Life in Singapore – Education

Good quality education is one the things that Singapore is known for across the world as it is one of the top priorities of the state. The Ministry of Education handles all matters concerning education in the country. It oversees how state schools are run and it also supervises the affairs of private institutions. Education is one of the top items in the government’s budget with the funds being used to subsidize state and state-assisted programs. Overall, the quality of education in the country has been deemed excellent and a number of its universities are considered as among the top in the region and in the world.


History of Education in the Country


Education in the country started when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1823 when he founded the Singapore Institution, now known as the Raffles Institution. After which, there were three main types of schools established in the country, namely: the Malay schools, the Chinese and Tamil schools, and the English schools catering to the ethnic groups present in the island state.


With the rapid development of its economy, the state’s focus steered toward improving the quality of education. It was also around this time that English was adopted as an official language and as a language of instruction in schools. Policies were also implemented to streamline the education paths of students with different academic abilities. Currently, emphasis is being placed on national education, creative thinking, collaborative learning, and ICT learning.


The Ministry of Education


The Ministry of Education is the primary state institution charged with the formulating and implementing education policies in the country, including education structure, pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment. It the government body charged with the administration of state schools which receive government subsidies. It also has an advisory role with respect to private institutions.


The present Ministry has officially acknowledged that excellence will not be measured in terms of academics; a mountain range of excellence – with many peaks. As such, current emphasis is placed on holistic of the student and development based on his strengths with the acknowledgement that there can be different kinds of success for each unique individual.


Educational Levels


There are generally 3 stages in the education landscape in Singapore, namely: primary, secondary and post-secondary.


Primary education, which lasts for 6 years, typically starts when the student is 7 years old. It is divided into the foundation stage (Primary 1 to 4) and the orientation stage (Primary 5 to 6). The foundation stage marks the beginning of formal schooling for most students. Education in the orientation stage is streamlined where students are taught their subjects at a certain level depending on their evaluation scores.


Students then begin their secondary education after taking the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).Secondary schools in Singapore belong to one of 4 different streams with different curricular emphases on each track catered to match the students’ learning abilities and interests. At the end of their secondary education, students then take the Singaporean GCE ‘O’ Level which will determine the post-secondary institutions that they can apply for.


Qualified students who want to continue with their education may apply then with a pre-university which will prepare them in taking up a degree in a university in 2 – 3 years’ time. Vocational programs are also available as an alternative.


Top Institutions


Among the many universities and colleges in the country, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are ranked as the top universities in the country and in Asia. A number of recent rankings and surveys have placed NUS as the best university in Asia and NTU as the second best.


Founded in 1905, NUS currently has three campuses across the country which houses 16 faculties and schools which focus on a variety of disciplines like law, medicine, sciences, engineering, and arts and sciences, among others. NTU, also has three campuses and is known for its programs in humanities, engineering, sciences, business, and medicine.


On the private educational sector, SIM University, also known as UniSIM, is the first private university in the country. It is also the only full-fledged private university having been recognized by the Ministry in 2005. It has programs in the sciences, business, and humanities.


For secondary institutions, the Nanyang Girls’ High School and the Raffles Institution are the top performing schools in terms of PSLE scores. Both are exclusive schools catering only to girls and to boys, respectively.


The Nanyang Girls’ High School is the first all-girls school to be conferred the Singapore Quality Award. In 2015, it had the highest PSLE score in the whole country. It was one of the founding members of the Strategic Alliance of Global Educators – a network of 9 other schools from different countries.


The Raffles Institution, where both prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong graduated from, was one of the first schools to receive the School Excellence Award from the Ministry of Education and it is also a part of a large network of academic institutions like The Winchester Network. A number of graduates of this institution are admitted to prestigious universities locally and abroad and its alumni have figured prominently in government service.


International Scene


Internationally, the quality of education in Singapore has been deemed as excellent. NUS and NTU, its top universities have been ranked as the top 2 in Asia. NUS has also been placed in the top 50 universities in the world across several surveys and rankings, with the highest placing it at the number 12 spot.


Singapore also has a large population of students from neighboring states like Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand, giving testament to the good quality of education offered across the institutions in the country. International students wishing to apply in the primary or secondary institutions must first take part in the Admissions Exercise for International Students (AEIS) to check their qualifications. Students who wish to enroll in the universities should get in touch with their preferred university as each one imposes their own particular requirements. Admittance to any of the educational institutions is based on merit and everyone is given a fair chance to be accepted. School fees are on the steeper side, however, as monthly fees cost a few hundred Singaporean dollars. Scholarships and grants are available and some cater exclusively to international students. There are also foreign exchange programs with partner schools so as to give an opportunity to foreign students to experience the student life in Singapore.