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Go Back to the List April 01, 2019
Lessons the NSW curriculum can learn from Singapore and Finland

Countries leading the world in education are encouraging deeper thought, reducing the amount of content in their curricula, and emphasising social and emotional skills as they prepare their students for a future made uncertain by rapid change. Their strategies are being closely watched by NSW policy-makers as they embark on the first review of the state’s cluttered kindergarten to year 12 curriculum in 30 years.

While most countries are grappling with similar problems as systems pile digital and interpersonal skills on top of existing subject-based content, some nations such as Singapore are coming up with solutions, said Andreas Schleicher, the director of education and skills for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. “In [some countries], students are confronted with 16 problems but if you look at high-performing countries, they teach one or two problems and give a good understanding of the nature of the problem, and then students can practice at home,” Mr Schleicher said at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai.

“Teaching now is not about teaching [content], it’s about giving them a reliable compass to find their own way. In the future, technology will empower those who have the capacity to draw benefit from it but it will disempower those that don’t. We could become slaves to algorithms.” Mr Schleicher said consistent top-performers across the PISA tests such as Singapore and Finland also did more with less teaching time.

“Students in Finland spend little more than half of the time [US students spend in class] ... but when you look at productivity, learning per hour of instruction, in Finland students learn a lot in little time,” Mr Schleicher said. “It’s about doing things differently. In China, teachers teach 11 to 16 hours per week and then they spend a lot of time with students individually and with colleagues, which leads to a better sense of professionalism. “In Japan, Singapore, Finland, teachers spend greater time with [students] individually than they do being instructors.” Mr Schleicher said that testing also needs to change to encompass the social and emotional skills that school systems are starting to emphasise, in line with the aims of secretary of the NSW Department of Education Mark Scott. “When you have a forward-looking curriculum and a backward-looking exam system, the exam system wins every time,” Mr Schleicher said.

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Written by Pallavi Singhal,
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