Today we met with two professors, Jamie Gillen and Tim Bunnell, at NUS for our first morning in Singapore. Jamie has been teaching at NUS for the past few years but he has also taught at Miami of Ohio and Auburn University. His comparisons between his experiences teaching in the US compared to his time in Singapore were very interesting. He said that the students in Singapore, as a whole, are much harder working than students in America. He feels that many American students go to college more interested in the “college experience” than in the schoolwork and he found it difficult to motivate kids that were more interested in their activities over the weekend than their activities in class. In contrast, the students are much more competitive and self driven at NUS. Drinking and partying is not part of the university culture like it is in America which creates a much more focussed environment on education. He told us how refreshing it was to go from teaching in America to teaching at NUS. However, as he went on, he brought up an interesting irony that he has noticed in his experiences teaching in two different continents. He said that Singaporean students are very hard working and competitive but are afraid to think outside the box when it comes to assignments in fear of negatively impacting their grade. He said although the average American student is more complacent, there is a small number in every class that wants to learn and will “take an assignment and fly with it”. It seems to me that Jamie is afraid that the Singaporean education system is so competitive that it often discourages students from taking risks on assignments. His first semester teaching at NUS, his assignments were similar to those that he used in American universities. There were guidelines of course, but the assignments were often open ended for creativity. Throughout the semester students constantly asked him what exactly they were supposed to do for each part of each assignment. At the end of the semester he told us that he received very negative student evaluations because his assignments were not specific enough.
As a stereotypical American student I found this part of our discussion particularly interesting. I tried to think from the point of view of a professor. Which environment would I prefer to teach in? The carelessness of American students must be frustrating but grading assignment after assignment that all follow the rubric so closely may get monotonous. The other part of me imagined how I would act in such a competitive atmosphere. I think that I would have a very hard time adjusting to A Singaporean school because I don’t think I could keep up.
I thought that meeting Tim and Jamie, neither of which is a native Singaporean, was a great way to start our time here. The differences in students and education between the US and Singapore was a good topic for us to start thinking about the culture.