What is “Singapore Mathematics”?

By September 11, 2023Singapore Education

Maths is a subject in Singapore that will make most kids cringe. And that is not without good reason, the abstract concepts are difficult to relate to real life instances. However, mathematics is critical as one of the core foundation subjects in the education of our children. In addition, MOE play so significant emphasis on the importance of mathematics, as seen from the international accolades that Singapore often wins in mathematics competitions.

The term ‘Singapore mathematics’, which ironically is unknown to most Singaporeans, was coined in the US and refers to the unique national mathematics curriculum used by the Ministry of Education in Singapore. Generally, it refers to a method of teaching that covers less topics but and far greater depth. Singapore mathematics has its own range of textbooks in the US and has grown in popularity ever since Singapore was ranked at the top of the TIMSS (Trends in international mathematics and science study) on multiple occasions.

Mastery of a Topic

The Singapore mathematics method of learning requires students to master a particular topic before moving on to the next more advanced topic. This allows students to build upon previously learned knowledge and skills and not need to repeat Learning the foundation concepts after they have been mastered. In conjunction with this, the Singapore Math curriculum does not cover a lot of topics within an academic year. The primary aim is for children to perform well because they have mastered the material at a deeper level, and not simply because they are memorizing it for the exam.

In addition, the sequence of topics in the Singapore curriculum has been thoughtfully crafted based upon the learning curve of a child. This means that easier foundation topics are covered first before the student moves on to do increasingly harder problems. Even within a class, students may not learn at the same pace. But ultimately, every student will come to master the foundation topics, and that’s be ready to move on to the next grade.

Observers and educators praise Singapore mathematics because of its emphasis on understanding problem solving. The curriculum requires children to understand how something works both visually and conceptually. Kids will not just learn how mathematical concepts work but also why it works that way.

The Visualisation Approach

Another aspect of Singapore mathematics is its emphasis on visualization. Instead of using an abstract approach, educators in Singapore use physical objects, such as paper clips or wooden blocks to demonstrate the basics of addition or subtraction. Similarly, at The Maths Lab, we use projector screens and tablets to help students visualize these physical objects. Furthermore, Singapore maths also requires that students use an intermediate step called a pictorial approach.  Students will be taught how to draw a particular diagram that represents the mathematics problem at hand. Thus, students use actual drawing diagrams to solve word-based problems. Instead of simply trying to imagine the problem in their minds, and then writing equations to solve it, students draw the diagram out physically.

A New Approach

The Singapore Math approach is unique, in that just a generation ago, math was being taught in a very different manner. Parents in particular may find it difficult to accept this new approach; and just because they learn the times table in a particular way in the past, it doesn’t mean that that is the best way to learn something. The Singapore math approach is useful in that it does not always emphasize getting the answer rather it is about the journey two words obtaining the answer and explaining that journey in a way that makes sense.

Back in Singapore, despite Singapore leading the world in mathematics, parents often face an uphill task getting children interested in mathematics. Many parents tend to lean towards math tutors to help their children master this interesting yet confounding subject. Here at The Maths Lab, we try to make math fun, interesting, and to relate abstract mathematics concepts to real life examples. Moving forward, we hope to do our part in inspiring students to fall in love with the subject of math all over again.

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