singapore math become global educational standard

Can Singapore Math Become A Global Educational Standard? Six Reasons Why We Might Answer Yes

This spring many people may have seen an unusual logic puzzle called “When is Cheryl’s birthday?” It was intended for high school math students in high school, but it spread online and went viral.

Many people tried to figure it out, most often giving unsupported derivative answers, and older Americans were stumped altogether. The situation seemed especially desperate given the rather nonsensical, at first glance, clues, which seemed more like childish nonsense.

It turned out that the puzzle was originally designed to be solved not by American adults, but by schoolchildren from Singapore studying advanced mathematics. And other users were able to see a fundamental difference in approaches to math instruction in different countries, one of which has more benefits and perspectives.

According to Dan Brillon, who heads a company distributing Singaporean math textbooks in the U.S. called Singapore Math Inc., until the 1980s, high school and college students from Singapore were not ranked in any international ratings for the quality of math instruction. After introducing a new teaching methodology based on visual problem solving, the situation has changed qualitatively in 10 years.

Integrating “Singapore Math” into the U.S. educational process

Americans used to attribute their failures in mathematics to a lack of innate talents. Kevin Mahoney, a math curriculum coordinator, advises other American schools on implementing the Singapore math curriculum. He often hears from others that they are not math persons.

Mahoney disagrees with this explanation, giving an example of Singapore children and parents who believe success in math depends on personal effort.

Students’ lack of confidence in their abilities leads to a low level of math knowledge. The National Center for Education Statistics published reports that only a third of 4th graders and just over a quarter of 8th graders are good at math in 2013.

Today, the Singapore model of teaching has been implemented in thousands of U.S. schools. It has also become very popular with homeschoolers. Students, both in school and at home, have already demonstrated a leap in their proficiency.

Despite these results, some school districts refuse to adapt “Singapore Math” because it can be problematic and unnecessary for existing curricula. We found 6 reasons to dispel these doubts.

1. Singaporean students have consistently won prizes in international math competitions.

In 1995 the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study has been compiling an international ranking of countries with the highest level of mathematical proficiency among students. And Singapore has invariably appeared among the best.

In 2011, TIMSS ranked the math knowledge level of Singaporean 4th graders as the highest among other countries, while 8th graders were placed in second place. According to another study above international education, Singaporean teenagers show outstanding skills in solving all kinds of problems, including unstructured or atypical ones.

2. The Singapore Math program is not focused on passing exams but on building real quality knowledge and skills.

The local Ministry of Education, while developing this teaching methodology, has diminished the number of concepts taught in exchange for deep immersion in them. For example, it’s not enough for students to know how to solve an equation; they need to understand how an equation works.

According to Brillon, American students take 13 to 15 courses in one school year, and the Singapore Math course allows them to consolidate their knowledge and skills.

3. “Singapore Math” engages visual and audible methods to move smoothly from concrete objects to abstract calculation.

We’re used to math lessons starting with adding and subtracting real objects, and then we’re already counting abstract numbers: 3+4=7. But in Singaporean mathematics, there is an intermediate – “pictorial” – phase that facilitates the transition from concreteness to abstraction. This idea comes from the research of American psychologist Jerome Bruner.

In the beginning, lessons are group activities with real small objects such as buttons or dice. Then students draw these objects, and only after that, do they learn abstract calculations. According to Brillon, the Singapore method’s effectiveness is based on visual mathematical calculations.

4. All the topics studied are connected with each other like LEGO bricks.

Mathematics has different levels of difficulty, which are linked into a chain of skills in Singapore, unlike the American “spiral” model which involves repeating what has been learned at intervals. According to Mahoney, this strategy only brings irritation to teachers and students.

5. “Singapore Math” fits the Common Core State Standards.

The authors of the Common Core State Standards developed the provisions of the educational initiative by focusing on the most effective foreign methods of study, including countries that regularly rank high on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. As you may recall, Singapore is constantly on their radar.

So it is not unusual for the Common Core State Standards to incorporate some of the principles of the Singapore Math program, such as fewer topics but more serious study. Moreover, last year, Singapore Math Inc. released new textbooks that are more fully aligned with this educational initiative.

6. According to research, this methodology shows instant improvements.

The American Institutes for Research conducted a study in 2005 that found the reasons for the educational model’s effectiveness. However, it remained unclear whether the program would continue to have similar effectiveness once it was integrated into U.S. schools.

Mahoney’s first study focused on this question. He concluded that improvements in mathematical proficiency were shown to varying degrees by absolutely all students. Authors of a British study came to the same conclusion: the Singaporean methodology, adapted to Western standards, allows students to make significant progress.

In addition, it was found that the education received on the principles of “Singapore Math” for one academic year is equivalent to one year and one month of conventional education.


Mahoney advocates continued research in this direction. There are no radical differences in the national approaches to learning this subject, he said.

It’s regular elementary math, which shows far better results than all other programs. And if today “Singaporean math” may seem something exotic, tomorrow it may become commonplace on a par with mastering Chinese language. If you:

  • care about the quality of your education.
  • want your child in the future to become a sought-after specialist in the labor market.
  • are looking for new approaches to teaching, you can always turn to the Internet.

For example, the online resource E Singapore Math offers several programs for children from pre-kindergarten and kindergarten to fifth graders and homeschoolers, as well as a teacher module. You’ll have access to over 800 Singapore Math lessons and over 10,000 exercises and assessments.

And these are not boring instructions – E Singapore Math curriculum has a system of motivation to learn. Don’t be afraid to start: you will be offered a placement test to determine your grade level, gaps in knowledge, and set learning goals. Then you’ll have all the information you need to make up for the expansion of your math skills.

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