Singapore Mathematics

| November 17, 2010
BY MARION SCHER

In September this year, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report rated South Africa’s quality of Mathematics and Science education 137th out of 139. Singapore, once again, was rated number one. How can we translate its success to our schools?

With 40 years in education behind him, Jack Garb, Managing Director of Jade Education, knew exactly where to go to find solutions.

“In 2002, when I read the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) survey showing that students in Singapore have repeatedly been ranked at or
near the top in international Maths examinations since the mid-1990s, I knew there had to be a correlation between the quality of the materials they used and the results achieved.

I was excited to discover they taught in English, making their material accessible and, in 2002, I started importing textbooks designed around Singapore’s Maths curriculum, which became known simply as Singapore Maths.”

Singapore Maths is now successfully used in over 1 800 schools across 50 US states. Additionally, 41 countries as well as more than 80 South African schools are using this method to improve their Maths scores in local and international assessments.

It’s interesting to note that identical material is being used in township schools as well as independent schools. In a pilot project started three years ago, the Organisation for Educational Resources and Technological Training (ORT) – the world’s largest Jewish education and vocational training non-governmental organisation – joined forces with Bidvest and introduced Singapore Maths to six primary schools in Alexandra township to test the project design and material for future use throughout South Africa and Africa.

Nick Taylor, former CEO and now Senior Research Fellow at Joint Education Trust ( JET), which is monitoring the project, says: “The results are very promising. With just
six schools involved it’s not an intensive intervention, but one definitely worth a larger evaluation.”

Apart from improved academic results at these six schools, pupils and staff at another 30 state schools report that they have benefited greatly from these methods.
Ariellah Rosenberg, ORT South Africa Educator Empowerment Head of Department, is encouraged by the pupils’ willingness to learn. “The teachers are more focused,
motivated and have gained confidence from the training and support,” she says.

“The training of teachers is critical,” explains Garb. “We need to take advantage of Singapore’s willingness to share their experience and expertise.”

The recently formed Marshall Cavendish Maths Institute in Singapore will be providing courses in teacher training, professional development and leadership for those countries using the Singaporean materials.

According to Des Hugo, Headmistress of St Mary’s Junior School in Waverley: “Since implementing Singapore Maths, our results in the Australian Council for
International Research (ACER) International Benchmark Tests reflect achievements above national and international standards, and there has been a 35% to 40% improvement in averages attained on our in-house baseline assessments.

Teachers comment on feeling assured of teaching correct computation strategies, number manipulation and problem solving when reviewing their practice, and children love their Maths lessons.”

When did you last hear of children actually loving Maths? “As a former teacher, I know how important it is at primary level to have a firm grasp of Maths concepts. Singapore Maths ensures that children master the material through detailed instruction, probing questions and problem solving, and worldwide experience shows these students are better prepared for high school Maths,” concludes Garb.

Marion Scher is a journalist, lecturer, media trainer and consultant.

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Category: Summer 2010

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