I just returned from Asia where I spoke to educators at the NESA conference in Bangkok and to 1200 school leaders from 13 countries at the International Association for Scholastic Excellence (INTASE) conference in Singapore. Most of the attendees in Singapore were leaders in their schools, spanning the entire education spectrum:
18% - Primary level (7-12 years)
15% - Secondary level (13-16 years)
14% - Tertiary level (17-19 years)
29% - Ministry of Education, Singapore
23% - Others (university, colleges, private consultancies, etc)
There were many interesting and inspiring topics covered during the conference, and a few concepts that especially struck me that could improve education in America.
High Standards. While students in Singapore hold the best PISA scores, their educators realize that students also need to develop creative, innovation, risk-taking, and entrepreneurial skills to be prepared for the complexity of today's professional world. It was these topics that I was asked to address. Whether their grads are going to discover the next scientific break-through, the most cutting-edge architectural structure, the most imaginative start-up, or the next service company, academic prowess alone won't cut it. The rethink, reinvent, and revolutionize theme is at the core of the Singaporean education system and workforce. In a culture that has transformed itself in one generation to become a world-class city, these are people who never rest on their laurels no matter how great their achievements.
While many may say that Singapore can pull this off because they are a small, homogenous environment, their leadership and educational vision spans the world. As I return to the United States, my hope is that in the next few years we can tackle our academic and professional growth areas with suburban students and rural students, with those who are first generation and those who are expected to go to college, with those who are academically gifted and those who are academically challenged, with those who are "bored" and those who are engaged, with those who are traditional learners and those who are getting their GED, with those who are inclined towards a profession and those who have no idea yet about their purpose, passion and prospects in the world.
Like Singapore and Finland, being a teacher in the United States can be one of the most sought after, respected professions when schools set the same standards as successful businesses and become a magnet for top talent. If Singapore could transform itself in one generation from a modest seafaring conduit to a city which leads the world in education, finance, architecture, clean water, and a host of other criteria, the United States can rise up and become a global educational powerhouse once again.