Education in Singapore is such a serious business that it prompts parents to buy insurance policies to ensure their children's access to the best possible schools.
Parents also spend $200 to $300 monthly on tutoring and supervise after-school schoolwork, visitors to the United States said.Four educators, part of Singapore's budding gifted/talented special education program, spent a month recently in the Granite School District observing the "Beyond the Basics" program the district operates for exceptional students.
The group included Joyce Ng-Koh, an administrator/teacher, and teachers Sam Poo Mun Wong, Soo Yeo Ling and William A. Grosse. They came to Utah after hearing about the program from others who attended a national conference on education of the gifted and talented last year in Salt Lake City.
Singapore has just started specialized instruction for gifted students within the past five years, Koh said. Among the island nation's 2.5 million population, only 175 students are selected for the program, based on national testing of third graders.
Chosen students attend classes housed in three schools. Classes average 24 to 27 students - many fewer than the standard Singapore classroom that has 40 to 45 students.
The Singapore educators were impressed with the informal nature of teaching in the United States. In their country, they lean more toward a formalized British/European style.
In standard classrooms, the visitors said, children are "glued to their chairs." More latitude is given the gifted/talented youngsters to interact and participate in classroom activities, Wong said.
The numbers of students in Singapore call for routine double sessions, with the first session teachers arriving by 7 a.m. to prepare for students who arrive at 7:25. Half-hour sessions are devoted to various study topics. Teachers, not students, move from room to room. They are greeted with formal respect, students rising from their seats for greetings and recitations.
The first session ends at 1 p.m. and the second begins. Extracurricular activities occur after school.
Education is a competitive enterprise in Singapore. Many students leave classes to go to tutors for additional lessons or catch-up instructions.
Singapore has one university, the visitors said. Few students perform well enough on tests to be accepted for higher education in their own country. Many parents save money to send their children abroad or, like Wong, purchase an insurance policy to guarantee their further education.
The two nations have different underlying philosophies about education. In her country, Koh said, "education is seen as an investment. More pressure is put on the kids, but since everyone is doing it, you don't find a high suicide rate. It's so much a part of life."
School pride is engendered by uniforms, and instruction is in English, although Mandarin is the official language of Singapore. All students also study a second language and many choose to study a third.
The educators said they were surprised at the enthusiasm with which they were welcomed to Utah. They noted some differences that had nothing to do with education.
"Drivers keep in their lanes and are very polite drivers. There aren't any car horns honking," Ling said.