Stars of Asia acknowledged

27th June 1997 at 01:00
David Budge reports on the conclusions offered by researchers on the Third International Maths and Science Study.

Singapore was the undoubted star of the Third International Maths and Science Study.

As Dr Andy Green points out on the opposite page, the TIMSS report published last November showed that the country's 13-year-olds were world-beaters.

That was remarkable enough, but earlier this month it was announced that Singapore's nine-year-olds had also finished top of the TIMSS table in maths (TES, June 13).

Only their primary science scores were less than brilliant.

The TIMSS researchers, who note that boys and girls do equally well in maths and science in Singapore, suggest that the country has scampered up the international performance tables for the following reasons:

* the centralised education system provides clear guidelines on the curriculum, textbooks and assessment and creates a "high degree of homogeneity". The use of streaming is also said to help by enabling teachers to be more focused and meet pupils' individual needs; * revised syllabuses developed by the Ministry of Education attach greater importance to the development of mathematical concepts and the ability to solve maths problems. In science classes, the emphasis is not only on the understanding and application of content knowledge, but process skills and attitude development as well. "Both the maths and science curricula provide the conceptual framework upon which students are able to develop thinking processes as well as skills and attitudes necessary for problem-solving and scientific inquiry," the TIMSS report says; * Singapore's maths and science teachers devote more time (10 hours a week) to marking and grading pupils' work and lesson planning than teachers in any of the other surveyed countries do. They also spent another three hours a week on keeping student records and other administrative tasks; * professional up-grading of maths and science teachers is an on-going process. The Ministry of Education and other educational institutions continually organise workshops, in-service courses and seminars to upgrade teachers' skills and keep them abreast of new developments in maths and science education;

* parents value education. The virtue of hard work and the need to strive for excellence are ingrained in pupils from an early age. The TIMSS research shows that Singapore pupils are among the most hard-working in the world in terms of the amount of time spent studying or doing homework in maths and science. The research found that 98 per cent of Singapore's nine-year-olds did mathematics homework at least once a week compared with only 47 per cent of their English contemporaries. And although Singapore 13-year-olds watch as much television as their contemporaries in many other countries (an average of two to three hours a day) they devote much more time to homework (4.6 hours a day). The Singapore nine-year-olds also spent more time on maths in the classroom (5.5 hours on average compared with 4.6 in England) but slightly less on science (two hours compared with England's 2.2).

* there is peer pressure to succeed - 96 per cent of Singapore's 13-year-olds said that their friends thought it was important to do well in science compared with only 35 per cent in Germany. "While Singapore students feel that doing well in school is important, what is perhaps more important is that they also perceive their friends to place similar emphasis on academic achievement, " the researchers say; * children's interest in maths and science is fostered. Professional bodies such as the Singapore Mathematical Society supplement schools' enrichment activities by organising competitions. The Singapore Science Centre also offers hands-on experiences outside the classroom and the National Science and Technology Board, which was established in 1990 to help turn the country into a centre of excellence in selected fields of science and technology, also plays a key role. It conducts programmes promoting greater public awareness of science and technology, research and development.

Leader, page 20

East-West trade-off, page 21

SINGAPORE FACTFILE

Population: 3.2 million Area: No bigger than the Isle of Wight Location: Neighbour of Malaysia, 90 miles north of the equator at the crossroads of Asia Ethnic composition: 75 per cent Chinese Nickname: The Intelligent Island Does it deserve it? Absolutely. Expected to be the world's most technologically advanced state by the turn of the millennium. Singapore Telecom aims to lay fibre-optics to all high-rise business and residential buildings by end of 1997. By 1999 every primary school will have at least 100 computers and 10 per cent of lesson time will be devoted to information technology Frowned-upon activities attracting penalties: Chewing gum, allowing mosquitoes to breed and smoking in a public place (Pounds 500 fine)

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