Education in Singapore

From Academic Kids

The education system in Singapore is managed by the Ministry of Education [1] ( (MOE) which directs the formulation and implementation of education policies. It controls the development and administration of public education institutions which receive governmental funding, but also plays a advisory/supervisory role with respect to private schools.

Children with disabilities are educated in special education (SPED) schools run by Voluntary Welfare Organisations (, and partially funded by MOE.

In January 2003 the legislature passed the Compulsory Education Act (, which codified compulsory elementary or primary education for children of schooling age, and made it a criminal offense if parents fail to enroll their children in an elementary school and ensure their regular attendance.

In Singapore, English is not only the first language, but also the language of instruction in subjects like mathematics, science (physics, chemistry, and biology), etc. wherever appropriate. As envisioned by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, English is the language that connects Singaporeans of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds and that links Singapore to the rest of the world. The native languages — Chinese for Chinese Singaporeans; Malay for the Malays; Tamil, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi or Urdu for the Indians, on the other hand is cultural and for a sense of identity, and no ethnic group is forced to learn the language of another.

The budget allocated to education in Singapore is quite high in comparison to other countries, standing at least at 20% or more, (the United States on contrast, only allocates around 4%) although this fluctates on an annual basis. This allows for a wide implementation of many education programs.


Primary Education

Primary education consists of a four-year foundation stage from Primary 1 to 4 and a two-year orientation stage from Primary 5 to 6. Primary education is free, though there is a miscellaneous fee of up to S$13 monthly that goes to the respective school, to help cover the cost of equipment and special programmes for the benefit of the pupils.

Foundation Stage

The foundation stage is the first stage of formal schooling. The four years, from Primary 1 to 4, will provide a firm foundation in the English Language, the Mother Tongue (Chinese, Malay or Tamil) and Mathematics. Other subjects like Civics & Moral Education, Arts & Crafts, Music, Health Education, Social Studies and Physical Education lessons which will be taught throughout Primary 1 to 6. Science is taught from Primary 3 to 6.

Orientation Stage

At the end of Primary 4, students will be classified into EM1, EM2 or EM3 language streams for their two-year orientation stage, Primary 5 and 6, the rationale being to cater to children of different academic capabilities (though it often results in the ostracising of those in "lower" streams.) The curriculum in each stream (the difference being difficulty of the languages; English and Mother Tongue) will gear a student towards secondary education in the course most suited for him. At the end of Primary 6, the national PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) will be held. However, the EM1 and EM2 streams have been merged in 2004.

Secondary Education

Based on results of the PSLE, students undergo secondary education in either the Special, Express or Normal course.

Both Special and Express are 4-year courses leading up to a Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education (GCE) 'Ordinary' - 'O' level examination. The difference between Special and Express is that the former's mother tongue language (English and Mother Tongue) are taught at a higher level and thus more difficult. A third foreign language can be taken in addition to the mother tongue, or to replace it. This seems especially popular with students who are struggling with their mother tongues.

Normal is a 4-year course leading up to a Singapore-Cambridge GCE 'Normal' - 'N' level examination, with the possibility of a 5th year followed by a Singapore-Cambridge GCE 'Ordinary' - 'O' level examination. Normal is split into Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical), in the latter students take subjects that are technical in nature, such as Design and Technology.

After the second year of a secondary school course, students are typically steamed into a wide range of course combinations, making the total number of subject they have to sit for in O Level six to ten subjects. This includes science (Physics, Biology and Chemistry), humanities (Elective Geography/History, Pure Geography/History, Social Studies, Literature as examples) and additional mathematics subjects at a higher level, or "combined" subject modules.

Co-Curricular Activities become compulsory at the Secondary level, where all pupils must participate in at least one core CCA, and participation is graded together with other things like Leadership throughout the four years of Secondary education, in a scoring system. Competitions are organised so that students can have an objective towards to work, and in the case of musical groups, showcase talents. [2] (

The Integrated Programme or the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme has become an increasingly popular alternative to normal secondary education. This moves away from the emphasis on the mere sciences, a side effect from the post-independence need for quick and basic education, to more refined subjects such as philosophy or political science, as well as the fact that scientific concepts are more highly stressed than before, as it is judged on the work of the student, rather than through an examination. For more information, see below.

Gifted Education Programme

Main article: Gifted Education Programme (Singapore)

The Gifted Education Programme (GEP) was set up by the Ministry of Education in 1984 amid some public concern to cater to the intellectually gifted students, which might or might not be a good decision since the number of schools who end up having gifted programmes has ballooned to such a number that people can't help but wonder if the Singaporean soil is the best fit for geniuses. As of 2003, the schools participating consisted of several primary schools (Rosyth School, Tao Nan School, St. Hilda's Primary School, Raffles Girls' Primary School and more) and secondary schools, namely Raffles Institution, Raffles Girls' School (Secondary), The Chinese High School, Nanyang Girls' High School, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), Catholic High School, Victoria School and Dunman High School. Only the last two schools are Autonomous schools; the rest are independent schools.

Pupils enter the programme through a series of tests at Primary 3, which will identify the top 1% of the student population based on IQ. A second selection is conducted at Primary 6 for those who do well in the PSLE. In the programme, pupils are offered special enrichment programmes to cater to their needs. However, not all students in this program are successful. Some are so distracted by the fast pace of study that they end up not doing well in the core subjects in their school. They thereafter choose if they want to continue the programme at the Secondary level.

Because of the introduction of the Integrated Programme, some of the schools have stopped being the "official" participants of the programme. They, however, have their own programme as an equivalent to GEP to cater to such students.

Integrated Programme

The Integrated Programme, also known as through-train programme (直通车), is a scheme which enable students with good academic performance to bypass the 'O'-levels and take the '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 allocated to enrichment activities - without the 'O'-levels, the students can spend the time on studying for 'A'-levels examination on other activities instead. The schools also enjoy more freedom in the choice of subjects. Generally, only the top performers are able to take part in the programme, for fear that if the students are unable to complete their 'A'-levels (after their JC years), they would not have a fallback 'O'-level certificate.

The majority of the schools in the programme base in on the first model, which allows most (or in some cases, some) students from these schools to skip the 'O'-levels at Secondary 4 and go straight into Junior Colleges (JC). This is the case with Raffles Junior College for the Raffles Programme, together with Raffles Institution and Raffles Girls' School (Secondary). This is also the case for Hwa Chong Institution in the Hwa Chong Affliate Programme. Victoria Junior College, Temasek Junior College and Nanyang Girls' High School (from 2005) also followed suit.

In the Hwa Chong Affliate Programme, Hwa Chong Junior College also picks students from other schools apart from the two already mentioned, judged by their performance. These students are assured of a place in the Junior College section of the Hwa Chong Institution, regardless of their 'O' level results, but they must still take their 'O'-levels in their respective schools.

Another school, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), has allowed some students to abandon the British system and go Swiss by dropping the GCE exams all together and adopting the International Baccalaureate.

The National Junior College (NJC) has also put out its own programme, where Secondary Two students in various schools are selected to join their programme. These students further their Secondary Three and Four education in the JC itself, followed by the JC course.

Other tertiary educational institutes are also considering their own integrated programmes, like the National University of Singapore (NUS) via its NUS High School. These programmes are expected to be executed in the NJC style of picking students at Secondary Two. Dunman High School, a secondary school, is still planning its own programme, and the outcome of the proposal is expected in 2005.

The 5 independent secondary schools which currently offers IP have organized School-Based Gifted Education (SBGE), instead of GEP, to meet the needs of the intellectually gifted. The five schools are Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), Hwa Chong Institution, Nanyang Girls' High School, Raffles Girls' School (Secondary), and Raffles Institution.

National Junior College, Victoria Junior College, and Temasek Junior College offers IP, but these are not equivalent to SBGE.

Junior College

List of junior colleges in Singapore

  • Junior Colleges (JCs) accept students based on their GCE 'O' level results.
  • JCs provide a 2-year course leading up to the Singapore-Cambridge GCE 'Advanced' level ('A' level) examination.
  • Students take two subjects at 'Alternative Ordinary' level ('AO' level), namely General Paper and Mother Tongue, and three or four subjects at 'A' level. 'A' level subjects include Economics, Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English Literature, History, Geography, Art, Theatre Studies and Drama, Computing, Higher Chinese, Chinese ('A' level), General Studies in Chinese, French ('A' level), Malay ('A' level), Tamil ('A' level). Project Work was made a compulsory subject in 2003 and is a requirement for admission to local universities.
  • To gain admittance to local universities, students must pass General Paper and obtain a minimum grade of D7 for the 'AO' level Mother Tongue paper. The grade obtained for the Higher Mother Tongue paper taken at 'O' level may be used in lieu of an 'AO' level Mother Tongue grade.
  • There are 17 junior colleges in Singapore.
  • Students in non-independent JCs pay subsidised school fees of S$6 and up to S$18 in miscellaneous fees each month (to the school for cost of equipment, special programmes, etc).


Centralised Institute

  • The Centralised Institute accepts students based on their GCE 'O' level results.
  • Centralised Institute provides a 3-year course leading up to a GCE 'A' level examination.
  • There is only 1 Centralised Institute in Singapore, the Millennia Institute

Institute of Technical Education

  • ITEs accepts students based on their GCE 'O' level or GCE 'N' level results.
  • ITEs in Singapore provide 2-year courses leading to a locally recognised 'National ITE Certificate'.
  • There are 10 ITEs in Singapore.


Critics of the education system say that the education system is too specialized, too elitist and too stressful, and does not place emphasis on creative thinking, unlike the education systems in other countries like the United States. On the other hand, Singaporean students have topped international science and mathematics quizzes regularly, along with South Korean students, although detractors say that this is more an indication of students' memorisation skills than their ability to think.

See also

External links

Junior Colleges in Singapore (



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