1st Edition

Inspiring Purpose in High-Performance Schooling

By Mary Anne Heng Copyright 2024
    182 Pages 10 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    182 Pages 10 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Is the world better off because your school is in it? Do you believe schooling has a higher purpose? In Inspiring Purpose in High-Performance Schooling, Mary Anne Heng questions modern-day schooling with its dominant focus on what is efficient and effective in good education and how this is measured. This book critically analyses what really matters in high-performance schooling contexts using Singapore as an example and makes a case for putting purpose at the heart of teaching.

    Going beyond good education built on evidence-based and reflective practice and the instrumental questions of the “What” and “How” of education, she argues for a view of education as transformation with a deeper purpose that probes the “Why”. Using Singapore as a case example and Israel as a counterpoint, she moves past the rhetoric of developing passion, curiosity, creativity and other 21st-century competencies in high-performance schooling to uncover children’s real experiences of school. Based on research using multiple sources, she analyses surveys with Singapore and Israeli adolescents and in-depth individual student interviews, as well as provides insights from rich discussions and extended field-testing with practicing teachers and educational leaders to inform an urgent call for a new vision in education for the future of education and society—one that celebrates achievement with larger purpose for the wider world.

    A valuable academic and resource text for teachers, school leaders, policymakers and graduate students in education programmes, as well as education researchers in the fields of educational leadership and change, curriculum, teaching and learning, and youth purpose.

    1. What are we doing schools for?  2. Why we need to do schools differently: From high-performance schooling to purpose-driven schooling  3. Meaning in school and life: Finding one’s gifts  4. Purpose in school and life: Using one’s gifts for others  5. Youth purpose portraits and sources of influence  6. Big lessons from Singapore and Israel  7. Inspiring pathways to purpose: What can educators do?


    Mary Anne Heng is Associate Professor at the National Institute of Education,  Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Her research focuses on critical issues and interrelationships in teaching, learning, policy and leadership for purposeful and transformative educational change. Her work has been published in top education journals.

    In these times of ideological polarization in education, Dr. Mary Anne Heng provides us with a nuanced and persuasive approach to redefining our goals for children’s time spent in school.  Purpose-driven education, which offers a sustainable rationale for the acquisition of academic skills and knowledge, is central to engaging potential student motivation and creativity.  Concurrently, Heng argues that academic excellence remains essential, and that purpose-focused education cannot be about intellectual mediocrity.  As countries such as the U.S. struggle not only with youth disengagement, but also basic skills acquisition for a vast array of children, Heng’s balanced, well-crafted policy approach takes on increasing urgency.  

    Rena F. Subotnik, PhD, Academic Talent Development Program, University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Education, USA


    As countries worldwide seek to upgrade their education systems by emulating Singapore, Mary Anne Heng challenges the assumption that high-performing schools are necessarily better schools. Heng’s research looks behind the raw figures of educational attainment and offers another perspective on school success. Heng warns that the problems facing the future of our planet require skills of inventiveness and creativity based on a larger vision of education with purpose where self-discovery and transformation go hand in hand with academic achievement.

    Inspiring Purpose in High-Performance Schooling belongs on every educator's desk.

    Frances Schoonmaker, Professor Emerita, Teachers College, Columbia University and Award-Winning Author, USA


    Mary Anne Heng presents an accessible and clearly argued challenge to narrowly focused high-performance schooling. Drawing on empirical work conducted in Singapore and Israel, two countries noted in international studies for the quality of schooling in terms of student achievement, she observes distinct differences in student commitment and engagement. Her proposals for a more expansive, purpose-driven schooling, with student experience and the development of individual and collective creativity, fulfilment and well-being at its heart, will provide insight and inspiration for anyone with an active interest in re-shaping schooling to enable us to thrive in the face of current and emerging local and global challenges.

    Andrew Brown, Emeritus Professor of Education and Society, University College London Institute of Education, UK


    Small, successful nations such Denmark, Israel, Singapore, and Switzerland dominate performance rankings across a range of metrics, usually head and shoulders above large nations. The one attribute they share are outstanding education systems which ensure inclusivity and foster equality of opportunity (not outcome). In Inspiring Purpose in High-Performance Schooling, Mary Anne Heng draws big lessons from Singapore and Israel to solve slow and unfolding yet critical problems in education. Her research encourages us all by showing that societies benefit greatly when schools inspire students to discover their life purpose with broader notions of success for a greater good.

    R. James Breiding, Author of Swiss Made and Too Small to Fail, and Founder, Smart Nations, Big Impact Global Initiative, Switzerland