For the 10th anniversary of SingTeach, we sat down with founding editor and veteran teacher educator Prof S. Gopinathan who started it all a decade ago. He shares why he saw the need to spread the word about local education research.
When the Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice (CRPP) was set up in in NIE in 2003, it heralded an era when researchers started to study Singapore schools in a coherent and systematic manner.
Professor S. Gopinathan was then CRPP’s Vice-Dean. He had always been a strong advocate of education research done locally. He also believes that research has to reach those who urgently need answers to questions in education. These are the school leaders, teacher educators, policymakers and especially the teachers.
But Prof Gopinathan could not find a research publication meant for them. His solution: Start one at NIE!
Together with his CRPP colleagues, he kick-started SingTeach, the first online publication in Singapore intended to inform teachers about the latest in education research and practice. SingTeach was thus tied very closely to CRPP’s mission to advance knowledge that improves teaching and learning in Singapore and worldwide.
Prof Gopinathan shares with us the genesis of SingTeach and his views on its role in informing teachers about research.
Q: How did the idea of SingTeach come about?
I had a publishing background and was aware that very often, research was seldom read by people for whom it was intended. It’s largely because academics were writing for academics and hoping that teachers and principals might read it. And I was conscious early on that this wouldn’t work.
At one end, you have the scholarly books published by major academic publishers. At the other end, you have newsy newsletters full of pictures and events.
So, in between, there was a gap. The challenge was: What would entice teachers to read research? The key, we thought, was that research had to be presented in a way simpler than academic writing. But it’s not dumbing it down! It’s got to be something that speaks to teachers’ immediate concerns.
If it was responsive to their concerns, and written in a language that they could easily understand, and if the implications of research for practice were drawn out, I think there would be a greater chance that they would read, and that they would continue to read.
Q: How were the early years like?
I think we in CRPP had a sense of excitement because we were starting on something new; we were breaking new ground. For me, it was a transformation from research done by individuals that occasionally went into journals, into something much more systemic and rigorous.
It was really a new phase, both in education research in Singapore, and in teacher development and preparation. We now have an evidence base to say to schools or NIE colleagues, or internationally, that this is the way to improve Math; this is the way to teach critical and creative thinking.
We now have an evidence base for saying it rather than just relying on the preference or prejudice of one person or expert. It was a start to evidence-based teacher preparation, policy making and evidence to improve teachers’ practices. That, I hope, still remains the ideal.
Q: What are your hopes for education and teacher education in Singapore? And what role would SingTeach play?
Going forward, we want more educators to base their decisions on evidence, or at least be informed.
– Prof S. Gopinathan, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
Going forward, we want more educators to base their decisions on evidence, or at least be informed. If we want to improve any kind of teaching, we really require exposure to evidence. Now, many get their evidence from textbooks or journal articles. But the articles may not be specifically about research in the Singapore context. SingTeach is therefore signalling to them that it’s not that the best Math research comes out only from China, the US or the UK; we’re also doing Math research here!
Particularly for subjects like Social Studies or the languages, the local context is important. So it’s a way of saying, “Hey we’re doing research in Singapore, and I must be aware of this research, and I must start thinking about how I could possibly use this research.”
For those training to be teachers in NIE, it’s also an early exposure to research in the local context, to supplement what they may be reading of research from elsewhere.
The next step is using this in professional development. There are experienced teachers who’d say, we continue to face certain problems, and what better answer to those than local research?
Across the board, from policymakers at MOE, teacher education faculty at NIE, initial teacher trainees to postgraduate students and in-service teachers, it potentially infuses this notion of the importance of data and research in education.
Q: Do you have hopes what SingTeach would be like?
For me, it’s still that holy grail. We do a lot of research – that’s a valuable resource. How can we increase demand for it? How can we increase the utilization of research? It’s really, if I have a problem, where do I find the answer? It’s reconciling what the teachers want with what the researchers are prepared to do. There’s prestige in publishing in journal articles but the question is, who reads them? Do teachers read them? Or is it just a small community of researchers talking to each other?
We have to look at the next phase of Singapore’s education development. Every 10 to 20 years, there’re new educational challenges. The nature of our student body is different. Technology is changing communication patterns. How do we understand the changes in our students, and the purposes for which they come to school? What about the nature of teaching and the focus on learning? All these things are relatively new and challenging old fields of teaching and learning.
How are we going to find a pathway without research, without data, without analysis by people who understand the context, who have gathered the data and talked to students and teachers? So I see the context changing. I see the demand for answers going up, and therefore I think researchers have a big challenge and opportunity to influence the direction of teacher education and the future of education goals.