What's The Secret Of Singapore's Success In Math?
Copyright © Joseph D. Lee, author of 100+ Singapore Math books since 1990
Since 1995, Singapore has consistently ranked number one in the world in math most of the time and number two or three at other times. This success in math is an admirable feat especially for a small island nation of only about five million people, so what’s Singapore secret?
First and foremost, the educational climate in Singapore is very competitive, probably only second to either Japan or South Korea. Parents are very anxious over their children’s grades in Singapore because good grades are widely perceived as a necessary path to securing good jobs in an increasingly competitive employment climate. As an open economy that welcomes foreign workers amid an increasingly globalized world, Singapore citizens have to fight for good paying jobs not just amongst their own compatriots, but also with a huge pool of eager foreigners from many of its neighbouring countries as far as China and India. Singapore does not have a welfare system and every citizen has to fight for their own survival, so it is survival of the fittest.
As a result, Singapore students typically spend a lot of their time studying almost every day. A typical student’s weekday involves schooling at a public school, followed by tuition either at home by a private home tutor or at an after school tuition centre, and self-study and revision with lots of supplementary workbooks. They do this for almost every subject, but especially math because the math standard keeps rising over the years. To excel, they have to work harder. Practice makes perfect, so it is not uncommon for Singapore students to own between five to ten supplementary workbooks for subjects such as math, and some probably have even more. Almost no Singapore student achieves good math grades by relying just on their school textbooks and workbooks alone.
A second reason why Singapore students excel in math (and science too) is because Singapore places a huge emphasis on math and science education. The Singapore government’s approach to education is first and foremost to prepare students for the workforce when they eventually graduate from school. As technology, automation and robotics are the future, future jobs would demand strong skills and understanding in math and science. As such, the Singapore education department constantly reviews the Singapore math and science curricula to ensure that Singapore students are getting the best math and science education possible.
Singapore is well known to be very efficient and pragmatic in most of the things it does, and this also applies to its teaching methodology, and teaching and learning materials. Singapore students are typically taught new math concepts and skills coupled with ample practice in school to ensure they gain an in-depth practical understanding, after which they will be expected to apply them to solving math word problems based on practical real world situations. Students who are weak in math would usually be given more practice drills by their teachers, tutors, parents or of their own accord, while students who are strong in math would usually be given more practice in more challenging word problems. This is often achieved using a variety of educational materials including supplementary math workbooks.
In conclusion, the major secrets to Singapore’s success in math all boil down to competition, effective teaching and learning materials including Singapore math textbooks, workbooks and supplementary Singapore math workbooks, and lots of hard work by all the stakeholders including students, teachers, tutors, curriculum planners and parents.
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