The body responsible for the education of Singaporean students is the Ministry of Education (MOE). It controls all state schools, and simultaneously provides advice to, and supervision of, private institutions. Education is provided free to all of Singapore’s citizens.
For children in Singapore, primary education usually begins at the age of seven. In total, it involves six years of schooling, made up of two important stages: the ‘Foundation Stage’, covering Years One to Four, and the ‘Orientation Stage’, covering Years Five and Six. From Year One onwards, all students learn at least two languages – English, plus their ‘mother tongue’. Given Singapore’s multicultural composition, mother tongue options include Malay, Chinese, Tamil or Non-Tamil Indian Language (commonly shortened to NTIL). Students also learn a range of other subjects, including maths, social sciences, health and physical education, music, arts and crafts and civics and moral education. Science education doesn’t start until Year Three of primary school.
Once they hit Orientation Stage, students are streamed. This means that they are put into classes with pupils who are deemed to have a similar level of ability. Different streams exist for different subjects. For example, a student might in a top-stream group (or ‘A class’) for English, but a mid-stream group (or ‘B class’) for maths.
Upon completing primary school, Singaporean children take the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), which is conducted nationally. The results gained directly influence which secondary school the student is able to attend.
Gifted education for primary students
Since 1984, the Ministry of Education has been aware that gifted children require extra attention and care. Consequently, the Gifted Education Programme was established. At present, it is only offered in nine schools in Sinapore: Tao Nan School, St Hilda’s, Raffles Girls’, Rosyth, Nanyang, Nan Hua, Henry Park, the Anglo-Chinese School and the Catholic High School.
Rather than adhering to the standard education curriculum, the Gifted Education Programme puts emphasis on developing creativity and higher-order thinking. The idea is to encourage talented students to fulfil their potential in a meaningful fashion.
After receiving their PSLE results, pupils are sorted into four different groups. These are titled ‘Special’, ‘Express’, ‘Normal (Academic)’ and ‘Normal (Technical)’.
The first two – Special and Express – are designed for students who have shown the capacity to pursue tertiary education. Their secondary experience is a course of four years in length, the main aim of which is preparation for the Singapore-Cambridge GCE examination (‘O’ levels). The Special and Express groupings are fairly similar, the main difference being that Special students take ‘Higher Mother Tongue’ (as opposed to the standard variety of the subject).
‘Normal (Academic)’ and ‘Normal (Technical)’ categories mean four years of secondary schooling, but with the intention of sitting a ‘Normal-level’ examination at the conclusion. In other words, it’s a less challenging syllabus with a less advanced outcome. If Normal students perform to an exceptional standard, they do have the option of studying for an extra year and thereby completing their O levels. As suggested by the names, the ‘Normal (Technical)’ course tends to involve more practical subjects than the ‘Normal (Academic)’ course.
Experiencing education in Singapore first-hand
If you are thinking of moving to Singapore, and are concerned about what the change might mean for the education of your children, then paying an advance visit might be well worth it. Reading about another education system is one thing, but experiencing it is quite another. Talking face-to-face with locals, expats, teachers and students can prove extremely helpful. There are plenty of hotel rooms to stay at in Singapore temporarily until you find a place to live, but it can be a good idea to book in advance, as it’s an exceptionally busy destination.
Having lived in Singapore for a number of years, Jessica wants to share as much information to assist future travelers and ensure they can best plan their journeys.