Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Comparison of educational systems between singapore and japan.

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In the comparison of the educational system of Singapore and Japan, profound similarities can be found in its general administrative structure, yet upon closer examination, the Singapore system still differs significantly from that of Japan’s in many extra-curricular aspects. A clear distinction between both systems is not easy as boundaries are blurred and the basis for judgment on which system is better may be subjective.

Compulsory education exists for both systems, nine years for Japan and six years for Singapore. This form of mandatory education has accounted for the high literacy rate in both countries, moreover, Singapore’s system is just as heavily reliant on the entrance examination system as Japan with a Singapore student having to pass the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), GCE ‘O’ Levels and later the GCE ‘A’ Levels for those who wish to progress to university from two-year junior colleges. The exam hell so often depicted in Japanese school life is also applicable to a Singapore student as juku schools are replaced by tuition and remedial classes in a local context. The aim of it all is to obtain places in top-ranking secondary schools and junior colleges and the idea that attending top schools will put one in a better light in the competition for jobs and university vacancies has filtered down to primary level in much the same way as in Japan. Parents compete for top primary schools during enrollment days and the average age of kids attending tuition and enrichment lessons, such as abacus classes, are getting younger over the years.

Both systems are founded on the basis of meritocracy whereby only the smartest makes it to top elite schools. However, beside brains, family background is another factor in deciding entry. In this sense, I find the phenomenon far more pronounced in Japan than in Singapore. Statistics have shown persisting educational stratification based on family background when deciding the entry of university candidates in Japan. The average income of the parents of Tokyo University students exceeds 150 percent of the national average income of male wage-earners in their late forties and fifties showing the greater opportunities for higher quality education for the well-placed and well-resourced. Contrary to Japan, university life in Singapore is not a moratorium. Stringent rules apply to all students and the concept of continuous hard work still holds as slackness of attitude may very well be punished by expulsion. On the other hand, the rewards of success are equal for all who are willing to work hard.

The rote-memorization style in Japan can also be seen in Singapore whereby study formulas are constantly repeated. Local schools have developed trends of question spotting in exams and ten-year series are indispensable to a student during exam revision. Model answers are memorized and regurgitated onto exams much like the mechanical memorization of facts, numbers and events in Japan. In recent years though, the enactment of policies such as the Rainbow Plan has attempted to reverse the bandwagon and Singapore has taken steps towards creativity by holding competitions promoting creative thinking such as Best Business Idea Competition in 000. The Japanese hensachi mode of student assessment is very much confined to academic areas and remains relevant even when looking for employment. By contrast, the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Singapore stresses on the all-round development of students by making extra-curricular activities mandatory in secondary and junior colleges. Appeal cases in top schools may be entertained if the student possess an impressive extra-curricular record, even if he/she may not make the grade academically.

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In terms of state control education, the MOE does set certain guidelines and publishes compulsory textbooks to be used till secondary. Tertiary institutions may then set their own reading lists though it does not mean that MOE has relinquished control for important administrative matters are still dependant upon the government for approval. The government may not control word for word but it still wields deciding influence on a student’s academic life. The incorporation of civics and moral education in our curriculum also aids in the freedom of expression during class discussion, much unlike the repressive kanri kyoiku phenomenon in Japan.

Another significant difference is the affordability of education in Singapore, unlike in Japan where education runs up high costs on a family’s expenditure. Singapore education is subsidized all the way to university and for needy students there is a highly developed system of financial aid in the form of bursaries and tuition loans. Unlike in Japan, where university education is more for the well-to-do and scholarships are few and low-valued, the affordability of education here enables the majority of students to obtain education if they want to. The rampant problem of ijime in Japan may be likened to teenage gangs here, but it is still a problem readily controlled by a penetrating law and educational system. We have the requisite abilities to deal swiftly and harshly with impudent behavior, an example being the implementation of “teacher-inspectors” a couple of years ago whereby carefully picked teachers have it in their ability to act as law enforcers against unruly students. Add that to an already established system of pastoral care guidance programme and school phobia is brought down to a minimum. For its numerous plus points, the Singapore system is still deficient in school-business interactions which the Japanese system clearly has an edge over. Other than the rudimentary career pep talks, the school staff itself makes minimal moves towards securing employment for the students.

However, the quality of education has been improving over the years thanks to the foresight of the local government in equipping all students with IT knowledge and facilities. Though Singapore follows closely Japan’s model, it may win out in terms of greater flexibility.

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