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Global Schoolhouse Brings Worlds Together

By Joyce Kryszak


Singapore – There aren't too many people still around who remember what it was like to attend classes in a little red school house. The quintessential symbol of Americana faded away as the country grew and education trends changed. But the little red school house is making a comeback - at least philosophically. Higher education has gone global, bringing students and teachers from around the world together sharing ideas.

In our continuing series on globalized higher education, WBFO's Joyce tells us about the impact of Singapore's global schoolhouse.

It looks a lot like any other school. There's a teacher in front of a blackboard and students sitting behind desks frantically scribbling notes. But the lessons in this global schoolhouse take on all new dimension.

UB Business professor Kenneth Kim uses basic math to drive home the principals of international finance to students in his Singapore classroom. Like half of the UB teachers here, Kim is based in the U.S. But the Asian American gladly comes to teach in Singapore. Kim said the students aren't so different from his American students. He said they all worry about grades and the other stresses of college.

There are quite a few similarities among this multi-cultural student body. There are even sports competitions and student councils to help build school unity at the Singapore campus. Sanjiv Govind is president of UB's student council. He said their merchandising line is especially popular. This year sweatshirts will be the big seller

But underneath the layer of school sweatshirts are some differences that run pretty deep.

Singapore undergraduate Ann Thio sits with her hands neatly folded, looking down as she speaks. She has attended classes with American students from Buffalo, and enjoys it. Trying to be diplomatic, Thio said working in study groups with Americans, who have a more relaxed study routine, can be a challenge.

Being direct is something that Singaporeans struggle with. We hear this clearly when communication professor Bob Armstrong poses a question to his class.

The pregnant silent lasted for what seemed an eternity. But gradually, the students braved comments on what is a very touchy subject in Singapore. The country does not allow free speech. For that reason, the students who offered comments are not identified.

Their teacher said he was a bit shocked, but also excited to hear their forthright opinions. But Armstrong said it concerns him that they might become too outspoken in the eyes of the Singaporean government.

If that upsets the status quo, Singaporean officials might really be unsettled by the class down the hall. Andy Sachs is a communication professor who likes to stir things up.

The skit that followed satired Singaporean stereotypes, while flirting with some pretty controversial topics: prostitution, adultery - and yes, rock and roll.

Professor Sachs said he encourages humor to help bridge the delicate cultural and political gaps. He said the students in his classes have become more outspoken during the three years he has been coming here to teach. But he says he has grown too.

For that reason, Sachs admits he treads a bit lightly. He knows Singapore won't change overnight - despite the best American teaching. Still, he's optimistic that the same market forces that brought him here will eventually bring the two sides of the world closer together.

Next week, we'll take a look at what some of the barriers and drawbacks are going forward with the global school house.

Click the "listen" icon above to hear Joyce Kryszak's story now or use your podcasting software to download it to your computer or iPod.