Education in Singapore
is managed by the Ministry of Education (MOE), which controls the development and administration of state schools receiving government funding, but also has an advisory and supervisory role in respect of private schools. For both private and state schools, there are variations in the extent of autonomy in their curriculum, scope of government aid and funding, tuition burden on the students, and admission policy.
Education spending usually makes up about 20 percent of the annual national budget, which subsidises state education and government-assisted private education for Singaporean citizens and funds the Edusave programme, the costs for which are significantly higher for non-citizens. In 2000 the Compulsory Education Act codified compulsory education for children of primary school age (excepting those with disabilities), and made it a criminal offence for parents to fail to enroll their children in school and ensure their regular attendance. Exemptions are allowed for homeschooling or full-time religious institutions, but parents must apply for exemption from the Ministry of Education and meet a minimum benchmark
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles founded the Singapore Institution (now known as Raffles Institution) in 1823, thereby starting education in Singapore under the British rule. Later, there were three main types of schools appeared in Singapore: Malay schools, Chinese and Tamil (together) schools and English schools. Malay schools were provided free for all students by the British, while English schools, which used English as the main medium of instruction, were set up by missionaries and charged school fees. Chinese and Tamil schools largely taught their respective mother tongues. Students from Chinese schools in particular were extremely attuned to developments in China, especially in the rise of Chinese nationalism.
During World War Two, many students in Singapore dropped out of school, causing a huge backlog of students after the war. In 1947, the Ten Years Programme for Education Policy in the Colony of Singapore was formulated. This called for a universal education system that would prepare for self-governance. During the 1950s and 1960s, when Singapore started to develop its own economy, Singapore adapted a "survival-driven education" system to provide a skilled workforce for Singapore's industrialisation programme as well to as to lower unemployment. Apart from being an economic necessity, education also helped to integrate the new nation together. The bilingualism policy in schools was officially introduced in 1960, making English the official language for both national integration and utilitarian purposes. Universal education for children of all races and background started to take shape, and more children started to attend schools. However, the quality of schools set up during this time varied considerably. The first Junior College was opened in 1969
Kindergartens in Singapore provide up to three years of pre-school for children ages three to six. The three years are commonly called Nursery, Kindergarten 1 (K1) and Kindergarten 2 (K2), respectively.
Kindergartens provide an environment for children to learn how to interact with others, and to prepare them for formal education at Primary school. Activities include learning language – written and oral – and numbers, development of personal and social skills, games, music, and outdoor play. Children learn two languages, English and their official Mother Tongue (Mandarin, Malay, or Tamil). Many private or church-based kindergartens might not offer Malay or Tamil, so non-Chinese pupils might also learn some Standard Mandarin in these kindergartens.
The kindergartens are run by the private sector, including community foundations, religious bodies, and civic or business groups. There are more than 200 kindergartens registered with the Ministry of Education. Kindergartens are also run by child care centres as well as international schools.
The People's Action Party, which has governed Singapore since 1957, runs over 370 kindergartens through its charitable arm, the PAP Community Foundation
Primary education, normally starting at age seven, is a four-year foundation stage (Primary 1 to 4) and a two-year orientation stage (Primary 5 to 6). Primary education is compulsory under the Compulsory Education Act since 2003. Exemptions are made for pupils who are homeschooling, attending a full-time religious institution or those with special needs who are unable to attend mainstream schools. However, parents have to meet the requirements set out by the Ministry of Education before these exemptions are granted. Primary education is free for all Singapore citizens in schools under the purview of the Ministry of Education, though there is a fee of up to SGD 13 monthly per student to help cover miscellaneous costs.
The foundation stage is the first stage of formal schooling. The four years, from primary 1 to 4, provide a foundation in English, mother tongue (which includes Standard Mandarin, Malay, Tamil or a Non-Tamil Indian Language (NTIL)), Mathematics and Science. Other subjects include Civics and Moral Education, arts and crafts, music, health education, social studies, and physical education, which are taught throughout Primary 1 to 6. Science is taught from Primary 3 onwards.
All pupils advance to the orientation stage after Primary 4, where they are streamed according to the pupil's ability. The streaming system has been adjusted: previously, pupils were divided at Primary 5 to the EM1, EM2 and EM3 (English and Mother Tongue at 1st, 2nd and 3rd language respectively) streams, but since 2008 they are streamed according to subject under a scheme known as "Subject-based banding". Students take subjects at different levels based on their scores in the respective subjects at the end of Primary 4. The Mother Tongue subjects are offered at the higher, standard or foundation levels; Science and Maths can be taken at the standard or foundation levels.
After six years of Primary education, students will have to sit for the national Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). Students will then choose the secondary school of their choice based on their results at this examination; they will then be assigned to a secondary school based on merit and their choice. Students are also admitted into a secondary school under a separate "Direct School Admission" scheme, whereby secondary schools are able to choose a certain number of students based on their special talents before these students take the PSLE. Students admitted under this scheme cannot select their schools based on their PSLE results
Gifted Education Programme The Gifted Education Programme (GEP) was set up by the Ministry of Education in 1984 to cater to the intellectually gifted students. This programme aims to develop gifted children to their top potential and it places a special emphasis on higher-order thinking and creative thought. There are currently 9 primary schools offering the Gifted Education Programme: Anglo-Chinese School, Catholic High School, Henry Park Primary School, Nan Hua Primary School, Nanyang Primary School, Rosyth School, Tao Nan School, St. Hilda's Primary School and Raffles Girls' Primary School. The Secondary School Gifted Education Programme was discontinued at the end of 2008 as more students take the Integrated Programme (IP); this has been replaced by a "School-Based Gifted Education" programme. Pupils enter the programme through a series of tests at Primary 3, which will identify the top 1 per cent of the student population. In the programme, pupils are offered special enrichment programmes to cater for their needs. However, GEP students are still required to take the national Primary School Leaving Examination like other mainstream students
The Ministry of Education Language Centre.
Based on results of the PSLE, students are placed in different secondary education tracks or streams:
"Special", "Express", "Normal (Academic)", or "Normal (Technical)". Singaporeans are forbidden to attend international schools on the island without Ministry of Education permission.
"Special" and "Express" are four-year courses leading up to the Singapore-Cambridge GCE "O" Level examination. The difference between these two courses is that in the "Special" stream, students take 'Higher Mother Tongue' (available for Standard Mandarin, Malay and Tamil only) instead of 'Mother Tongue'. A pass in the Higher Mother Tongue 'O' Level Examination constitutes the fulfilment of the Mother Tongue requirement in Singapore, whereas Normal Mother Tongue Students will have to go through one more year of study in their Mother Tongue after their 'O' Levels to take the 'A' Level H1 Mother Tongue Examinations and fulfil the MOE's requirement. A foreign language, either French, German, Japanese or Spanish can be taken in addition to the mother tongue or can replace it. This is especially popular with students who are struggling with their mother tongues, expatriates, or students returning from abroad. Non-Chinese students may also study Standard Mandarin and non-Malay students Malay as a third language. This programme is known as CSP (Chinese Special Programme) and MSP (Malay Special Programme). Mother Tongue teachers conduct these lessons in school after usual hours. Students of Higher Mother Tongue languages are allowed to have up to two points taken off their O-level scoring, unless the student's Higher Mother Tongue is used as their L1 in computation of L1R5. a scoring system discussed below where a lower value is considered better, if they meet set benchmarks. The Ministry of Education Language Centre (MOELC) provides free language education for most additional languages that other schools may not cover, and provides the bulk of such education, admitting several thousand students each year
Participating in a Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) is mandatory at the primary and secondary levels, meaning that all pupils must participate in at least one activity. CCAs offered at the secondary level are usually categorised as Uniformed Groups, Performing Arts, Clubs & Societies and Sports & Games Competitions. There are many CCAs offered at the secondary school level, however, different schools may choose to offer different CCAs. Students may choose to participate in more than 1 CCA.
Participation in CCAs is graded together with other non-academic achievements throughout a student's secondary school education in a scoring system known as LEAPS 2.0. (LEAPS 1.0 was abolished and the cohort of 2016 taking the 'O' level examination would be last to use this system).[a] Points accumulated in the areas of leadership, enrichment, achievement, participation and service will determine a student's CCA grade. Students may get up to a maximum of two bonus points for entry into a junior college depending on their CCA grades. LEAPS 2.0 is about leadership, achievement, participation and service. The method of calculating the 2 bonus points are very different, with LEAPS 2.0 making it harder to achieve the 2 bonus points.
The Integrated Programme, also known as the "Through-Train Programme" (直通车), is a scheme which allows the most able secondary students in Singapore to bypass "O" levels and take "A" levels, International Baccalaureate or an equivalent examination directly at the age of 18 after six years of secondary education.
The programme allows for more time to be allocated to enrichment activities. By bypassing the GCE "O" level examinations, students are given more time and flexibility to immerse themselves in a more broadly-based education. In addition, students enjoy more freedom in the combination of subjects between Year 1 – 4 as compared to their non-IP counterparts. Generally, only the top performers (usually from Special, and sometimes Express, stream) are eligible to be part of the IP programme. This will ensure that the main body of the students pursue their secondary education at their own pace by first completing a 4-year "O" level course before going on to a 2-year "A" level education.
As a result, schools with an IP allow their students to skip the "O" levels at Secondary 4 and go straight into junior colleges (JCs) in Year5/JC1. The Integrated Programme with the revised Singapore-Cambridge GCE "A" levels or the IB Diploma as a terminal qualification has become an increasingly popular alternative to the standard secondary education pathway. This is because it is perceived as having moved away from the usually heavy emphasis on the sciences, a phenomenon resulting from the post-independence need for quick and basic technical and industrial education; to subjects in the arts and humanities. Such programmes are more project-based and students are expected to be independent learners
Admission to post-secondary institutions Upon completion of the 4- or 5-year secondary school education, students (excluding IP students) will participate in the annual Singaporean GCE 'O' Level, the results of which determine which pre-universities or post-secondary institutions they may apply for. Pre-university centres include junior colleges for a two-year course leading up to GCE 'A' Level, or the Millennia Institute for a three-year course leading up to GCE 'A' Level. Junior colleges and the Millennia Institute accept students on merit, with a greater emphasis on academics than vocational technical education. Students who wish to pursue specialised education go on to pre-universities institutions such as the Polytechnics or Arts Institution where they receive a diploma upon successful completion of their courses. Admission to a two-year pre-university course at junior colleges after graduating from secondary school is determined by the L1R5 (English + 5 relevant subjects) scoring system. This scoring system is based on the 'O' Level subject grades, which range from A1 (best) to F9 (worst). The candidate adds the numerical grades for six different subjects: English (or another language taken at the 'first language' level), a Humanities subject, a Science/Mathematics subject, a Humanities/Science/Mathematics subject, and two other subjects of any kind. The best L1R5 unmodified score is therefore 6, for a student with A1 grades in six subjects which meet the criteria. Students scoring 20 points and below may be admitted for either a Science or Arts Course. In addition, a student must also achieve at least a C6 grade, which is 50% or higher, in the GCE 'O' Level English Language and Mathematics papers to qualify for junior college admission. Pre-university centres that are particularly associated with academic excellence, however, usually expect students to attain points in the single digits, to be admitted. This is because the system is merit-driven, with places given to those with lower scores first. For admission to a three-year pre-university course at the Millennia Institute, the L1R4 (English + 4 relevant subjects) scoring system is used, and students are expected to score below 20 points to be admitted. Students may opt for any of the science, arts or commerce streams when pursuing a three-year pre-university course.
Pre-university and post-secondary studies
The pre-university centres of Singapore such as Junior Colleges and Centralized institute are designed for students who wish to pursue a local university degree after two to three years of pre-university education. Alternatively, Polytechnics and Arts Institution (Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts) in Singapore prepare students for both workforce and university studies.
There are 18 Junior Colleges (JCs) and a Centralised Institute (CI), the Millennia Institute (MI, established 2004), with the National Junior College (NJC, established 1969) being the oldest and Innova Junior College (IJC, established 2005) the newest.
Besides junior colleges, most graduates of polytechnics and arts institution continue to pursue further tertiary education at overseas and local universities. Those with good grades are given exemptions for university modules completed in Polytechnic, notably universities in Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Polytechnics and Arts Institution (Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts) have also been actively working with many foreign universities to provide their graduates a chance to study niche University Courses locally. For example, Ngee Ann Polytechnic has engaged with Chapman University in the US to provide a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Producing for graduates of the School's Film and Media Studies department. Nanyang Polytechnic, likewise, has tied up with the University of Stirling in Scotland to provide a course in Retail Marketing.
Junior colleges in Singapore were initially designed to offer an accelerated alternative to the traditional three-year programme, but the two-year programme has since become the norm for students pursuing university education.
JCs accept students based on their GCE "O" Level results; an L1R5 score of 20 points or less must be attained for a student to gain admission. JCs provide a 2-year course leading up to the Singapore-Cambridge GCE Advanced Level ("A" level) examination. The CI accepts students based on their GCE "O" Level results; an L1R4 score of 20 points or less must be attained for a student to gain admission. The MI provides a 3-year course leading up to the Singapore-Cambridge GCE Advanced Level ("A" level) examination.
All students are required to participate in at least one CCA (Co-Curricular Activities) as CCA performance is considered for university admission.
The Centralised Institutes accept students based on their GCE "O" level results and their L1R4 score (which must be 20 points or below). A Centralised Institute provides a three-year course leading up to a GCE "A" level examination. There were originally four Centralized Institutes: Outram Institute, Townsville Institute, Jurong Institute and Seletar Institute. Townsville Institute and Seletar Institute stopped accepting new students after the 1995 school year and closed down after the last batch of students graduated in 1997.
There currently remains only one Centralised Institute in Singapore, the Millennia Institute, which was formed following the merger of Jurong and Outram Institutes. Additionally, only Centralised Institutes offer the Commerce Stream offering subjects such as Principles of Accounting and Management of Business. The standard of teaching and curriculum is identical to that of the Junior Colleges.
Polytechnics and Arts Institution
The first polytechnic in Singapore, Singapore Polytechnic, was established in 1954. Ngee Ann Polytechnic, has roots that go back to 1963. Two other polytechnics, Temasek Polytechnic and Nanyang Polytechnic were established in the 1990s. The most recent, Republic Polytechnic was established in 2003.
Polytechnics and Arts Institution (Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts) in Singapore provide 3-year diploma courses. They accept students based on their GCE "O" level, GCE "A" level or Institute of Technical Education (ITE) results.
Polytechnics offer a wide range of courses in various fields, including engineering, business studies, accountancy, tourism and hospitality management, mass communications, digital media and biotechnology. There are also specialised courses such as marine engineering, nautical studies, nursing, and optometry. They provide a more industry-oriented education as an alternative to junior colleges for post-secondary studies. About 40% of each Secondary 4 cohort would enroll in Polytechnics. Notable alumni from Polytechnics in Singapore include former NUS President Dr Shih Choon Fong and CEO of Creative Technology Sim Wong Hoo. Arts Institution like Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts has a similar approach as a Polytechnic but focuses only on the comprehensive Arts and Design education