Enhancing Educational Equity in Singapore

by Marshall Cavendish Education | Jun 05, 2017
Marshall Cavendish Education first published this article on Singteach at http://singteach.nie.edu.sg/issue56-contributions02/ In Singapore, has meritocracy given us educational equity? Are our students equally prepared for the workforce when they graduate? Marshall Cavendish Education, a company that produces educational solutions, shares their perspective on equity in education. 

Education plays an imperative role in our lives as it determines how one can achieve financial and social independence in our adult lives. Higher level of education is directly linked to a higher income, a more comfortable life and better health. An inadequate education may result in higher economic and social costs on healthcare, income support, child welfare and social security systems (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2008). A fair and inclusive system that creates benefits of education available to all is thus one of the most dynamic tools that enables society to be more equitable and humanized to a greater extent from oppression (Freire, 1990). 

Access to High-quality Education 

Singapore has come a long way in establishing a high-quality education system. It was however noted by Andreas Schleicher, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Deputy Director for Education and Skills that in Singapore, “the relationship between social backgrounds and learning outcomes is about average” (Ng, 2013). 

Has meritocracy given us educational equity? Are our students equally prepared for the workforce when they graduate? Is there equity in education that ensures fairness, where personal and social circumstances do not pose as obstacles to achieving educational potential and inclusion; where the learning environment is the least restrictive? 

It has often been incorrectly assumed that equity in education means all students will achieve the same outcomes. In fact, equity in education means all students, regardless of where they live, who their parents are or what school they attend, have access to a high-quality education. 

In this sense, equity in schooling ensures that differences in educational outcomes are not the result of individual differences in wealth, power or possessions and Singapore has been one of those successful countries in ensuring that all students have access to such quality education by having the policy of “Every School A Good School”. With a great system of policies in place, what can we as educators do to enhance equity in schools? 

Reducing Achievement Gap in Students 

In any country, including Singapore, educational achievement gaps could be one of the many attributions to differences in socio-economic status (SES), gender, race, immigration status, learning ability, that is to say, students are actually starting at different levels of the playing field. 

For example, low-income students may not have access to private tuition, or immigrants or foreign students have to master their English Language well before they learn the content. This is where the education system can help to close the gap, levelling up each student’s ability in order to assist them in their educational paths, which is what our local schools have been doing. 

In nurturing the students, MOE has also in recent years created greater flexibility and diversity in education, such as introducing a wider range of curricula, such as International Baccalaureate (IB), and having specialized schools and new programmes to meet the diverse learning needs of students. 

Nevertheless, students themselves have to be prepared to take on the challenges and be motivated with the resources and opportunities which are made accessible to all. 

While many parents aspire to have their children be successful in their educational paths and become highly sought after in employment, the students often find themselves drifting along in the educational system with little understanding of their abilities, interests and career choices. This results in students being unable to seize the irons in the fire. Unrealized potential due to the underachievement of such students can be considered a loss to the society. 

Instead of focusing on the educational changes per se, we should perhaps be more concerned about a child’s interest in learning, rather than just the grades. We could try to understand how educational changes could cultivate healthy attitude and strong character among students so that they strive to do their best, become more “resilient”, work hard, and rise up regardless of social and educational backgrounds. Some examples could be helping students turn their weaknesses into strengths or helping them recognize their strengths with strength-based learning strategies. 

Enhance Teacher Training in Special Needs 

Instead of focusing on the educational changes per se, we should perhaps be more concerned about a child’s interest in learning, rather than just the grades. 

– Marshall Cavendish Education

A controversial topic that has often been in the limelight is whether the over-emphasis of academic success in our meritocratic society has allowed maximum educational opportunities for students of all abilities. 

It is important to note that everyone has a right to learn and none of us possess the same level of ability when it comes to learning. As Singapore moves towards a more inclusive society, greater attention has turned to special education and emphasis has been given to equipping special education (SPED) students with the knowledge, skills and attributes to become independent and contributing citizens in the 21st century through the revised SPED curriculum framework in 2012, which articulates a set of desired living, learning and working outcomes (Social-Emotional, Academic, Daily Living, Vocational, the Arts, Physical Education and Sports) in a holistic way (MOE, 2016). 

The educational pathways for students with special needs have also been revamped to create more opportunities to those who are able to progress and achieve at their own pace to realize their potentials and achieve nationally recognized skills certification. 

Mainstream schools have also been greatly supported by not only specialized teachers but also counsellors, allied educators and administrators to assist with the increasing number of students with special educational needs. Despite such provisions, much support and understanding should still be given to each student who has different learning difficulties. 

In Victoria, Australia, a legislation has just been passed by the state government on all teachers to undertake professional development in special needs education in order to retain their registration as a teacher, which is part of its plan to improve the quality of teaching for students with disabilities and additional needs and promote inclusive practices in all schools (DET, 2015). 

All pre-service teachers will also be trained to teach learners with disabilities and to differentiate instruction to develop inclusive and positive learning environments. Research has shown that teachers who received professional development in special needs education are more likely to have positive attitudes towards inclusion (Loreman, Forlin & Sharma, 2007). 

Teacher professional development in Singapore can perhaps aim to equip every teacher with knowledge and skills to understanding students’ needs, handle their differences and meltdowns, and support them more effectively. Teachers themselves also have to make time to attend such professional development. 

With a concerted effort, we could create a less restrictive environment not only for the students with special needs but also a more positive learning environment for all learners. 

This article was first published by Marshall Cavendish Education for Singteach.

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  • Freire, P. (1990). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum: New York. 
    Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2008).
  • Ten steps to equity in Education (Policy Brief, OECD Observer). Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/ publications/Policybriefs 
  • Ng, Y. J. (2013, December 10). S’pore can do better in ensuring educational equity. Today. Retrieved from http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/spore-can-do-better-ensuring-educational-equity Ministry of Education (MOE). (2016).
  • Raising the quality of special education (SPED). Singapore: MOE. Retrieved from http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/special-education/curriculum-framework 
    Department of Education and Training (DET). (2015).
  • Special needs plan. Victoria, Australia: Victoria State Government Department of Education and Training. Retrieved from http://www.education.vic. gov.au/about/department/Pages/specialneeds.aspx?Redirect=1#link53 
  • Loreman, T., Forlin, C., & Sharma, U. (2007). An international comparison of pre-service teacher attitudes towards inclusive education. Disability Studies Quarterly, 27(4). Retrieved from http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/53/53 

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