At the Singapore Sports School, athletic and academic achievements are celebrated in equal proportion. Could this model be applied in America?

Kristoffer Kohl is participating in the Global Cities Education Network’s symposium in Singapore this week.

In “The Case Against High-School Sports,” Amanda Ripley addresses the disproportionate amount of time and money spent on athletic endeavors in American schools:

“Imagine, for a moment, if Americans transferred our obsessive intensity about high-school sports—the rankings, the trophies, the ceremonies, the pride—to high-school academics. We would look not so different from South Korea, or Japan, or any of a handful of Asian countries whose hypercompetitive, pressure-cooker approach to academics in many ways mirrors the American approach to sports.”

But can schools support excellence in both athletics and academics? Singapore is trying a unique approach.

At the Singapore Sports School, athletic and academic achievements are celebrated in equal proportion. With 460 student athletes supported by 160 staff members, the school is redefining success by nurturing “learned champions with character.”

What does that look like?

  • Personalized learning programs
  • Personalized training regimens
  • Top notch coaches from more than a dozen countries
  • Top notch teachers whose preparation experience is the envy of the world
  • Facilities that rival those of the US Olympic Training Center
  • An International Baccalaureate program that enables students to excel athletically without sacrificing academic excellence

Singapore Sports SchoolSports are deeply embedded in the culture of high schools in the US. They reinforce community and engage students who might otherwise be marginalized. But we ought not forget the primary role of our education institutions.

Public schools are not the training grounds for Olympic athletes. They are where students go to prepare for life. Yet, one in four American students (approximately 10 million) won’t graduate from high school this year.

What if the nation’s 15,000 school districts established individual Sports Schools with the community’s top athletic talent? What if the resulting budget efficiencies paid for robust academic support to ensure students were on a path to college with or without an athletic scholarship? How might such an approach at the high school level address the gap between ‘student’ and ‘athlete’ in our universities?

At 3 percent of GDP, the Ministry of Education is the highest funded ministry in Singapore after the Ministry of Defense. With athletics in their rightful place, the 5 percent of GDP spent by the US on education could buy a different outcome for those 10 million students—all while maintaining global leadership on the Olympic podium.

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