I have just returned from the 9th World Convention of the International Confederation of Principals in Singapore. It was truly an international convention with1,400 delegates from over 40 countries. It was also an opportunity to meet up with old friends and colleagues like Sita, who I first met whilst studying at a summer institute at Harvard a few years ago.
There were some challenging speakers at the convention which I will write up in separate posts however a highlight was the opportunity to converse with colleagues from different countries and to hear about their work and the challenges they face. I recall speaking witha colleague from Nigeria who talked about the challenges faced by some teachers with large class sizes – 120 in a class. I heard about a high school in China with 2,200 students and the tremendous advances they were making in science and technology.
Over lunch one day I talked with some colleagues from New York about the challenge of absenteeism. Sitting on the same table were some principals of schools in Africa and they talked about the joy in children’s faces as they learnt to share traditional songs and customs across the internet. I met some colleagues from South Africa in a lift and exchanged cards with a promise to email each other and finally a colleague from New Zealand in a little backpackers pub called the Prince of Wales in the middle of little India in Singapore – trust the aussies and new zealands to find a pub there.
I was fortunate to explore a bit of Singapore and admire the lilly gardens, the amazing Evolution Garden in the middle of the Botantical Gardens and finish the day with a drink at the famous Raffles Pub.
For me on the first day a highlight was the address by the Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Hsien Loong. He spoke, with passion, about the critical role that education played in the economic and social prosperity of the nation. He talked about the challenges the Singapore education faced over the years and movements to devolve responsibility more and more to the schools within a central framework, very similar to the Victorian public education system.
The Prime Minister spent some time talking about the change in culture required in schools and by teachers to go beyond the basics of the syllabis and innovate. The system geographically locates schools in clusters of around 12 [340 schools in Singapore] so that they share ideas and resources.
Teachers salaries are bench marked to keep pace with the private sector, trainee teachers paid a full salary and performances bonsuses awarded to teachers by a panel. He made several points including
- not rushing to reduce class sizes from 40, despite political and parent pressure, so that they could control teacher quality in the recuitment process.
- following on from the McKenzie Report that they aimed to provide the best possible instruction for all students using the mantra “teach less learn more“.
- that the principal was the key person in the improvement agenda – “if you put in a principal who is waiting for retirement then the teachers and the kids wait for retirement too!”
The respect shown to the Prime Minister shown by principals and the taxi drivers alike was a testiment to his understanding of the needs of the people in Singapore. All in all a very rewarding experience. But wait there’s more for the challenges presented by the keynote speakers in particualr Andy Hargreaves, Professor Kishore Mahbubani and Professor David Perkins do require some deep reflection – wait for the posts.
I would recommend principals set their calendars for the 10th international convention in Toronto in 2011.