Is the Singaporean education system flawed

School expert Schratz: "Our education system has stopped"

Michael Schratz is a well-traveled man. The education expert has visited more than 100 schools around the world in recent years. His goal: to find the best of them in order to draw conclusions for a well-functioning education system. In his new research project, he gets to the bottom of what good schools have in common.

The researcher does not give the Austrian school system a good report. It is years behind developments in other countries, and previous reforms are more cosmetic than big hit. From Finland he would like to import the dissolution of classical subject teaching, from Singapore the meaning of "personal and social well-being" as a competence that is to be imparted to the students. The fact that Austria and Germany are still relying on a half-day model is just a bizarre thing when viewed through an international perspective.

DEFAULT: Are there similarities between good schools?

Schratz: School is always very contextual. What sets them apart, regardless of their location, is that good schools have common goals that they work towards. Many started their school development out of a crisis situation. In the schools that won the German School Prize, you can see how far you have to go in order to leave the narrowness of thinking apart from the statement "We have to do good teaching".

DEFAULT: Is this an appeal to the attitude that the work in the subject is just as important as the work for the school community?

Schratz: Professional qualification is the key. But we need to focus more on what my subject contributes to the bigger picture. I always have to assume what I call the learning side and not the teaching side. I need all of my professionalism, but I have to feel what this student needs at the moment. If I don't notice that, then there is always the classic lesson, in which the teaching-side orientation dominates. For most, this change of perspective is difficult because the training is very much geared towards the individual subject and not so much towards the school as a whole. So each "contributing something to the whole" is understood as "having something taken away".

DEFAULT: Is it all possible - subject-related learning, cultivating the school culture - in a half-day school at all?

Schratz: No. We have to say goodbye to half-day school. Otherwise that falls on our heads. Progressive countries have also broken the clock in 45 minutes. In Finland phenomena are used. The students do not acquire curriculum contents in different subjects, but are confronted with complex tasks - because there are no isolated problems in life.

DEFAULT: Do school administrators have enough leeway for this?

Schratz: The award-winning schools have the same conditions as everyone else. In this respect, it is not the framework conditions that stand in the way, but the ability to rethink school. Good school administrators do not work in, but on the system. We haven't gotten worse in that sense, we've only moved a little further. Our education system has stopped where it was ten years ago.

DEFAULT: Looking at our education system from the outside, what do you notice?

Schratz: Visitors from abroad do not understand that you only go to school here for half a day. They say: You are wasting quality time! Hardly anyone outside of Austria understands the early separation of the school system at the age of ten. Or the fact that everyone uses the same textbook. How is it that everyone learns the same thing? It is said that that does not at all fit in with how people develop. For us, however, that's a matter of course - I was a textbook author myself.

DEFAULT: Can the clinging to traditional teaching in Austria only be explained ideologically? Education Minister Faßmann says that some political decisions do not need a scientific basis.

Schratz: You can't really explain that at all. From research we have enough findings as to what characterizes a good school system. As for Faßmann: I am surprised that a scientist should say something like that. I have to take note of this, but as a scientist I am committed to the truth and not to politics. Evidence-based education policy should look at how good we are, what can we do to get better? Then everything should be done to get better.

DEFAULT: Do you see that?

Schratz: No, I don't see that. On the contrary: we are going backwards in certain areas. Keyword digit notes, the alternatives of which the elementary schools have long been working on.

DEFAULT: What is so bad about it? There is still the alternative assessment.

Schratz: The problem is that we have very numerical thinking. Parents have a harder time with other feedback, they often want grades. What it's actually about is to see: Am I even noticed as a student? I am not noticed behind a note. It is more likely to be noticed what is wrong.

DEFAULT: Should there be grades only from the age of ten?

Schratz: The Finnish school system has no grades until the age of 15. I wonder why I need it when an entire country that is much more successful than Austria can do without it?

DEFAULT: Is staying seated from the second grade onwards also a step backwards?

Schratz: There are hardly any more countries that can even stand still. It would be much more expedient, and that is what other countries that work on a personalized basis are doing, to say: How can I absorb this? If I have classes in elementary school across all grades, then there is no sitting down, then I am simply in a different grade in certain performance areas.

DEFAULT: There are plenty of educational tests out there. Is testing too much?

Schratz: The tests cannot be generally disgraced. The question is, of course, who is being compared with whom? If you look at the Asian region, they have completely different conditions. So we compare a half-day school system with schools where students study until eleven in the evening. The good thing: In Austria we used to not have the option of external assessment, so comparing Pisa is more of a reference character. In Singapore, which were right up there at Pisa, they want to go back with the tests. They say: We know that we are good. A completely different topic is important there, that of "well-being". Personal and social well-being is important.

DEFAULT: Briefly on the reform of the new middle school: Can the NMS still be saved?

Schratz: So many rescue attempts have already been made that you have to think about how you can organize a system that enables the best for every child? At the moment I don't see that when interventions start in the second or third grade in elementary school to ensure that the child goes to the right school. There are ten year olds with stomach ulcers. Is that what we want (Peter Mayr, Karin Riss, December 10, 2018)