The education system in Singapore follows the Compulsory Education Act (CE), which covers compulsory primary education and other related matters. Under the Act, all Singapore citizen between 6 to 15 years old (born after 1995) must attend a national primary school regularly if they are living in Singapore.
CE also applies to children with moderate to severe special education needs born after 2011. These children can apply to a government-funded special education (SPED) school to complete their primary education.
In Singapore, majority of the population attend pre-school, primary, followed by secondary. After secondary, they may choose to enter either Institute of Technological Education (ITE), Polytechnic or Junior College (which is normally followed by University).
The education system in Singapore may be hard to understand, due to the differences between each school and within each stage of education. Factors to consider include local or international, as well as educational focus, culture, community, and school curriculum. It is important to learn about the different options in order to provide your child with the education system best suited for his or her needs.
Types of Schools in Singapore
The schools in Singapore are split into three main types: the government-run local school, private international school and local international school.
Government-run Local School
The government-run local schools follow the Ministry of Education (MOE) curriculum and offer primary and secondary education at a low cost.
However, priority in local schools are given to Singapore citizens; very limited spots are available for expats.
Applications for primary and secondary schools can only be made for the following academic year which begins in January, during the MOE’s annual registration exercise from June to September.
Local International School
The local international schools follow their own set of curricula and fees, and are privately funded but managed by MOE. This means that they follow some of the MOE’s policies, but adapt their curriculum to international curricula.
They follow the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) in secondary level, which is an internationally used English language curriculum equivalent to the GCSE and based on the GCE O-Level. The curriculum prepares students for International Baccalaureate (IB), A level and BTEC Level 3.
There are currently only three local-international schools in Singapore: Hwa Chong International School, Anglo-Chinese (International) School and SJI International School.
Private International School
Private international schools follow various international curricula which differ across different schools, and are operated by independent owners and education groups.
Expats have priority at these schools. However, there can be lengthy waitlists at the top-scoring international schools, so do be sure to sign up for your child early to secure a placing.
Students applying for primary or secondary schools have to take the Admissions Exercise for International Students (AEIS), which is conducted by MOE around September or October each year, for placing in international schools in January the following year.
The AEIS is a centralised admissions test on English and Mathematics. Admission on international schools will be dependent on the applicant’s performance, the school’s available vacancies, as well as the applicant’s declared residential area in Singapore.
Common International curricula offered by international schools include International Baccalaureate (IB)’s Primary Years Programme (PYP), Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Diploma Programme (IBDP), as well as IGCSE, CBSE, Advanced Placement (AP) Programme, A Level, International Primary Curriculum (IPC), French baccalaureate and others.
There are schools that offer an education from pre-school till Grade 12/Year 13 (IBDP and A Level), or standalone primary and secondary schools.
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|Tuition fees||Low||High||Higher than local|
|Culture and community||Local||International||Mixed|
|Curriculum||MOE curriculum. Very rigorous, especially in maths and science||Holistic and international; varies with each school||Combines MOE and international curricula|
|Focus||Results-driven||Extra-curricular activities, sports and the arts||Mix of both|
|Language||Encourages bilingualism. Students learn English and their mother tongue (majority Mandarin)||Wider choice of second and third languages||Wider choice of second and third languages|
|Enrolment||Priority for Singapore citizens||Priority placement for expats/ foreigners||At least half must be Singaporean, but also high number of international students|
|Gender||Choice of girls, boys or co-ed||Co-educational||Choice of girls, boys or co-ed|
|Class size||Average of 40||Average of 25||Average of 25|
|Teacher-student ratio||Larger teacher to student ratios||Lower teacher to student ratios||Lower teacher to student ratios|
|Teachers||Assigned by MOE||International team of teachers||International team of teachers|
|School rules||Must adhere to the MOE’s strict guidelines||Considerable degree of autonomy||Considerable degree of autonomy|
In short, as the names suggest, most Singapore citizens enrol in local schools while foreigners enrol in international schools. On the other hand, local-international schools offer a more mixed culture and community for both locals and foreigners.
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There are many different types of pre-schools available in Singapore that offer structured or unstructured curricula. Pre-schools are not compulsory nor subsidised by the government, but play an important role in shaping a child’s development. Here are the different types of pre-schools in Singapore.
There are currently 18 MOE kindergartens in Singapore that provide quality and affordable structured education to Singaporeans that focuses on academic knowledge and practical skills, such as in literacy and numeracy. The schools have a strong sense of Singapore culture.
Example: MOE Preschools
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Other pre-schools offer structured or unstructured curriculum with different focuses. For example, there are pre-schools that nurture children through child-directed learning or play-based learning. Different pre-schools also have different focuses, such as training important life skills, or teamwork through collaborative learning, or IQ and EQ. One of the more popular options are the Montessori Pre-schools.
To better assimilate into Singapore society, there are also pre-schools that focus on Mandarin learning since it is one of the more commonly spoken language in Singapore. Examples include Joy Little Schoolhouse, EtonHouse Zhong Hua Preschool, Maple Bear Preschool, Elfa Preschool, MindChamps Chinese Preschool and Chengzhu Mandarin Kindergarten.
One of the newest pre-schools are the IB international pre-schools that have an international environment to prep children for Primary education. Examples of these are Odyssey The Global PreSchool, Hillside World Academy and EtonHouse International School.
Primary School Options
Under the Compulsory Education Act, it is compulsory for all Singaporean citizens born after 1995 to attend a national primary school if they reside locally. Even if you are not a citizen, it’s good to know the different schools you can choose from and the necessary criteria required to be met.
All primary students must apply for a place in local primary schools through the Primary One Registration Exercise. International students from Primary 2 upwards have to sit through the Admissions Exercise for International Students (AEIS). Admission for secondary school is based on the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results.
Even within local schools, factors to consider before registering your child include: government schools, secondary school affiliation, religious affiliation, mother tongue focus, single sex or co-ed, single or dual sessions, special needs schools, or schools with special MOE awards.
As mentioned previously, priority is given to Singapore citizens, who take up more than 90% of local schools.
International Primary Schools
Many international schools in Singapore follow the UK (IGCSE and A Level) or the International Baccalaureate (IB) systems, often with an American, Canadian, Australian or other national slant depending on each school.
Although some international schools follow only one curriculum, many schools in Singapore have a mix of different curricula and teaching methods.
This option is preferable if you are unsure of your stay in Singapore, because international schools’ education style, culture and community help students reintegrate back into schools in their home country in the future with greater ease.
Secondary School Options
After completeing primary school education, most students go on to attend secondary schools. Here are the following options your child can choose from.
Students apply for a place in local secondary schools through the results of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).
Secondary education is divided into different streams, namely, the “Express”, “Normal (Academic)”, or “Normal (Technical)” and a students’ PSLE results will determine which stream he or she will end up in. This system will take place till 2020, after which it will be replaced by G1, G2 and G3 according to the Subject-Based Banding scheme.
International Secondary Schools
The international secondary school system is similar to the international primary schools as stated above.
Local- International Secondary Schools
There are three local-international schools in Singapore: Hwa Chong International School, Anglo-Chinese (International) School and SJI International School.
Generally, only the top PSLE performers are eligible to be part of the six-year Integrated Programme (IP). Under this programme, secondary 4 students go straight into junior colleges (JCs) in Year 5/JC1 to take the GCE “A” levels or the IB Diploma examinations.
Post Secondary/ Pre-University Options
Upon the completion of secondary education, students have a vast number of options to choose from in terms of varying school curriculars.
Junior Colleges and Millenia Institute
Junior Colleges provide a two-year education programme, while the Millennia Institute provides a three-year education programme. Both options prepare students for the GCE “A” level examinations at the end of the programme, which allow them to continue on to pursue a University degree.
Polytechnics offer a wide range of courses to train students with relevant skills for the workplace. There are plenty of resources, service and facilities available that form a nurturing environment to help students in reaching their personal and professional goals.
There are currently five polytechnics in Singapore: Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP), Republic Polytechnic (RP), Singapore Polytechnic (SP) and Temasek Polytechnic (TP).
Institute of Technical Education (ITE)
The ITE ensures that students have industry-relevant technical knowledge and skills. It is open to students who have GCE ‘O’ and GCE ‘N’ level certifications after secondary school.
There are currently three campuses in Singapore: ITE College Central, ITE College East and ITE College West.
Singapore has a both public and private internationally-recognised universities to choose from.
Local students have slightly more affordable tuition fees in these public universities as they are subsidised by the government. Most of the local students are from junior colleges or polytechnics, who apply for a position in these universities through their GCE “A” levels or polytechnic diploma.
There are currently six public-funded universities in Singapore: National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore Management University (SMU), Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Singapore Institute of Technological (SIT) and Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS).
NUS and NTU, two of the top universities in the world, have innovative programmes such as collaborations with top foreign universities and inter-disciplinary centres to enhance students’ experience.
SMU offers a broad-based business curriculum that is modelled after the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
SUTD focuses on technology and innovation and was established with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as Zhejiang University.
SIT and SUSS have applied degree pathways that cater to a broader range of students’ interests and learning preferences.
Private institutions are more expensive for local students they are not funded by the government. Some of the most popular private institutions are SIM, Kaplan, MDIS, PSB, LASALLE and NAFA.
SIM offers various courses, but have a strong focus on social and finance courses.
Kaplan, one of the more well-known institutes in Singapore, have one of the most diverse range of courses catered to students’ interests.
MDIS and PSB are famous for its diverse business courses. MDIS is also known for other courses such as tourism, hospitality, fashion and design.
LASALLE College of the Arts & NAFA specialise in providing post-secondary education in the arts. There is a huge focus on art, but a degree in music is also available. Both LASALLE and NAFA offer publicly-funded diploma programmes for locals.
The best way to ensure that your children enjoy their education is to find an institution best suited to their needs. Pay attention to their specific interests, style of learning and goals in life, as well as the friendships they make along the way.
To ensure that they gain the most out of their educational journey, also consider the facilities within the school, co-curricular activities they can join, as well as the overall culture and environment of the institution.
The education system in Singapore can be confusing, but hopefully this article has provided you with the essential information to make an informed decision for your children’s future.