Singapore's students continue to dominate in both math and science as per the latest results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). This raises the question of what makes Singapore students so successful in STEM subjects and what Australia can learn from them.
First, some background.
The Singaporean Math Method, also known as Singapore Math, is a teaching method used in Singapore's schools that emphasizes a strong foundation of mathematical concepts and skills, using visual and hands-on learning. The method is based on the belief that students can build a deep understanding of mathematical concepts through a step-by-step approach that starts with concrete examples and gradually moves towards abstract concepts.
Singapore Math places a strong emphasis on mental math and encourages students to develop their ability to solve mathematical problems in their heads, rather than relying solely on calculators and other tools. The method also utilizes a visual approach, including model drawing, to help students understand and solve word problems. This teaching approach has been widely recognized for its success in producing high-achieving students, who consistently rank at the top in international mathematics assessments.
The following are four key factors that contribute to the success of Singapore's students in maths:
- Foundational Learning/Deep Mastery: Singapore's curriculum is designed to provide students with a deep mastery of math through carefully calculated foundational learning, where each grade level builds upon the previous one. Unlike American math instruction that often relies on drilling and memorization of many skills, Singapore's approach focuses on students not just learning but truly mastering a limited number of concepts each year. This approach helps students understand the material on a deeper level, making them less likely to forget important concepts between grade levels.
- A Culture of Growth Mindset: Singapore's Ministry of Education heavily believes in research-proven pedagogical approaches that lead to lasting learning beyond tests. One of these approaches is the development of a growth mindset in students, which is the idea that intelligence can be developed and improved through hard work and education. This mindset helps students persevere when faced with difficult material and has been speculated to be a reason for the success of Singapore's students.
- Emphasis on Visual Learning: Singapore's math curriculum relies on model drawing, which uses units to visually represent a word problem, helping students understand the meaning of the problem and how to solve it. Singapore students are exposed to high-level, multi-step word problems and proficiency in solving these complex problems is a key factor in their success in international mathematics assessments. This approach helps students get past the words by visualizing and illustrating word problems with simple diagrams, making them better and more confident problem solvers.
- Mental Math as a Core Principle: Singapore students are encouraged to become proficient in doing math in their heads, developing number sense and place value. Mental math is one of the cornerstones of Singapore's math curriculum and helps students not only get math questions right but get them right quickly without the interference of outside tools.
Don't believe me, that Singapore Math is better? Here are a few stats:
Singapore's students consistently outperform their peers in mathematics across the globe. According to the latest results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Singapore's students have dominated both math and science in every tested grade level, placing them consistently at the top of the rankings.
In the 2019 TIMSS assessment, Singapore's fourth graders placed first in mathematics, with a mean score of 591, compared to Australia's fifth place ranking with a score of 554, and the United States' 38th place ranking with a score of 505.
In the same assessment, Singapore's eighth graders also ranked first in mathematics, with a mean score of 598, while Australia placed seventh with a score of 556, and the United States ranked 25th with a score of 521.
These results demonstrate the success of Singapore's unique approach to mathematics education and highlights the significant gap in performance between Singapore and other developed countries, such as Australia and the United States.
The success of Singapore's students in math and science can be attributed to a combination of factors, including foundational learning, a culture of growth mindset, emphasis on visual learning, and mental math as a core principle. Educators in Australia can consider implementing these approaches to raise student achievement in STEM subjects.