Thursday, August 29, 2013

Math in Singapore is Elitist

I always find it interesting how much faith people tend to put in test scores. School districts will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions of dollars, on math programs that are shown to produce great test score results. Such a set of scores is the TIMMS (Trends in International Math and Science Study)  report which shows the top five nations as Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, and Japan. The US comes half way down the "second tier" countries in mathematics.

If everything in each of the each of the 64 participating countries was the same then one could logically compare the results of the test scores and make comparative judgments. Sadly, everything is not the same, in fact, almost nothing is the same. For example, the numeracy system in most Asian countries is much easier to learn and more logically derived than it is in most western cultures (e.g. the word for eleven in most Asian languages is simply ten and one). Children also spend much more time in school in Asian countries than they do in the US; a lot more of GDP is spent on Education in many Asian countries (20% in Singapore) than in the US and formal education has a different cultural value and identity in each country.

It's not like soccer teams playing in the World Cup where the game is exactly the same in every country. The playing field is the same, the number of players is the same and the rules are the same. It's the same with any international sport. Education is different, it is not a sport. 

Interestingly, text book publishers in  the US  have made the most out of this divisive test score reporting by marketing a program in the US called Singapore Math. They cite the incredible successes of the Singapore education system as if everything were equal.  I wonder how teachers and students would perform in Singapore if they were held to the same humanitarian ethics as we value in the US. Singapore's education system is described as elitist and a meritocracy. Children are "streamed" in fourth grade which means they are put into ability groups based on test results. This means that if you don't make it by age 11 you probably never will. We used to call this the 11+ in the UK until it was abolished in1976. Basically, the claims made by the publishers of Singapore Math are based on the education of only part of the population. Teachers in Singapore do not have to spend time with differentiated instruction, RTI and so on.

Worse still, in Singapore children with special needs have no rights to a public education.In fact, they are not even required to attend school.  There are Special Education Schools  that parents may choose to send their children to.  The last words on this website are "The mission of SPED schools is to provide the best possible education and training to children with special needs so as to enable them to function optimally and integrate well into society".

 How can they possibly do this when they have been segregated for their entire education?

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