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Early Childhood Education in the Lion City

29 Sep 2014 by Lisa Rogoff

What do stir-frying chilies, a ban on chewing gum, and a three-year longitudinal study examining quality early childhood education have in common?

They are all taking place in Singapore.

Last month, Sarah Hadden, our Senior Advisor for Training and Professional Development, traveled to Singapore to run a training for a group of researchers, representatives from Singapore’s Ministry of Education, and members of the country’s Early Childhood Development Agency.

Before I joined Teachstone, most of my work focused on international affairs—in my previous life I had some short stints living in Rwanda and Burkina Faso, and most recently, I worked for an organization addressing educational inequity across the globe, with partners in dozens of countries. So when I heard about Sarah’s trip, I had to find out more (and figure out how I could get on that roster for next time!). Here’s an excerpt from a short interview with her:

LR: Tell me about the group you recently trained in Singapore.

SH: The National Institute of Education (NIE) is the only teacher education program in Singapore, and it’s part of Nanyang Technological University. NIE is conducting a three-year longitudinal study examining the quality of education in 1,500 early childhood settings in Singapore.

Why has NIE decided to conduct this study?

NIE has partnered with the Ministry of Education to help it determine the success of its recent investments in early childhood education. Historically, Singapore’s Ministry of Education has not been highly engaged in the early childhood setting; it had mainly been the purview of the private and for-profit sector. Recently, the Ministry decided to start funding early childhood programs, and now it wants to measure the quality of these programs relative to the other private programs.

Training participants in Singapore

How will the Ministry and NIE measure quality?

The study has 7 principal investigators (just FYI, that’s a pretty big study!) and will be using the CLASS measure and ECERS; there may be some other measures as well. They will be looking at five, six, and seven-year olds, and they’ll be tracking between 60-70 children over three years, collecting data on their academic and development.

Why did the Ministry decide to invest in early childhood education?

Singapore is known for its excellent education system, but as noted in a recent Economist Intelligence Report, it has fallen in international rankings for early education (it came in behind the United States). The government takes these rankings very seriously and decided to invest in improving Singapore’s standing. The Ministry’s investment in early childhood education is a way to ensure that Singapore’s children have a strong start and see the value in learning as early as possible.

What was different about training in Singapore?

To be honest, it really wasn’t that different. I’ve trained in several countries; Australia and Israel, now they were very different. But Singapore actually felt quite similar to the trainings I conduct in the US. The most notable difference was that most of the trainees had psychology backgrounds (not education backgrounds), and this actually makes understanding the tool a bit easier because they don’t bring classroom bias into the equation. The trainees were also very focused on understanding the content of the CLASS measure; they asked lots of questions about how to interpret the CLASS manual.

Singapore Training

What are your big takeaways from your time in Singapore?

Other than the fact that you can’t chew gum, and at lunchtime my eyes burnt from the strong smell of stir-fried chilies? It’s so exciting to see another nation decide to invest in early childhood education and, in particular, emphasize the importance of teacher-child interactions. Everyone I met was so kind and welcoming; it’s so exciting to work with great people who are really invested in their work to improve outcomes for children. I’m looking forward to tracking Singapore’s progress and watching their early childhood system develop.

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