Learning from Singapore: The Power of Paradoxes, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Learning from Singapore

The Power of Paradoxes, 1st Edition

By Pak Tee Ng


202 pages | 2 B/W Illus.

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Learning from Singapore tells the inside story of the country’s journey in transforming its education system from a struggling one to one that is hailed internationally as effective and successful. It is a story not of the glory of international test results, but of the hard work and tenacity of a few generations of policy makers, practitioners and teacher trainers. Despite its success, Singapore continues to reform its education system, and is willing to deal with difficult issues and challenges of change. Citing Singapore's transformation, author Pak Tee Ng highlights how context and culture affect education policy formulation and implementation. Showing how difficult education reform can be when a system needs to negotiate between competing philosophies, significant trade-offs, or paradoxical positions, this book explores the successes and struggles of the Singapore system and examines its future direction and areas of tension. The book also explores how national education systems can be strengthened by embracing the creative tensions generated by paradoxes such as the co-existence of timely change and timeless constants, centralisation and decentralisation, meritocracy and compassion, and teaching less and learning more. Learning from Singapore brings to the world the learning from Singapore—what Singapore has learned from half a century of educational change—and encourages every education system to bring hope to and secure a future for the next generation.


"This informed, authentic and easy-to-read book analyses the paradoxes in the incredible story of education in Singapore. It is by far the best account on the subject that I have ever come across. Even those who come from very different education systems will find it fascinating." – Steve Munby, CEO, Education Development Trust.

"Singapore is young and small but the story of its education system is told worldwide. This book tells that fascinating story through paradoxes and dreams that make the features of Singapore’s educational success easily understandable. Whether you are researcher, policy-maker, educator or student my message to you this: Read this book!" – Pasi Sahlberg, author of Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland

As Pak Tee writes, "In Singapore, educational change is not just about what to do, but how to be." If only that wisdom could guide the relentless pursuit for education improvement in the US and around the globe. – Jeannie Oakes, Presidential Professor in Education Equity, Emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles

"Anyone curious about how Singapore, a country that is barely over 50 years old, has managed to rank consistently high in international tests since the 1980s, while moving strategically to offer a humane, caring focus on educating every child, would do well to read this book. There may well be a few principles and lessons for other jurisdictions." – Asia Pacific Journal of Education

Pak Tee Ng’s book Learning from Singapore charts essential future directions for schooling worldwide: easy-to-read, outstanding insights. – Clive Beck, Professor Emeritus, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

Table of Contents

Learning from Singapore: The Power of Paradoxes


I. Background and Introduction

  1. Introduction: The Paradoxical Pictures of Singapore
  2. Singapore and its Education System
  3. II. The Four Paradoxes

  4. Paradox 1: Timely Change, Timeless Constants
  5. Paradox 2: Compassionate Meritocracy
  6. Paradox 3: Centralised Decentralisation
  7. Paradox 4: Teach Less, Learn More
  8. III. The Four Dreams

  9. Dream 1: Every School, a Good School
  10. Dream 2: Every Student, an Engaged Learner
  11. Dream 3: Every Teacher, a Caring Educator
  12. Dream 4: Every Parent, a Supportive Partner
  13. IV. Conclusion

  14. Lessons from Singapore



About the Author

Pak Tee Ng is Associate Dean, Leadership Learning at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

About the Series

Routledge Leading Change Series

The world is crying out loud for quality education, and for the type of leadership and change to make quality education a reality. Never has there been a greater need for grasping the big pictures of leadership and change in education, which creates the world of tomorrow by developing future generations today.

In this series, you will find some of the world's leading intellectual authorities on educational leadership and change. From the pens of writers such as Dennis Shirley, Pak Tee Ng, Andy Hargreaves, Michael Fullan, Pasi Sahlberg, Alma Harris, Yong Zhao, Amanda Datnow, Vicky Park, Santiago Rincón-Gallardo, Armand Doucet and Karen Edge, come wise insights and breakthrough ideas on this subject. They ask what the new imperatives of educational change are. They explore the paradoxical nature of educational change in celebrated Asian cultures and systems like those of Singapore. They point to the power of professional collaboration and leading from the middle in schools, and networks of schools and across the world, rather than just driving change from the top. They invite us to think about and pursue educational change as social movements aimed at liberating learning. They highlight the surreal nature of leadership and change at this critical moment in world history.

This series of books is for the stout-hearted and open-minded reader who is keenly looking for inspiration to unlock the potential of educational leadership and change in this turbulent world.

Learn more…

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