Western Australia schools trialling Singapore maths lessons to boost results

PUBLIC schools are trialling an Australian-first plan to order in their maths curriculum from Singapore – home to the brightest minds in the world.

Teachers from four WA primary schools started professional development in the new syllabus this week with a view to introducing it as early as next year.

The new maths curriculum is based on the models used in the world’s three top-performing nations of Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong. It focuses on problem solving and generally works a year or two ahead.

The most recent results from the Program for International Student Assessment, which compares 15-year-old students across the globe, ranks Singapore the highest for problem solving skills. Australia was ranked ninth.

Ballajura, West Beechboro, Ellenbrook and Dianella Heights primary schools will take part in the trial, which is expected to involve about 50 schools across Australia by the end of the year.

Dianella Heights Primary School principal Greg Sullivan said his school was looking at new ways to improve numeracy standards after finding maths results were stagnating.

“We struggled to improve maths over a number of years – we worked really hard and really got no return for the effort we put in,” he said.

About two years ago, the school “mandated” its maths block, meaning that every student must spend 100 minutes a day at least four days a week on maths.

And based on last year’s National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy results, the school’s average Year 5 results were at the national average for Year 7 students.

“We see the national curriculum as being the minimum standard,” Mr Sullivan said.

“What we have found is that if you want to be a high performing school, you have to pitch the curriculum above that year level. Our teachers have been working really hard to do that ourselves – a lot of our resources are a year above, so we might have Year 4 resources in a Year 3 room. In some cases, we may even have resources that are two years ahead.

“But what the Singaporean curriculum does, as well as the Korean curriculum, is they start a year level and it progresses the kids along plus one year, plus two years, in the curriculum. They’re the highest performing schools according to PISA in maths.”

Mr Sullivan said debate around national literacy and numeracy tests had detracted.

“One of the contentious issues we have in education is that there is a philosophical belief in some quarters that if you’re rigorous around literacy and numeracy, you are ignoring the whole child,” he said.

“And that’s just complete garbage. There’s no reason why you can’t have absolute rigour around literacy and numeracy and still offer your children a broad curriculum. I think some educators have gone so far towards developing the whole child, they’ve forgotten about the significance of numeracy and literacy. And they do a great job at all those other things but it’s at the detriment of literacy and numeracy.”

Scholastic Australia head of education Christine Vale said she expected 50 Australian schools to be using the curriculum.



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