Education system in Singapore


This year, Singapore celebrates its bicentennial of its founding in 1819 by Englishman Sir Stamford Raffles who set up the first premier school named after him. Raffles Institution or RI is the alma mater of many illustratious Singaporeans, including Lee Kuan Yew.


Education has come a long way since, playing a key role in the city-state’s leap into First-World league. A tri-yearly Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) survey by the Organisation of Economic and Co-operation Development(OECD) placed Singapore in the top spot among 70 countries in science, maths and reading of 15-year-old secondary school students.


This achievement has been attributed largely to the attention given to problem-solving drills in the school curriculum. Indeed, periodic exams and assessments of students have been a hallmark of the Singapore education system. There is mandatory Primary Six Leaving Examination(PSLE), the General Certificate of Education(GCE) ‘O’(ordidnary) and GCE ‘A’(advanced) exams. The examination grades served as objective yardsticks for students progress from one level to the next, all the way to university. Primary education is compulsory for school-going children. Parents must enroll their children aged 6 or 7 in public schools for six years of secular education. Exceptions are made for home-schooling and religious education in Muslim madrasahs. But all must take the PSLE exams to chart their next level of education.


Pupils at the Primary or foundational level are taught English, a Mother-tongue, Science and Maths. In addition to this is the extra-curricular activity like sports and scouting. Tests begin early for the pupils until this year when the Primary One and Two exams and assessments were dropped in response to calls to ease stress and make learning a joy. However, the policy of differentiating them according to learning abilities at the end of Primary Four remains. The rationale is that fast- and slow-learner should be given leeway to progress at their own pace. This means segregating them into Special, Express, Normal(Academic) and Normal(Technical) streams in Primary Five. This early streaming has been criticised as unfair to late-bloomers in restrict their future course of studies. In practise, 10% of the Special and 50% of Express cohort will get to university while 20% join the polytechnic and the rest in Institute of Technical Education.(ITE) The transition from primary to secondary level is based on the PSLE results.

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