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Singapore Math

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Stamping Up Singapore Math

Even if you are just an amateur stamp-collector, much less a professional philatelist, it won’t take you long to realize that not many people in this world are fond of collecting Singapore stamps, as compared to, say, stamps issued by other countries.

SingPost seems to have somewhat cheapened the value of Singapore stamps, by issuing First Day Covers, as if they're selling parking coupons—Singapore issues, on average, a dozen sets of new stamps every year.

Semi-circle stamps of yesteryear

In general, most Singapore stamps have an uninteresting theme or design; SingPost's commemoratives seem to have been issued more as a means to generating extra revenue from stamp collectors, with little attention paid to aesthetics and beauty.

Numeracy via Singapore Math Stamps

In general, although philatelists don't have a positive view of Singapore stamps, however, not all is bleak for our postal department. To promote mathematics and mathematics education in Singapore, in particular Singapore’s mathematical achievements locally and internationally, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if SingPost considers issuing commemoratives with a mathematical flavor. For instance, it can issue First Day Covers on the following themes:

· A set of three stamps featuring Singapore’s triple firsts at the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which has since put Singapore on the Mathematics Education World Map—an economic by-product of this would be to produce more localized adaptations of Singapore math textbooks, hopefully from some politically unstable, resources-rich developing countries;

· Another set of three stamps featuring Singapore’s emphasis on the concrete-pictorial-abstract model in primary (or elementary) school mathematics, which arguably has contributed to our students’ better understanding of mathematical concepts, especially when it comes to solving word (or story) problems;
· A set of stamps highlighting Singapore’s model (or bar) method, which has prematurely empowered tens of thousands of local pupils to solve nonroutine and challenging word problems, which traditionally used to be set only at the secondary (or middle-) school level;

· A set of stamps depicting famous (dead or living) Asian (or Singaporean) mathematicians and mathematics educators—few as they may be—who have contributed much to raising the mathematical standards in Asia;

· A set of stamps celebrating special Math Days like the AbacusDay, Statistics Month, Metric Week, and Pi Day;

· A set of stamps debunking Asian superstitions, myths, and legends, related to annual festivals like the Lunar Seventh Month (or Ghost Month); or exposing pseudoscientific beliefs involving so-called auspicious and inauspicious (or lucky and unlucky) numbers, feng shui numbers, and I Ching;

· A set of stamps on the different types of abacuses, including those used in divination and superstition;

· A set of stamps featuring magic squares used by Asians in numerology and astrology;

· A set of stamps featuring Asian achievements in mathematics, whether at the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO) or in regional contests and competitions;

The pentagonal framework defining
Singapore's math curriculum
· A set of stamps featuring the five components of the mathematical problem-solving model (attitude, metacognition, processes, concepts, and skills), which forms the framework of the mathematics curriculum in Singapore;

· A set of stamps featuring the most commonly used (or misused or abused) heuristics (e.g., draw a diagram, make a list, guess and check, look for patterns, work backwards) and some artificially forced thinking skills (e.g., classifying, comparing, sequencing, identifying patterns and relationshipsanalyzing parts and whole, induction, deduction, spatial visualization);

· A set of stamps commemorating the Singapore's Ministry of Education (MOE) visions:
1998: Thinking Schools, Learning Nation
2006: Teach Less, Learn More
2014 and beyond: ?!?!

Glocalizing Singapore Math via Philately

To promote an interest and appreciation of Singapore's (or Asia's) mathematical history and heritage in philately, traveling exhibitions may be held locally and regionally. For instance, rare philatelic gems such as mistakes, fakes, and forgeries—how mathematics can help detect forgery and fraud in philately—may be showcased.

So, issuing Singapore stamps with a mathematical flavor would go a long way to marketing and glocalizing Singapore math, while recognizing the contribution of local math educators, on leveraging the power of mathematics to help alleviate poverty, or lessen the economic gap between the haves and the have-nots. Let’s stamp mathematics firmly on Singapore postage stamps—glue is halal. Stamp up, Singapore!

For further reading
Wilson. Robin J. (2001). Stamping through mathematics. New York: Springer-Verlag.

© Yan Kow Cheong, October 15, 2014.