Educational change in Singapore and its ‘tinkering’ around the edges: A critical realist perspective

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This article re-examines the contents of Singapore’s Thinking Schools Learning Nation (TSLN) and Teach Less Learn More (TLLM) educational initiatives, introduced and implemented to promote change and to prepare Singaporeans for a twenty-first century knowledge-based economy. Adopting a critical realist perspective that enables investigations into complex social systems, the paper highlights the concepts, change process and possible outcomes of change proposed by realist social theory. An explanatory critique responding to the question, ‘What social structural changes were implemented by the TSLN and TLLM initiatives, and why?’ is developed, tracing the programmes of change in TSLN and TLLM. Findings reported in 2013, by a local large-scale research project, has made claims about the ineffectiveness of the initiatives in bringing about desired changes in classroom instructional practices. The critique questions—given Singapore’s recent and consistent successful performances in international benchmarking tests—whether it is only in the classroom that educational change that matters, counts. It suggests that despite making strong statements about the limited effectiveness of the TSLN and TLLM initiatives, many programs introduced and adopted by primary, secondary and post-secondary institutions, especially under TLLM, were left unexamined by the research project. The explanatory critique theorises that two kinds of changes have taken place—the reorientation of pedagogical practices in post-secondary institutions and extensions of what already exists in the primary and secondary sections. The paper concludes by highlighting some implications the explanatory critique have for research into educational change in general, and for educational change in Singapore.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-49
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Educational Change
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Critical realism
  • Educational change
  • Educational policy
  • Realist social theory
  • Singapore
  • TLLM
  • TSLN


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