What can be learned from education in Singapore? Local school officials travel west

HARLINGEN — Education, where East meets West. There are a few places where global influences congregate.

Singapore is one of those places, and it has developed one of the best education systems in the world.

That’s why Harlingen Superintendent Art Cavazos and Dr. Nolan Perez, Harlingen school board member, spent a week there in mid-October.

“I was very excited to be a part of this group to go to Singapore and study their educational system,” Cavazos said.

The local pair was with a group of a total of 37 educators and business leaders from throughout Texas who took the trip. It was hosted by Educate Texas and paid for through a privately-funded grant with no local tax dollars used to pay for the trip. Educate Texas is a public-private initiative of Communities Foundation of Texas.

The purpose was to bring back ideas that could improve Texas’ education system. Others representing the Valley were Stella Garcia, provost of Texas State Technical College. Dr. Luzelma Canales, executive director of RGV Focus also attended, as did Patty McHatton, dean of the College of Education at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Cavazos said Singapore develops its curriculum according to the needs of the workplace.

“Their focus is to make sure every student is provided an education and an opportunity to be trained for the labor market,” Cavazos said. “They invest a lot of money to create what we call career and technical education programs.”

Both Cavazos and Perez observed a close collaboration between the ministers of education and labor.

“The ministry of education works very closely with the ministry of labor to determine the educational outputs required by the workforce,” Perez said. “Students are streamed accordingly into technical, polytechnic or university tracks.”

Cavazos said industry partners are directly involved in the education system. Teachers participate in the industries related to their teaching field to better understand their subject. They can also bring their real-world learning back to their students. Harlingen schools have a similar program called externships.

Cavazos and Perez both saw great emphasis on real-world learning experiences.

“They value authentic and project-based learning,” Perez said. “They have robust technical education schools to prepare students for skilled jobs. Overall, there is tight alignment from the top on down in order to meet the demands of the workforce.”

Within the next several months, Educate Texas will seek input from the tour participants, a press release stated. It will compile a report to be shared with Texas educators, elected officials and business leaders.