Journal of Educational Change

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 19–49 | Cite as

Educational change in Singapore and its ‘tinkering’ around the edges: A critical realist perspective

Article

Abstract

This article re-examines the contents of Singapore’s Thinking Schools Learning Nation (TSLN) and Teach Less Learn More (TLLM) educational initiatives, introduced and implemented to promote change and to prepare Singaporeans for a twenty-first century knowledge-based economy. Adopting a critical realist perspective that enables investigations into complex social systems, the paper highlights the concepts, change process and possible outcomes of change proposed by realist social theory. An explanatory critique responding to the question, ‘What social structural changes were implemented by the TSLN and TLLM initiatives, and why?’ is developed, tracing the programmes of change in TSLN and TLLM. Findings reported in 2013, by a local large-scale research project, has made claims about the ineffectiveness of the initiatives in bringing about desired changes in classroom instructional practices. The critique questions—given Singapore’s recent and consistent successful performances in international benchmarking tests—whether it is only in the classroom that educational change that matters, counts. It suggests that despite making strong statements about the limited effectiveness of the TSLN and TLLM initiatives, many programs introduced and adopted by primary, secondary and post-secondary institutions, especially under TLLM, were left unexamined by the research project. The explanatory critique theorises that two kinds of changes have taken place—the reorientation of pedagogical practices in post-secondary institutions and extensions of what already exists in the primary and secondary sections. The paper concludes by highlighting some implications the explanatory critique have for research into educational change in general, and for educational change in Singapore.

Keywords

Critical realism Educational change Educational policy Realist social theory Singapore TLLM TSLN 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the NIE, NTU Singapore, Higher Degree Research Scholarship for Ph.D. (Grant No. IRB 11/07/19).

References

  1. Al-Amoudi, I., & Willmott, H. (2011). Where constructionism and critical realism converge: Interrogating the domain of epistemological relativism. Organization Studies, 32, 27–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson, S. E. (2010). Moving change: Evolutionary perspectives on educational change. In A. Hargreaves, A. Lieberman, M. Fullan, & D. Hopkins (Eds.), Second international handbook of educational change (pp. 65–84). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Archer, M. S. (1995). Realist social theory: The morphogenetic approach. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Archer, M. S. (1996). Culture and agency: The place of culture in social theory (Revised ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Archer, M. S. (2013 [1979]). Social origins of educational systems. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Best, A., Greenhalgh, T., Lewis, S., Saul, J. E., Carroll, S., & Bitz, J. (2012). Large-system transformation in health care: A realist review. The Milbank Quarterly, 90(3), 421–456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bhaskar, R. (2008). A realist theory of science. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Bhaskar, R. (2010). Contexts of interdisciplinarity: Interdisciplinarity and climate change. In R. Bhaskar, C. Frank, K. G. Hoyer, P. Naess, & J. Parker (Eds.), Interdisciplinarity and climate change (pp. 1–24). Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. *Budget, Ministry of Education. (1997, July 30). Singapore parliamentary reports: Parliament 9, Session 1, Volume 67, Sitting 14.Google Scholar
  10. *Budget, Ministry of Education. (1998, March 19). Singapore parliamentary reports: Parliament 9, Session 1, Volume 68, Sitting 13.Google Scholar
  11. *Budget, Ministry of Education. (1999, March 17). Singapore parliamentary reports: Parliament 9, Session 1, Volume 70, Sitting 9.Google Scholar
  12. *Budget-Ministry of Education. (2001, March 15). Singapore parliamentary reports: Parliament 9, Session 2, Volume 73, Sitting 10.Google Scholar
  13. Chan, R. (2013, July 13). Are Singaporean workers … expensive & entitled? The Straits Times, Saturday Special, D2–D3. Retrieved November 16, 2017 from https://www.smu.edu.sg/sites/default/files/smu/news_room/smu_in_the_news/2013/sources/july15/st_20130713_1.pdf.
  14. Cheah, Y. M. (1998). The examination culture and its impact on literacy innovations: The case of Singapore. Language and Education, 12(3), 192–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Connelly, F. M. (2013). From images of controlled perfection to curricular plausibility: Singapore educational reform. In Z. Deng, S. Gopinathan, & C. K.-E. Lee (Eds.), Globalization and the Singapore curriculum: From policy to classroom (pp. vii–xii). London: Springer.Google Scholar
  16. Conroy, J. (2016, Dec. 14). PISA global education rankings are the road to ruin—Here’s why. The Conversation. Retrieved January 3, 2017 from http://theconversation.com/pisa-global-education-rankings-are-the-road-to-ruin-heres-why-70291.
  17. Davie, S. (2016, Dec. 25). Tests say Singapore has done well, so why aren’t there more innovators and entrepreneurs? The Straits Times. Retrieved January 3, 2017 from http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/pisa-and-the-creativity-puzzle.
  18. De Souza, D. E. (2013). Elaborating the context–mechanism–outcome configuration (CMOc) in realist evaluation: A critical realist perspective. Evaluation, 19(2), 141–154.  https://doi.org/10.1177/1356389013485194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. De Souza, D. E. (2014a). A critical realist review of Singapore’s core research program (2003–2013) (Doctoral dissertation). National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.Google Scholar
  20. De Souza, D. E. (2014b). Culture, context and society – The underexplored potential of critical realism as a philosophical framework for theory and practice. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 17(2), 141–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Deng, Z., & Gopinathan, S. (2016, Dec. 1). Real Singaporean lessons: Why do Singaporean students perform so well in PISA. Retrieved June 5, 2017 from https://internationalednews.com/2016/12/01/real-singaporean-lessons-why-do-singaporean-students-perform-so-well-in-pisa/.
  22. Deng, Z., Gopinathan, S., & Lee, C. K.-E. (2013). Globalization and the Singapore curriculum: From policy to classroom. London: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Eastwood, J. G., Kemp, L. A., Jalaludin, B. B., & Phung, H. N. (2013). Neighborhood adversity, ethnic diversity, and weak social cohesion and social networks predict high rates of maternal depressive symptoms: A critical realist ecological study in south western Sydney, Australia. International Journal of Health Services, 43(2), 241–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fink, D., & Stoll, L. (2005). Educational change: Easier said than done. In A. Hargreaves (Ed.), Extending educational change (pp. 17–41). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Goh, C. T. (1997, June). Shaping our future: Thinking schools, learning nation. Retrieved January 3, 2017 from https://www.moe.gov.sg/media/speeches/1997/020697.htm.
  26. Goh, C. B., & Gopinathan, S. (2008). The development of education in Singapore since 1965. In S. K. Lee, B. Fredriksen, & J. P. Tan (Eds.), Toward a better future: Education and training for economic development in Singapore since 1965 (pp. 12–38). Washington, DC: The World Bank and National Institute of Education.Google Scholar
  27. Gopinathan, S., & Hung, D. (2010). Research in NIE since 1991. In A. Y. Chen (Ed.), Transforming teaching, inspiring learning: 60 years of teacher education in Singapore, 1950–2010 (pp. 179–190). Singapore: NIE.Google Scholar
  28. Gopinathan, S., & Mardiana, A. B. (2013). Globalization, the state and curriculum reform. In Z. Deng, S. Gopinathan, & C. K.-E. Lee (Eds.), Globalization and the Singapore curriculum: From policy to classroom (pp. 15–32). London: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Greenhalgh, S. (2016, Dec. 9). The hidden costs of Asia’s high test scores. The Diplomat. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from http://thediplomat.com/2016/12/the-hidden-costs-of-asias-high-test-scores/.
  30. Hargreaves, A., Lieberman, A., Fullan, M., & Hopkins, D. (2010). Introduction: Ten years of change. In A. Hargreaves, A. Lieberman, M. Fullan, & D. Hopkins (Eds.), Second International Handbook of Educational Change (pp. xi–xxi). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  31. *Head K - Ministry of Education. (2006, March 7). Singapore parliamentary reports (Hansard): Parliament 10, Session 2, Volume 81, Sitting 8.Google Scholar
  32. *Hee, S .Y. (2005). Problem-based learning: An institutional perspective. In K. Tan (Ed.) Problem-based learning: New directions and approaches. Singapore: Learning Academy, Temasek Polytechnic.Google Scholar
  33. *Heng, S. K. (2011, September 22). MOE Work Plan Seminar. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/data/pdfdoc/20110929001/wps_opening_address_%28media%29%28checked%29.pdf.
  34. *Heng, S. K. (2013, September 25). Student-centric, values-driven education: A broad and deep foundation for a lifelong journey. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from https://www.moe.gov.sg/news/speeches/keynote-address-by-mr-heng-swee-keat–minister-for-education–at-the-ministry-of-education-work-plan-seminar-2013–on-wednesday–25-september-2013-at-915am-at-ngee-ann-polytechnic-convention-centre.
  35. Hogan, D. J., Towndrow, P. A., & Koh, K. (2009a). The logic of confidence and the social economy of assessment reform in Singapore: A new institutionalist perspective. In E. L. Grigorenko (Ed.), Multicultural psychoeducational assessment (pp. 213–252). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  36. Hogan, D. J., Towndrow, P. A., & Koh, K. (2009b). Instructional and assessment practices in Singapore. In E. L. Grigorenko (Ed.), Multicultural psychoeducational assessment (pp. 253–286). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  37. Hogan, D. J., Stankov, L., Kaur, B., Yeung, S. S., Towndrow, P. A., Guo, L., & Koh, K. H. (2009c). Core 2 research programme: Pedagogy and assessment. Unpublished paper, National Institute of Education, Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice, Singapore.Google Scholar
  38. Hogan, D. J., Kaur, B., Yeung, S. S., Towndrow, P. A., Guo, L., Koh, K. H., Rahim, R., & Kwek, D. (2009d, May). Core 2 research programme pilot study: Pedagogy and assessment. Final progress report. Unpublished document, National Institute of Education, Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice, Singapore.Google Scholar
  39. Hogan, D. J., Chan, M., Rahim, R., Kwek, D., Khin, M. A., Loo, S. C., et al. (2013). Assessment and the logic of instructional practice in secondary 3 English and Mathematics classrooms in Singapore. Review of Education, 1(1), 57–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. James, C. (2010). The psychodynamic of educational change. In A. Hargreaves, A. Lieberman, M. Fullan, & D. Hopkins (Eds.), Second international handbook of educational change (pp. 47–64). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. *Khoo, H. E. (2000, August). Can Asians do PBL? Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL) Brief, 3(3), 3–4.Google Scholar
  42. *Khoo, H. E., & Chhem, R. K. (2001). Problem-based learning: Issues and challenges. Annals Academy of Medicine, 30(4), 338–339.Google Scholar
  43. Kramer-Dahl, A. (2004). Constructing adolescents differently: On the value of listening to Singapore youngsters talking popular culture texts. Linguistics and Education, 15(3), 217–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. *Lee, H. L. (1997, Nov. 24). Education in Singapore 21. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from https://www.moe.gov.sg/media/speeches/1997/241197.htm.
  45. *Lee, H. L. (2004). Our future of opportunity and promise. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/speeches/view-html?filename=2004083101.htm.
  46. *Lee, M. S. (2011, November 26). Beware of IP implications. The Straits Times Singapore, Forum, p. A47.Google Scholar
  47. Lim, L. (2014). What’s wrong with Singaporeans? In D. Low & S. T. Vedaketh (Eds.), Hard choices: Challenging the Singapore consensus (pp. 79–96). Singapore: National University of Singapore Press.Google Scholar
  48. Low, D. (2014). Good meritocracy, bad meritocracy. In D. Low & S. T. Vedaketh (Eds.), Hard choices: Challenging the Singapore consensus (pp. 48–58). Singapore: National University of Singapore Press.Google Scholar
  49. Low, E. L., & Lee, S. K. (2012). Bringing Singapore’s teacher education beyond its shores. Educational Research Policy and Practice, 11, 43–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Luke, A., Freebody, P., & Shun, Lau. (2003). Core programme proposal: Case for support. Singapore: NIE.Google Scholar
  51. Luke, A., Freebody, P., Shun, Lau, & Gopinathan, S. (2005a). Towards research-based innovation and reform. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 25(1), 5–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Luke, A., & Hogan, D. (2006). Redesigning what counts as evidence in educational policy: The Singapore model. In J. Ozga, T. Seddon, & T. S. Popkewitz (Eds.), Education research and policy (pp. 170–184). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  53. Luke, A., Hogan, D., Gopinathan, S., Freebody, P., Cazden, C., Koh, K., et al. (2005a). Core research programme: Progress report year one. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from https://repository.nie.edu.sg/handle/10497/255.
  54. Martin, M. O., Mullis, I. V. S., Foy, P., & Hooper, M. (2016). TIMSS 2015 international results in science. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from http://timssandpirls.bc.edu/timss2015/international-results/.
  55. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (1987). Towards excellence in schools: A report to the minister for education. Singapore: Ministry of Education.Google Scholar
  56. *Ministry of Education Singapore. (1997a). Launch of the Masterplan for IT in education. Retrieved from http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/speeches/1997/280497.htm.
  57. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (1997b). Launch of National Education. Retrieved July 27, 2013 from http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/1997/pr01797_print.htm.
  58. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (1998). Work plan seminar on education in schools. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from https://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/1998/5sep98.htm.
  59. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (2002). Government accepts recommendations for a broader and more flexible curriculum and a more diverse JC/upper secondary education landscape. Retrieved from http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/2002/pr15102002.htm.
  60. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (2003). Nanyang Girls’ High School to offer the Integrated Programme in 2004. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/2003/pr20031114.htm.
  61. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (2005). 43 Secondary schools to participate in the Direct School Admission exercise for admission to secondary one in 2006. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from https://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/2005/pr20050524.htm.
  62. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (2006). More financial help for children from low income families. Retrieved June 2, 2017 from https://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/2006/pr20060222.htm.
  63. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (2008a). New school of science and technology to open in 2010. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from http://www.sst.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/20080303-MOE-Press-Release.pdf.
  64. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (2008b). More support for school’s ‘teach less, learn more’ initiatives. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/data/pdfdoc/20080108999.pdf.
  65. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (2012). 190 Schools now offer niches of excellence to enrich students’ educational experience. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/data/pdfdoc/20120426004/press_release_pse_ns_awards_2012_v1.pdf.
  66. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (2013). Engaging our learners. teach less, learn more. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/printheritage/detail/dbe9f1f3-efcb-4bce-917b-1040e95ea179.aspx.
  67. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (2016a). Education statistics digest. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from https://www.moe.gov.sg/docs/default-source/document/publications/education-statistics-digest/esd-2016.pdf.
  68. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (2016b). Secondary school education booklet. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from https://www.moe.gov.sg/education/secondary/secondary-school-education-booklet.
  69. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (2016c). Advanced elective modules (AEM) portal. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from https://aem.moe.gov.sg/about-aem.
  70. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (2016d). List of secondary schools participating in 2015 DSA-sec exercise—for admission to secondary one in 2016. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from https://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/files/2015/05/annex-start-of-2015-dsa-exercise.pdf.
  71. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (2016e). Integrated programmes (IP). Retrieved January 12, 2017 from http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/secondary/other/integrated-programme/.
  72. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (2016f). Applied learning (Advanced elective modules (AEM) & Elective modules (EM)). Retrieved November 16, 2017 from https://www.moe.gov.sg/education/secondary/applied-learning.
  73. *Ministry of Education, Singapore. (2017). Edusave. Retrieved June 2, 2017 from https://www.moe.gov.sg/education/edusave.
  74. Mullis, I. V. S., Martin, M. O., Foy, P., & Drucker, K. T. (2012). PIRLS 2011 international results in reading. Chestnut Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College.Google Scholar
  75. Mullis, I. V. S., Martin, M. O., Foy, P., & Hooper, M. (2016). TIMSS 2015 international results in mathematics. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from http://timssandpirls.bc.edu/timss2015/international-results/.
  76. *Ng, E. H. (2008, September). Our journey in educationTaking stock, forging ahead. Speech by Dr. Ng Eng Hen, minister of Education and Second Minister of Defence, on 25 September at the MOE work Plan Seminar 2008 at the Ngee Ann Polytechnic Convention Centre, Singapore.Google Scholar
  77. Ng, P. T. (2008). Educational reform in Singapore: From quantity to quality. Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 7, 5–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. *Ng, E. H. (2010, September). Bringing out the best in our learners. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/data/pdfdoc/20100930001/speech_by_minister_wps2010.pdf.
  79. *Ng, I. Y. H. (2011, February 16). Singapore’s education system: Growing worry of social immobility. The Straits Times Singapore, Review, p. A25.Google Scholar
  80. Ng, I. Y. H. (2013). Education and intergenerational mobility in Singapore. Educational Review.  https://doi.org/10.1080/00131911.2013.780008.Google Scholar
  81. *Ng, J. Y. (2015, June 29). Niche scheme in primary schools being phased out. Today Online. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from https://www.gov.sg/news/content/niche%20scheme%20in%20primary%20schools%20being%20gradually%20phased%20out.
  82. *O’Grady, G., Yew, H. J. E., Goh, K. P. L., & Schmidt, H. G. (2012). One-day, one-problem: An Approach to problem-based learning. Singapore: Springer.Google Scholar
  83. OECD. (1996). The knowledge-based economy. OECD Publishing. Retrieved July 27, 2013 from http://www.oecd.org/sti/sci-tech/theknowledge-basedeconomy.htm.
  84. OECD. (2016). PISA 2015 results (Volume I): Excellence and equity in education. Paris: PISA, OECD Publishing. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264266490-en.
  85. *Ong, A. (2014). Beware growing ‘parentocracy’: NIE don. The Sunday Times, Home, p. 14.Google Scholar
  86. Pawson, R. (2006). Evidence-based policy: A realist perspective. London: Sage Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Pawson, R., Greenhalgh, T., Harvey, G., & Walshe, K. (2005). Realist review—A new method of systematic review designed for complex policy interventions. Journal of Health Services Research and Policy, 10(S1), 21–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Pawson, R., & Tilley, N. (1997). Realistic evaluation. London: Sage Publications Ltd.Google Scholar
  89. Sayer, A. (1992). Method in social science: A realist approach. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  90. *Shanmugaratnam, T. (2003). The next phase in education: Innovation and enterprise. Retrieved January 24, 2017 from https://www.moe.gov.sg/media/speeches/2003/sp20031002.htm.
  91. *Shanmugaratnam, T. (2004). To light a fire: Enabling teachers, nurturing students. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from https://www.moe.gov.sg/media/speeches/2004/sp20040929.htm.
  92. *Shanmugaratnam, T. (2005). Achieving quality: Bottom up initiative, top down support. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from https://www.moe.gov.sg/media/speeches/2005/sp20050922.htm.
  93. *Shanmugaratnam, T. (2006). More support for school-based initiatives. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from https://www.moe.gov.sg/media/speeches/2006/sp20060928.htm.
  94. *Shanmugaratnam, T. (2007). Having every child succeed. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from https://www.moe.gov.sg/media/speeches/2007/sp20071002-short.htm.
  95. Sharpe, L., & Gopinathan, S. (2002). After effectiveness: New directions in the Singapore school system? Journal of Education Policy, 17(2), 151–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. *Singapore Polytechnic. (n.d.). Advanced elective modules (AEMs) for secondary school students. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from http://www.sp.edu.sg/wps/portal/vp-spws/spws.teach.cse.advancedelectivemodule.
  97. Steinmetz, G. (1998). Critical realism and historical sociology. A review article. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 40, 170–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Tan, K. P. (2012). The ideology of Pragmatism: Neo-liberal globalization and political authoritarianism in Singapore. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 42(1), 67–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. *Teachers (Completion of syllabus for academic curriculum). (2007, September 17). Singapore parliamentary reports (hansard): Parliament 11, Session 1, Volume 83, Sitting 10. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/report.jsp?currentPubID=00004744-WA.
  100. *Temasek Polytechnic. (n.d.). Advanced elective modules. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from http://www.tp.edu.sg/schools/advanced-elective-modules.
  101. *Teng, A. (2016, Oct 7). Seven new applied subjects to pique students’ interests. The Straits Times, Home Section, B6.Google Scholar
  102. *Teo, C. H. (1999). Towards ability-driven education: Making every Singaporean matter. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/speeches/view-html?filename=1999090403.htm.
  103. *Yeow, C. G. (2002). The PEPP model: Moving towards problem-based learning in technical education. Paper presented at the 4th Asia-Pacific conference on problem-based learning, Dec 11–13, 2002, University of Songkhla, Hatyai, Thailand.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Language and Communication CentreSingaporeSingapore

Personalised recommendations