming and a standardized curriculum and through the acquisition of industry-related skills.”
This column should not be taken as a legal advice applicable to any case, as each case is unique and should be construed in light of the attending circumstances surrounding such particular case.
Lawyer Toni Umali is the current assistant secretary for Legal and Legislative Affairs of the Department of Education (DepEd). He is licensed to practice law not only in the Philippines, but also in the state of California and some federal courts in the US after passing the California State Bar Examinations in 2004. He has served as a legal consultant to several legislators and local chief executives. As education assistant secretary, he was instrumental in the passage of the K to 12 law and the issuance of its implementing rules and regulations. He is also the alternate spokesman of the DepEd. To be concluded
“In the second phase of the development of the Singaporean economic system, the government was seeking to shift its competitive advantage in the global labor market from being the low cost of its labor to the quality of its labor, so that it could compete for businesses that would not just locate in Singapore, but locate work in Singapore that would pay well. So the focus of education policy shifted from basic literacy to quality and to the retention of students in school. The focus of policy became how to get all students to global education standards.”
The Curriculum Development of Institute of Singapore (CDIS) was also established in 1980 to, among others, produce supporting teaching materials or guides for their teachers. Those primary and secondary schools operating on “double sessions” (we call this two shifts) were converted to “single-session schools” in the 1990s.
(It may be said that our Br. Armin, with the help of our Deped Assistant Secretaries Rey Laguda and Jesus Mateo, is now implementing our own student tracking system with the development of Deped’s Learner Information System (LIS). The equivalent of Singapore’s “streaming and a standardized curriculum” for their students to acquire “industry-related skills” will now happen in our education system with the full implementation of our Senior High School in school years 2016-2018. Our DepEd Undersecretary Dina Ocampo spearheaded the development of our learners’ modules and teacher guides under the present K-12 Basic Education Curriculum while Undersecretary Rizalino Rivera and Assistant Secretary Elvin Uy are some of the officials in-charge in preparing our Schools Divisions for the implementation of SHS nationwide. We are now also working on our schools still with double shifts by looking for lots where we may construct more classrooms. Our DepEd Undersecretaries Francisco Varela and Mario Derequito are also working double time to make this happen. Assistant Secretary Mandy Ruiz is making sure that funds required for all the aforementioned are included in our department’s yearly budget).
Ability-driven education refers to the period after 1997 where the system of testing and student tracking was further emphasized. The late 1990s saw Singapore transiting to a knowledge-based economy. This period also is marked by the establishment or development of independent schools and autonomous schools. As schools made vast improvement, the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore was closed. Focus was shifted to developing broader range of skills, such as critical thinking and creativity, and to develop more autonomy in schools to encourage innovation and cater to a wider variety of interest and aptitude to Singaporean students. New types of schools to encourage students with special talents to go as far as they can are also established.
In 2004, the government developed the “Teach Less, Learn More” initiative, which encourage students to learn more actively and independently. It aims to nurture in students curiosity that goes beyond the formal curriculum, and “a love for learning that stays with the students for life.” The initiative also focuses on developing understanding, critical thinking and the ability to ask questions and seek answers and solutions. Examination and assessment methods are reviewed to reduce reliance on “rote learning” and encourage independent learning and experimentation
(As to the “present phase of making Singaporean education as learner-centered,” this is also the policy of our Deped. Protecting our children, among others, is also a priority with the issuance of the Child Protection Policy in 2012 courtesy of our Undersecretary for Legal Alberto T. Muyot).
I would like to say that where we are now is where Singapore was in the past. Singapore’s experiences, the issues and concerns they faced in education and the solutions they adopted are very relevant to our Philippine basic education system. Surely, what we have learned in this leadership program may help (though should be contextualized) if applied to our education system.
I can see a positive future for our education too with the excellent leaders of our DepEd including Bro. Armin, Usec. Muyot and you as well Asec. Umali. Thank you for another interesting article.