How exciting can the teaching profession be made? Is the scope of a teacher limited? Could “good students” be motivated to consider taking up teaching as a profession? It was in its attempt to answer such questions that Singapore enriched its teacher-training structure over the years. Today, the small island nation can take pride in the success of its public school system, say those who were behind the efforts.

The strong, tripartite relationship between the Ministry of Education, Singapore, the schools in the nation and the National Institute of Education (NIE), the sole teacher-training institute, seems to offer interesting lessons on how co-ordinated effort can bring about a difference in the education system.

“The Ministry sets the direction to achieve its aims and the programmes are delivered at schools. But, the NIE is the key instrument translating the aims to an actual teacher education programme,” says Lee Sing Kong, director of the NIE.

It is the efficiency of the teacher education system that can help achieve a desirable and effective public school system, he stresses. So how does the NIE train its teachers?

Explaining the role of the NIE, Prof. Lee says the institute plays a key role in four areas — preparation of teachers, continuous professional development of teachers, school leadership preparation and educational research. “We follow the Values-Skills-Knowledge (VSK) model. We equip teachers with the belief that every child can learn and train them to acknowledge and accept diversity in students.”

On the need for frequent opportunities for professional development of teachers, Prof. Lee says teachers need to constantly expose themselves to new skills and techniques. “It is as important as pre-service training. So we thought every teacher should be entitled to professional development through additional diploma programmes or master’s. The Ministry bears the cost.”

Similarly teachers are also being given designations and roles as heads of departments, administrative leaders, subject experts or curriculum developers, depending on their area of interest. These were seen by teachers as prospects for career development.

“Some show great interest in conducting research and understanding the realities of the classroom. The feedback is used to take necessary steps for improvement.” Another major initiative that Prof. Lee thinks had a marked impact on the profession was the Ministry’s decision to raise the payscale of teachers to match other “desirable professions.”

The NIE also adopted an effective screening mechanism to select the most suitable candidates with impressive academic credentials as well. “We have been working with a few countries who asked us to set up similar teacher-training institutes. We will be more than happy to share what we know. We also look forward to a lot more learning to constantly strengthen our own system,” Prof. Lee sums up.