By cultivating strong school leadership, committing to ongoing professional development, and exploring innovative models like its tech-infused Future Schools, Singapore has become one of the top-scoring countries on the PISA tests.
As a sovereign state since 1965, Singapore is one of Asia's great success stories. In less than half a century, it has transformed itself from a developing country to a vibrant modern economy. Education has been central to this process and a focus on teacher training and strong school leadership has been one of the key factors in Singapore's success.
A stable government under the same political party has provided a basis for stable education policies. Since the 1990s, Singapore has developed a comprehensive system for selecting, compensating, training and developing teachers and principals to ensure the delivery of high-quality education that in turn would lead to high-quality student outcomes.
Teaching is a greatly honored profession, in part because the standards for selection are high. Prospective teachers are selected from the top one-third of each cohort by panels that include current principals. Strong academic ability and non-academic qualities are essential considerations during the recruitment process, such that only candidates who possess the character, aptitude and abilities to teach and develop students are recruited as teachers.
Once accepted for training, prospective teachers receive full tuition as well as a monthly stipend that is competitive with the monthly salary of fresh graduates in other fields. All teachers are trained at the National Institute of Education (NIE), part of Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. They study either a diploma, postgraduate diploma, or a degree course depending on their level of education at entry, and they must commit to teaching for at least three years.
There is a close working relationship between the NIE and schools. The Ministry of Education keeps a close watch on salaries to ensure that teaching remains an attractive occupation for new graduates, and high-performing teachers can earn significant additional amounts in performance bonuses.
To keep pace with change and be able to constantly improve their practice, teachers are entitled to 100 hours of professional development per year, mostly at no cost to the teacher. Like many other professions in Singapore, teachers are appraised annually. Their appraisal takes into account their contribution to the academic and character development of their students, their collaboration with parents and community groups, and their contribution to colleagues and the school as a whole. It also helps them identify areas of growth that form the basis of personal professional development plans. Poor-performing teachers are also given help and leave the service only if they do not improve.
All new teachers are mentored in their first few years in the service. Teachers with the potential to take up school leadership are continuously assessed for their leadership capabilities and given opportunities to learn and to demonstrate their abilities, for example by serving on committees, by being promoted to head of department and through short stints working in the Ministry of Education. Through these experiences, potential vice-principals are selected for interviews and go through leadership situational exercises. If they pass these, they go on to NIE for six months of executive leadership training — this includes an international study trip and a project on school innovation. Only 30-40 people per year are selected for this "Leaders in Education" course, a milestone program to prepare potential principals. The Ministry regularly posts principals to different schools as part of leadership renewal and talent circulation.