The Singapore Centre for Teaching Thinking, which opened this month, has begun training 500 teachers in an effort to bring a radical change of emphasis to the country's classrooms.
Each teacher will receive around 100 hours of focused training in teaching thinking and will be expected to pass on their new skills to their colleagues.
Closely linked to the National Center for Teaching Thinking in Boston, SCTT has drawn on American and some British expertise in developing a programme which its director, Professor Gopinathan, says, "does not throw out mastery of literacy and mastery of numeracy but develops the capacity to use them in creative and innovative ways".
English, maths, science, history and geography have been chosen as the subjects most likely to lend themselves to a more open-ended and problem-solving approach. The classroom emphasis is shifting to asking questions rather than providing answers and to the development of creative and critical thinking skills rather than learning content .
The changes were inspired by prime minister Goh Chok Tong's belief that future economic success depends on having a workforce that does not simply possess knowledge but knows how to use it and can innovate. Singapore, he said, needed "thinking schools" and a "learning nation".
For schools, this means encouraging project work, using information technology and inculcating habits of independent learning. But this has to be done without reducing students' mastery of core knowledge. "We must not abandon these fundamentals," Goh warned. "We must not level down."
There is no doubting the government's seriousness. As the prime minister made clear, "Thinking Schools, Learning Nation is not a slogan for the ministry of education. It is a formula to enable Singapore to compete and stay ahead."