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The Singapore Education System: Overview, Statistics, and Facts

The Singapore Education System
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Singapore prides itself on its high-quality university education and international schools. In fact, Singapore’s school system is among the best worldwide, with its students consistently scoring high in OECD PISA rankings.

And this is not limited to university levels, but to preschool and high school levels as well. The education system in Singapore aims to equip students with the right skills and competencies so they may take on the challenges of a fast-paced, globalized, and digitally-driven economy.

This guide offers insight into the facts and statistics as to what makes the Singapore school system the best globally.

By The Numbers

Government Spending

In 2019, the Singapore Government’s total expenditure on education is estimated at 12.83 billion Singapore dollars.

This huge investment is because the country relies heavily on a skilled and educated workforce. That said, it was necessary to build up a highly diversified workforce. To achieve this goal, government spending on education continues to increase year after year.

Government Expenditure by Education Level (Singapore FY 2019)

  • Government expenditure on university education was approximately 3.21 billion Singapore dollars
  • The Institutes of Technical Education, Post-secondary Vocation, and Technical School amounted to 0.47 billion Singapore dollars.
  • The government also spends on a publicly-funded full-time degree course. There are 6 publicly funded universities in Singapore that offer such courses. Its expenditure amounted to 22,000 Singapore dollars.

 

Enrollment

The Singapore school system is divided into three tiers: primary, secondary, and post-secondary and tertiary education. Here are the number of students enrolled in the following tiers in 2019:

  • Primary schools: 235.04 thousand students. This number has been declining over the past few years. It reflects the decreasing birth rate in Singapore
  • Secondary schools: 162 thousand students. This number has also been declining over the years.
  • Polytechnic institutions: 69.7 thousand students. This was the lowest number of enrollments in polytechnics in the last decade.
  • Universities: 73.8 thousand full-time students. Singapore’s university consistently ranks high in Asia which attracts many international students.

 

Educational Institutions

Number of Primary Schools in Singapore 1960-2019

In 2019, there were a total of 179 primary schools in Singapore. There is an increase in the number of primary schools over the last decade, despite the decreasing enrollments year-on-year. This may be due to most schools transitioning to single-session schools in 2016 which led to decreased average class sizes. Additionally, there’s also an increase in the number of primary school teachers, lowering the student-teacher ratio.

Number of Secondary Schools in Singapore 1960-2019

There were 136 active secondary schools in Singapore in 2019. This number is decreasing over the last decade which reflects the trend of a declining birth rate.

Number of Mixed Level Schools in Singapore 1960-2019 

There were 16 active mixed-level schools in Singapore in 2019. This type of educational institution has two different levels in one school:

  • Primary and secondary schools
  • Secondary and junior college schools
  • Upper secondary and junior college

Number of Pre-University Schools In Singapore 1970-2019

In 2019, there were 11 active junior colleges and centralized institutions in Singapore. These are schools that offer educational qualifications to enter university.

 

Teaching Staff

Most teachers in Singapore have at least a bachelor’s degree. Local teachers may acquire a teaching qualification from the National Institute of Singapore.

Number of teachers by the educational institution in Singapore 2019

  • Primary schools: 15.4 thousand teachers
  • Secondary schools: 12.2 thousand teachers

The student-teacher ratio in 2019 

  • Primary schools: 14.8 students per teacher
  • Secondary schools: 11.7 students per teacher

Average class size in 2019

  • Primary schools: 33 students. There was an increase in the average class size in 2019 compared to the previous year.
  • Secondary schools: 33.2 students

Length of service of teachers in Singapore 2019

  • Primary school: 712 teachers who had been working for 30 years and above
  • Secondary school: 695 teachers who had been working for 30 years and above

 

Brief History Of Education System In Singapore

Today, the education system in Singapore ranks among the top globally. However, it isn’t always like this. In fact, until 1965, when Singapore became an independent republic, the illiteracy rate was very high. So how did Singapore vastly improve its education system? 

Where It Started

In 1823, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles founded the Singapore Institution, now known as Raffles Institution. This initiated education in Singapore under British rule. On January 1, 1834, the Government founded the Singapore free school. Three main types of schools that appeared: Malaysian, Chinese, and Tamil Schools and English schools.

During World War II

During this turbulent time, many students in Singapore dropped out of school. This caused a huge backlog of students in schools after the war. In 1947, the Ten-Year Programme for Education Policy in the Colony of Singapore was formulated. This is the beginning of the universal education system in Singapore. It was also a call to prepare for self-governance. 

Adapting a “Survival-Driven Education”

When Singapore started developing its own economy during the 1950s and 1960s, the government adopted a “survival-driven education” system. This system aimed to

  • Provide a skilled workforce for Singapore’s industrialization programme
  • Lower unemployment

In 1960, the government also developed a bilingualism policy in schools. The English language became the official language for both nation integration and utilitarian purposes. Additionally, universal education for children of all races and backgrounds also started to take shape. But the quality of schools during this time was not the same. 

Singapore’s Education System Shifted from Quantity to Quality

As Singapore’s economy started to get better, the focus on the education system shifted from quantity to quality. In the 1980s, the government implemented ways to differentiate pupils with different academic abilities. For example, they revamped vocational education under the new Institute of Technology. They also split the Normal stream in secondary schools into Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) streams. The Gifted Education Programme was also set up to cater to more academically inclined students.

Thinking Schools, Learning Nations Vision

In 1977, Then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong outlined his “Thinking Schools, Learning Nations” vision. This changed Singapore’s learning system into an ability-driven one. This policy emphasized national education, creative thinking, collaborative learning, and ICT literacy. Additionally, schools became more diverse and were given more freedom in creating their own curriculum and developing their niche areas.

 

Education System In The 21st Century

Who administers the education system?

The Ministry of Education oversees the education system in Singapore. They set the details such as the mandated school year.

What is the Compulsory Education Act? 

Compulsory Education (CE) is defined as education in national primary schools for Singapore Citizens residing in Singapore. That said, parents don’t have to worry about whether daycare, kindergarten, or pre-school is mandatory. Only primary schooling is compulsory.

What is the main language of teaching?

English is one of the four official languages taught in Singapore. It is taught as the first language and is the main medium of teaching in schools. The other three official languages are Chinese, Malay, and Tamil.

Style of Teaching 

Singapore has a highly scripted way of teaching. This means teachers “teach to the test” instead of adapting to children’s different needs. 

Additionally, students in Singapore “learn how to learn”. Teachers check whether the students can get the correct answer. The prescribed national curriculum sets the standard by which students learn.

Public versus Private Schools

  Public School Private School
Curriculum Offer the Singapore curriculum with GCE O-levels and Normal-level exams. Able to set their own qualifications and curriculum.
Class Size 32 children on average. 24 pupils per class on average.
School Hours Around 8:00 to 13:30 for younger children.

Up to 18:00 for older children.

8:30 until 15:00.
Cost Have fixed fees. Educational costs are often under 30 SGD (21 USD) a month. Costs are fixed by the educational institution and are more expensive.

 

School Age System in Singapore

The school year in Singapore is divided into two semesters. The first starts at the beginning of January and ends in May. The second semester starts in July and ends in November.

Level/Grade Typical Age on Birth
Preschool  
Pre-school playgroup 4
Kindergarten 5 to 6
Primary school (Children enter P1 upon the year they turn 7)  
Primary 1 7
Primary 2 8
Primary 3 9
Primary 4 10
Primary 5 11
Primary 6 12
Secondary school (Children enter S1 upon the year they turn 13)  
Secondary 1 13
Secondary 2 14
Secondary 3 15
Secondary 4 16
Secondary 5 (available for normal academic stream only) 17
Post-secondary education  
Junior College, Polytechnic or ITE, followed by University education    beyond 16 or 17 Beyond 16 or 17

 

Preschool: Daycare and kindergarten

Daycare and kindergarten schools in Singapore have their own educational curriculum. It’s more than just a childcare facility. In fact, it helps prepare children for Singapore’s school system.

Kindergartens help children learn how to interact with others and prepare them for formal education.

Schooling Option Average Monthly Cost SGD (USD)
Anchor Operator Scheme Infant Daycare 1,270 (930)
Anchor Operator Scheme Full-day Child Care 720 (530)
Anchor Operator Scheme Kindergarten 160 (120)
Ministry of Education Kindergarten Half-Day Program 300 (220)
International Preschool 1,000+ (740+)

 

Primary and Secondary Schools

Primary school education normally starts at age seven and is compulsory under the Compulsory Education Act.

Parents who are looking into enrolling their children in a high-quality primary and secondary education in Singapore don’t have to go to private schools. Public education is very much appealing since it offers excellent quality learning while being a much cheaper option.

Cost and Fees

 

 

Primary School Monthly Fee
SGD (USD)
Secondary School Monthly Fee
SGD (USD)
Singapore Permanent Residents 205 (145) 380 (270)
ASEAN Citizen International Student 465 (330) 780 (560)
Non-ASEAN Citizen International Student 750 (540) 1,400 (1,000)

 

Additionally, local schools also charge a miscellaneous monthly fee.

  • Primary school students: 13 SGD (9 USD)
  • Secondary school students: 20 SGD (14 USD)

 

International Schools

Singapore also has plenty of international schools to choose from. And these private institutions are highly popular so they have long waiting lists. However, they are also some of the most expensive schools globally.

Here are some international schools in Singapore

School Language of Instruction Qualifications Offered
Tanglin Trust School English IGCSE;

A-Levels;

IB Diploma

Dover Court International English, with a Mandarin focus in primary school and French or Spanish in secondary school IGCSE;

BTEC;

IB Diploma

German European School English, German IB Diploma;

German International High School Certificate (Deutsche International Abiturprüfung)

Abitur

Swiss School Singapore Bilingual English/German or English/French Transition to United World College of South East Asia – IB Diploma

 

Most schools may require an age-appropriate level of fluency in English or Mandarin. If a pupil speaks a different mother tongue, bilingual schools may be a good option.

Additionally, for older pupils, schools may require national test results and previous school reports. Lastly, since these schools are more expensive than others, they may require proof of financial means. 

Cost and Fees

  • School fees: May vary depending on the institution. It may range between 30,000 SGD (21,600 USD) and 50,000 SGD (36,000 USD)
  •  Application fee: This can range from 800 SGD (575 USD) to 4,500 SGD (3,200 USD).

Other costs include:

  • Enrollment fees
  • School uniforms
  • Textbooks
  • Food costs

 

Higher Education

Singapore is considered as having one of the best schools in Asia. It is also a popular location for branches of foreign universities. Here are some of them:

  • The German Institution of Science
  • Technology TUM Asia
  • INSEAD

Additionally, Singapore also offers polytechnic education. This type of education trains students to gain specific skills appropriate for a workplace. Here are the 5 Polytechnic Institutions in the country:

  • Nanyang
  • Nee Ann
  • Republic
  • Singapore Polytechnic
  • Temasek

 Lastly, the country is also known for its master’s in business administration (MBA) degrees. The most popular universities offering business and MBA courses are:

  • National University of Singapore
  • INSEAD Singapore
  • Nanyang Technological University (Business School)
  • Singapore Management University (Lee Kong Chian School of Business)

What about scholarships? 

International students can apply for scholarships in Singapore. However, they vary depending on your degree level, field of study, and country of origin.

International students can avail the government-subsidized program. They can apply for the Service Obligation Scheme so they will pay reduced tuition fees.

Cost and Fees

  • Undergraduate Fees: Non-Singaporean residents studying at a public university may pay approximately 10,000 SGD (7,200 USD) a year in tuition fees.
  • Postgraduate Fees: The average fee in public institutions is 35,000 SGD (25,200 USD).
  • MBA Fees: Varies depending on the institution. But students may expect to pay around 40,000 SGD to over 130,000 SGD (29,000 USD to over 94,000 USD)

 

Takeaways: Education Facts about the Singapore School System 

  • Singapore’s school system is among the best worldwide.
  • Singapore students consistently score high in OECD PISA rankings.
  • English is one of the four official languages taught in Singapore. The other three official languages are Chinese, Malay, and Tamil.
  • In 2019, the Singapore Government’s total expenditure on education is estimated at 12.83 billion Singapore dollars.
  • Primary education normally starts at a young age of seven and is compulsory under the Compulsory Education Act.
  • International schools in Singapore are highly popular so they have long waiting lists. They are also some of the most expensive schools globally.
  • Singapore is a popular location for branches of foreign universities. Plus, there are also polytechnic schools as well as universities offering business and MBA degrees.

 

Conclusion

Singapore’s school system is considered as having the highest quality globally. That said, education in Singapore is a smart choice and a valuable investment in your life and career. So make every effort to enroll in one of their prestigious schools or universities and obtain the necessary skills that will propel you forward.

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