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Our journey for excellence: A country, a school, our teachers

Principal Tan Ke-Xin frames her talk with the Burroughs Wellcome Fund scholars by talking about her school's journey for excellence. It is a frame that helps us understand the country of Singapore, the Woodlands Secondary School, and our search for best practices in math and science education to take home to North Carolina.


Singapore is a young country, celebrating its 51st birthday this year. Everywhere we go, the people we visit explain this country’s investment in education by noting that the country has few natural resources and so the investment in human capital is a key economic driver. “Singapore is a country in a hurry,” says Rick Van Sant, the executive director of Go Global NC. The prime minister aspires for his country to be a smart nation, and Govind Lakshmi, the school staff developer at Woodlands, says, “education is the only way for vertical mobility.” It is a country with its eye on the future.


The School

“At Woodlands Secondary School, we believe in building a culture of care, support and understanding for our staff and students, and we will strive for excellence as a school as we weave quality teaching and learning, dream the best and lead to inspire.” — Principal Tan Ke-Xin



The Students

Woodlands Secondary School is a neighborhood school started in 1982 and now serving 1,200 students. Thirty percent of the students receive financial assistance, which includes uniforms, shoes, eyeglasses if needed, transportation, vouchers for food, textbooks, enrichment programs, an opportunity to visit overseas, and financial support to purchase a laptop, among other programs. “We have made it as comfortable as possible so students in the lower income bracket don’t feel it,” says Lakshmi. “The students are really resilient.” In this digital country, 95-96 percent of students have access to the Internet at home.

Our Teachers

Our cultural exchange with the Woodlands Secondary School included presentations on the school’s journey for excellence, a school tour, classroom observation, and a discussion with faculty and the administration. The BWF scholars had a chance to listen to students, learn from students, talk to teachers, and question the administration.

Photo Credit: Kayleigh Willis

The Lesson

Our classroom observation allowed us to watch Suyan, a teacher, guide her students through a project on food consumption.

A student gets started
A student gets started
Our teachers ask questions while the students are working
Our teachers ask questions while the students are working

This the student assignment:

A student presents his findings to our teachers and the class
A student presents his findings to our teachers and the class


In-depth discussions about curriculum innovations and teacher training with the principal and school staff developer gave us the opportunity to understand better how this school and this country connect policy to practice in the classroom. “Teacher training is key when it comes to innovations,” says Ke-Xin.

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