File photo of Teck Ghee Primary School students. (Photo: Teck Ghee Primary School)
SINGAPORE: Singapore's education system is the best in Asia in preparing students for the future, according to an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) index released on Tuesday (Sep 19).
Singapore scored 80.1 out of 100 to rank fifth overall - behind New Zealand (88.9), Canada (86.7), Finland (85.5) and Switzerland (81.5) - in the study that assessed how well governments equip people aged 15 to 24 with skills for their working life.
Japan, which ranked seventh, was the next best Asian economy with a score of 77.2. South Korea ranked 12th, Hong Kong came in 14th and China was placed 31st out of 35 economies.
A report on the study stressed that workers of the future will compete across global borders for the best education, jobs and growth, and they will need to be nimble, flexible and dynamic, ready to recognise and respond swiftly to emerging trends.
These students must be prepared for rapidly evolving technologies and face challenges such as environmental change, urbanisation, migration and demographic shifts, the report said.
SINGAPORE HAS BEST EDUCATION POLICY ENVIRONMENT
In results calibrating the economies' education policy environment, Singapore topped the ranking with a score of 88.8, ahead of New Zealand (87.5) and Canada (87.0).
Within Asia, South Korea came in fifth, Japan 12th, Hong Kong 22nd and China 27th.
A key factor to this is Singapore's pool of effective teachers, which are even more central to a successful future-skills education system than in more traditional schooling environments, the study pointed out.
According to Professor David Hung, associate dean of education research at Singapore's National Institute of Education, teachers are “one of the highest leverage points a good system has”, being able to teach difficult concepts to students of different abilities, enthuse them and link those concepts to the world beyond the classroom.
Prof Hung added that raising the status of teachers in Singapore is vital for attracting the most able students into the teaching profession, and motivating them.
"The culture of Singapore has moved to a place where the profession of teaching is more highly valued by families and parents. Two decades ago this wasn’t the case. Pay is important. The substantive quality of teachers as observed by the public is important," he said.
On average, the salary for a secondary school-level teacher in Singapore is 16th in the world, according to figures by EIU. A teacher in Singapore earns significantly less than those in Asian economies such as Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, which ranked second, third and fourth, respectively.
Singapore ranked eighth in terms of having the best teaching environment, scoring 78.7, behind the likes of Japan (86.9) and South Korea (82.0) which placed fourth and fifth, respectively.
The study added that Singapore schools developed programmes outside formal classrooms where students can choose activities such as coding or robotics.
"The guiding idea behind them is to allow students to make connections between concepts learned in the classroom and practical real-world applications of those concepts, facilitated and encouraged by teachers," it added.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT IN COLLABORATION WITH INDUSTRIES
However, the study cited Singapore as one of the economies that could improve in having initiatives beyond the classroom assisted by collaboration with businesses, the wider society as well as other schools or universities.
Prof Hung also highlighted that even though Singapore students tend to perform well in traditional exams, he is concerned that an over-emphasis on high-stakes examinations and national success in international benchmarking tests may threaten to dominate the functioning of Singapore’s education system.
The study was commissioned by the Yidan Prize Foundation, set up by Charles Chen Yidan, co-founder of mainland tech giant Tencent.