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Some details about the government-owned Singaporean education system which produces superlative results

We saw key points regarding Singaporean education system here:

in Singapore meritocracy reigns all the way down the system. Teachers, for instance, need to have finished in the top third of their class (as they do in Finland and South Korea, which also shine in the education rankings). Headmasters are often appointed in their 30s and rewarded with merit pay if they do well but moved on quickly if their schools underperform. Tests are endemic.  [source]

Here’s some more detail – from an OECD report. The question I’m trying to resolve is how PRECISELY does Singapore manage incentives in a manner to get stupendously high quality outcomes in many fields, despite government ownership. They have clearly mastered Chanakya’s Arthashastra.


Singapore has developed a comprehensive system for selecting, training, compensating and developing teachers and principals, thereby creating tremendous capacity at the point of education delivery. Key elements of that system are described below:

  • Recruitment: Prospective teachers are carefully selected from the top one-third of the secondary school graduating class, by panels that include current principals. Strong academic ability is essential, as is commitment to the profession and to serving diverse student bodies. Prospective teachers receive a monthly stipend that is competitive with the monthly salary for fresh graduates in other fields. They must commit to teaching for at least three years. interest in teaching is seeded early through teaching internships for high school students; there is also a system for mid-career entry, which is a way of bringing real-world experience to students.
  • Training: All teachers receive training in the Singapore curriculum at the National institute of Education (NiE) at Nanyang Technological university. They take either a diploma or a degree course depending on their level of education at entry. There is a close working relationship between NiE and the schools, where all new teachers are mentored for the first few years. As NiE’s primary purpose is training all Singapore teachers, there are no divisions between arts and sciences and education faculties. Thus, according to Lee Sing Kong, the conflicting priorities that plague many Western teacher education programmes are less significant and there is a stronger focus on pedagogical content. NiE has put in place a matrix organisational structure whereby programme offices (g. office for Teacher Education) liaise with individual academic groups in drawing up initial teacher training programmes. This means that these programmes are designed with the teacher in mind, rather than to suit the interests of the various academic departments. As such, there is a stronger focus on pedagogical content and greater synergies among modules within each programme.
  • Compensation: The ministry of Education keeps a close watch on occupational starting salaries and adjusts the salaries for new teachers to ensure that teaching as seen as equally attractive as other occupations for new graduates. Teacher salaries do not increase as much over time as those in private sector jobs, but there are many other career opportunities within education for teachers. Teaching is also regarded as a 12-month position. There are retention bonuses and high-performing teachers can also earn significant amounts in performance bonuses.
  • Professional development: in recognising the need for teachers to keep up with the rapid changes occurring in the world and to be able to constantly improve their practice, they are entitled to 100 hours of professional development per year. This may be undertaken in several ways. courses at the National institute of Education focus on subject matter and pedagogical knowledge and lead towards higher degrees or advanced diplomas. Much professional development is school-based, led by staff developers. Their job is to identify teaching-based problems in a school, for example, with a group’s mathematics performance; or to introduce new practices such as project-based learning or new uses of icT. Each school also has a fund through which it can support teacher growth, including developing fresh perspectives by going abroad to learn about aspects of education in other countries. Teacher networks and professional learning communities encourage peer-to-peer learning and the Academy of Singapore Teachers, was opened in September 2010 to further encourage teachers to continuously share best practices.
  • Performance appraisal: Like every other profession in Singapore, teachers’ performance is appraised annually by a number of people and against 16 different competencies. included in this Enhanced Performance Management System is teachers’ contribution to the academic and character development of the students in their charge, their collaboration with parents and community groups, and their contribution to their colleagues and the school as a whole. Teachers who do outstanding work receive a bonus from the school’s bonus pool. This individual appraisal system sits within the context of great attention to the school’s overall plan for educational excellence, since all students in Singapore have multiple teachers, even in primary school.
  • Career development: Throughout Singapore, talent is identified and nurtured rather than being left to chance. After three years of teaching, teachers are assessed annually to see which of three career paths would best suit them – master teacher, specialist in curriculum or research or school leader. Each path has salary increments. Teachers with potential as school leaders are moved to middle management teams and receive training to prepare them for their new roles. Middle managers’ performance is assessed for their potential to become vice principals, and later, principals. Each stage involves a range of experience and training to prepare candidates for school leadership and innovation.
  • Leadership selection and training: Singapore has a clear understanding that high-quality teaching and strong school performance require effective leaders. Poor quality leadership is a key factor in teacher attrition in many countries (Ng, 2008). Singapore’s approach to leadership is modelled on that found in large corporations. The key is not just the training programme, but the whole approach to identifying and developing talent. This differs from the US or UK approach, for example, in which a teacher can apply to train as a principal or school head, and then apply for a position in a school. in Singapore, young teachers are continuously assessed for their leadership potential and given opportunities to demonstrate and learn, for example, by serving on committees, then being promoted to head of department at a relatively young age. Some are transferred to the ministry for a period. After these experiences are monitored, potential principals are selected for interviews and go through leadership situational exercises. if they pass these, then they go to NiE for six months of executive leadership training, with their salaries paid. The process is comprehensive and intensive and includes an international study trip and a project on school innovation. Only 35 people per year are selected for the executive leadership training. Asked why Singapore uses the “select then train” rather than the “train then select” model, Professor Lee Sing Kong said that while the US/UK approach is feasible, it carries a higher risk. Singapore is very confident that they consistently have the best possible leaders for their schools and that there is a wide range of inputs into their selection. Principals are transferred between schools periodically as part of Singapore’s continuous improvement strategy.

By putting its energy in the front end of recruiting high-quality people and giving them good training and continuing support, Singapore does not have the massive problems of attrition and persistently ineffective teachers and principals that plague many systems around the world. Teaching has developed into a competitive and well-regarded occupation. it is also now considered to be an honour to be a teacher in Singapore.


Sanjeev Sabhlok

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