Singapore, one of those countries we are so fond of comparing ourselves to when it comes to international test scores, wants to change the way they teach science and math. Despite the fact that their students’ scores consistently top most industrialized countries.
Thomas Friedman, whose book The World is Flat should be required reading for any politician running for office in this country, notes that it’s leaders have a far better grasp of the modern world than ours do.
Its government understands that in a flattening world, where more and more jobs can go anywhere, it’s not enough to just stay ahead of its neighbors. It has to stay ahead of everyone – including us.
As Low-Sim Ay Nar, principal of Xinmin Secondary School, explained to me, Singapore has got rote learning down cold. No one is going to outdrill her students. What it is now focusing on is how to develop more of America’s strength: getting Singaporean students and teachers to be more innovative and creative. "Numerical skills are very important," she told me, but "I am now also encouraging my students to be creative – and empowering my teachers. … We have been loosening up and allowing people to grow their own ideas."
She added, "We have shifted the emphasis from content alone to making use of the content" on the principle that "knowledge can be created in the classroom and doesn’t just have to come from the teacher."
He goes on to describe a new math program called HeyMath! which uses web-delivered animations and other materials to help teachers explain mathematical concepts with an emphasis on applications and "fostering independent thinking".
So, why is the fact that Singapore is adopting this new approach to mathematics instruction important?
Because math and science are the keys to innovation and power in today’s world, and American parents had better understand that the people who are eating their kids’ lunch in math are not resting on their laurels.