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High School: Learning from Singapore

Some highlights from last week and this week in the High School...Lessons from Singapore from the recent IB Global Conference and the IB Heads World Conference… Find out more about our students’ entries in the “Caligrammes” competition organized by the Alliance Française Bangkok last week.

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It was a great two days of swimming at this weekend’s Marlin Mayhem. Congratulations to all of the Marlins, and their parents and coaches, and a huge thank you to all the Estates Team and the PTG for all their hard work around a great event too!

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It was great to see so many parents at last week’s Year 7 and 8 Concerts and Parent/Student/Teacher Meetings, and I am looking forward to discussing Options with Year 9 and their parents at their Parent/Student/Teacher Meetings tomorrow evening. Term 2 Grade Reports for students in Years 10 and 12 will be online on Thursday, but Parent/Student/Teacher Meetings will not occur alongside these Grade Reports for these Year Groups. Rather, Years 10 and 12 have their second Parent/Student/Teacher Meetings of the year towards the end of Term 3, after their End of Year Exams.

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As I wrote in last week’s Newsletter, Mr Will and I spent three days last week at the IB Global Conference and the IB Heads World Conference, with over 1,800 IB Coordinators and Heads from all over the Asia-Pacific Region, and the world.

Two of the highlights of the conference were a Keynote speech from and a later Breakout Session with Pak Tee Ng, an Associate Professor at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. You can see a clip from his Keynote here:

Pak Tee is an internationally known expert on education in Singapore, with Singapore the top country in the world in Reading, Maths and Science, and in the new Collaborative Problem Solving assessment, in the 2015 OECD PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) .

So, in the words of Pak Tee’s recent book, Learning from Singapore, what can St Andrews learn from Singapore?

Having spent time over the weekend reading his book, I was intrigued by its subtitle, “The Power of Paradoxes”, with Pak Tee describing four paradoxes at the heart of Singaporean education.

One of the four paradoxes is Compassionate Meritocracy. Singapore is famous for the high academic standards reached by its highest performing students, but has often been criticised, both within Singapore and around the world, for the way its streaming system separates students throughout their Secondary education and the resulting lack of equity of the system, as shown on this graph shown by Pasi Sahlberg when he visited Bangkok in 2016.

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In recent years, Singapore has really tried to make this meritocracy more compassionate, however, for example by allowing students who are achieving to move between streams during their Secondary education and developing much better Learning Support Programmes, including schools focused on those students who have failed the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) more than once.

At St Andrews, we have always had an excellent reputation for our Learning Support Department, and our focus has always been both on continuing to develop this and on ensuring that, when we talk about meeting “all the needs of the individual learner” we are also meeting the needs of those students who are targeting the very highest grades at IGCSE and in the IB Diploma Programme. It has been very pleasing to see our IGCSE and IB results, and the number of Top in Thailand and Top in the World Awards and students achieving 40 points or more in the IB Diploma Programme, in recent years.

Another paradox discussed by Pak Tee Ng, both in his book and in Singapore last week, is Teach Less, Learn More. This started in 2004, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saying, in his National Day Rally speech:

“We've got to teach less to our students so that they will learn more. Grades are important – don't forget to pass your exams – but grades are not the only thing in life and there are other things in life which we want to learn in school.”

This focus on learning beyond exams is very consistent with our view at St Andrews, as reflected both in the change in our Mission Statement, from inspiring students “to achieve their full potential" to “to be the best they can be”, and the importance of our What Makes a Great St Andrews Community document.

Teach Less, Learn More is also important in the classroom, with Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore's Minister for Education, describing a shift of education from quantity to quality in 2005:

“We will seek to cut back on quantity … so as to provide more ‘white space’ in the curriculum, space which gives schools and teachers the room to introduce their own programmes, to inject more quality in teaching, or give students themselves the room to exercise initiative, and shape more of their own learning.”

This is reflected in our What Makes a Great St Andrews lesson document, with its focus on International-Mindedness and the IB Learner Profile attributes, our ongoing review of the Key Stage 3 Programmes of Study and our new Effort Grades Criteria, which focus on students developing their Collaboration, their Growth Mindset, their Independent Learning and their Oracy.

Pak Tee Ng began his Keynote speech comparing Singapore and the IB’s “50 years of success”, with Singapore separating from Malaysia in 1965 and the IB celebrating its 50th Birthday this year, but his speech, and his book, are very careful to be clear that the rest of the world can learn from what Singapore has learned too, and that it is this ongoing learning that is so important:

“Even when we are ranked highly in the league tables, we know that we still need to do a lot more to get better. There are many areas for improvement, and we have plenty of work ahead of us. … Our education system is always a work in progress.”

With our IB Five Year Review and our Education Development Trust (ex-CfBT) Accreditation Inspection next term, we know that the High School will also continue to be “a work in progress” and that we “have plenty of work ahead of us” too…

Have a great Songkran holiday, and I look forward to seeing you all in Term 3.

Mr Roo

High School Calendar: Term 2

Tuesday 3rd April

Year 9 Parent/Student/Teacher Meetings

Thursday 5th April

Songkran Assembly and Celebrations

Thursday 5th April

Year 10/12 Grade Reports published

Friday 6th - Friday 20th April

Songkran Holiday

Monday 23rd April

First Day of Term 3

A pdf of this half-term’s High School Calendar is available at this link.

The full High School Calendar is available on the school’s website.

Calligrames Poetry Competition

Congratulations to Year 9 students Asuka, Hansika and Jahnavi for winning the 3 top prizes at the “Caligrammes” competition organized by the Alliance Française Bangkok last week! Invented by Guillaume Apollinaire in 1918, a Calligramme is a poem whose verses are arranged to form a drawing related to the poem.

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Members of the jury made their selection based on the following criteria:

  • Quality of the text ;

  • Precision, originality and expressive force of the drawing ;

  • Coherence and harmony of the text and the drawing.

We are proud of all our students who took part in the event! If you would like to appreciate our students’ works, please visit the bulletin board display both in the Language Department and at Alliance Française.

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