13 March 2020
Singapore students consistently outperform their peers in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) studies. The Pisa assessment is conducted by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and ranks students in terms of mathematical and scientific knowledge, as well as reading.
One reason for this success is Singapore’s mathematics curriculum. The Ministry of Education has developed a mathematics curriculum that aims to move away from simple rote learning and focus instead on teaching students how to solve problems. Students should learn in three stages: by using real objects, then pictures, and then through symbols.
Based on this Concrete Pictorial Abstract approach to learning, MOE developed a “spiral curriculum”, where each topic is revisited in intervals at a more sophisticated level. A concept is represented initially by “concrete” materials, later by models (pictures) and then finally by abstract notation (such as plus or equals signs). There is also a strong emphasis on modelling mathematical problems with visual aids — using coloured blocks to represent fractions or ratios, for example.
The approach does have its critics, who say Singapore maths is not so easy to transplant. Teachers have to be well trained to gain an in-depth understanding of the novel methods. Despite this, a growing number of schools around the world are investing in the textbooks and training their teachers in Singapore maths.