Commentary

Singapore should not be Finland

Singapore should not be Finland
Published: July 9, 4:01 AM
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As the national conversation continues over the future shape of Singapore’s education system, the example of Finland has cropped up now and again.

Should we emulate the Finnish system where tuition is unheard of, students take a compulsory national examination only at age 18-19, and teachers are given tremendous autonomy? After all, Finnish students have consistently scored among the top in the world on standardised tests — so could this be a lower-stress path to success?

TODAY’s reports on Finland’s model, published in March, inspired its own “conversation” between two education experts — the National Institute of Education’s (NIE) Associate Professor Ng Pak Tee and Boston College’s Professor Andy Hargreaves. Both have worked together closely on high-performing education systems since 2011, when Prof Hargreaves visited NIE as CJ Koh Professor and Assoc Prof Ng visited Boston College as Visiting Scholar.

Andy Hargreaves: It is often tempting to compare some of the high-performing education systems in the world, drawing insights into how one system should improve because another system has a certain great feature.

Ng Pak Tee: Indeed. Recently, TODAY ran a feature regarding the Finnish system and described it as much less stressful compared to the Singapore system. The feature has triggered a spate of discussions on the matter. In particular, some asked whether Singapore could become more like Finland.

Andy: The sentiment is understandable. Finland and Singapore have caught the world’s attention because of their excellent performance in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment). Both countries value education. Both have a small population of about five million. Both are peaceful and economically competitive.

But the similarities end there. Finland is in Europe. Singapore is in South-east Asia. Finland’s “modern” history dates back to the Swedish kings of the 12th century. Singapore’s “modern” history is probably just a century.

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