Singapore’s education system has consistently been praised as one that is highly successful and competitive. The country is ranked high in international league tables like OECD’S Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). It has also been placed under the top ten in rankings for countries with the best education systems in 2020.
With a flourishing economy and business hub, education in Singapore plays a big part in creating bright and successful leaders. The importance of education is not overlooked by the government, as Singapore’s government spends 20 percent of the national budget on education itself.
Early childhood education (known as nursery or kindergarten), although not compulsory and funded almost entirely by the private sector, is a popular choice for parents in Singapore.
Singapore’s main education system is divided into 6 years of primary school and 4 to 5 years of secondary, both of which are completely compulsory. Upon graduation, students can then enrol into optional post-secondary education which is around 1 to 3 years.
After that, many students decide to further their studies by applying to university. If you’re curious about universities in Singapore, head over here for the ultimate guide.
As a culturally diverse country, you should have no worries or qualms about your child getting one of the best educations in the world. The country boasts multiculturality and even has 50,000 foreign students between the ages 13 to 23. With multiple international schools that can cater to your child, Singapore might be one of the best places for your child to learn and grow.
So, if you’re an expat looking to enrol your child into the education system in Singapore, it’s important to understand the fundamentals so that you can weigh the best options for your child. From public schools to international schools, this guide will explain education in Singapore so that you can make informed choices.
Types of schools in Singapore
If you’re unfamiliar with Singapore’s education system, here’s a brief breakdown:
- Early childhood education (up to 6 years old)
- Primary school education (6 years for ages between 7 to 12)
- Secondary school education (4 to 5 years for ages between 13 to 16/17)
- Post-secondary school education (1 to 3 years)
If you’re thinking about applying to a government school, here’s what you need to know:
- You or your child should have the ability to speak and write English fluently since all classes in mainstream schools are taught in English. The admissions tests for you or your child will also be conducted in English.
- The education level of your child also has to be no more than 2 years older than the appropriate age, so that they can keep up with classes and the current syllabus.
- You or your child will need a Student’s Pass to study in a government-owned school. This is unless you hold a Dependant’s Pass or Immigration Exemption Order. You can apply for a student pass here.
- Fulfill vaccination requirements for measles and diphtheria. Find out more here.
- Submit parent or caregiver’s particulars. If you’re using a caregiver’s particulars, they should be of Singapore citizenship and over 21 years old.
- If your child is attempting to enter Secondary school level education, they need to have completed the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) first.
Find out more about the admission process for international students entering public government-funded schools here.
If you’re entering yourself or your child into a government school, rest assured that you’ll receive high-quality education with a variety of electives, subjects and student development programmes.
There are autonomous government schools, also known as government-funded schools, that follow the national syllabus while offering a wider range of programmes to enrich your or your child’s learning experience. The Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools also give students an option to immerse themselves in the Chinese language and culture.
Although, be warned, that as a foreigner or expat, you’ll be paying a much higher school fee than local Singaporean students. Find out more about school fees here.
Private schools or independent schools are not usually government-funded and have their own flexibility regarding school fees and syllabus. There are over 700 registered private schools in Singapore. While they usually offer GCE-O/A Level examinations, independent schools are not required to follow the government school syllabus or classes.
These independent schools are usually catered towards international students. Find out more about private schools here. However, be warned of the much higher fees that you’ll have to splurge on private schools, where the annual fees range from $1,800 to a staggering $45,000.
Singapore also has numerous international schools, catering for the children of expats and foreigners who have moved to Singapore.
Despite the higher fees, international schools will be immersing your child in a culture of strong global and internationalism. Your child will be surrounded by other children of global citizens and may feel more at ease with children who are in similar situations as theirs. It will also make transition for your child easier in terms of adapting to their new school and environment.
Specialised independent schools (SIS) are another option for your child, with specialised education catering to students with talent and interests in other subjects like Mathematics and Science, the Arts and Sports. The four SIS schools available in Singapore are:
- NUS High School of Mathematics and Science (Mathematics, Science, Technology and Engineering)
- School of Science and Technology (Science, Technology, Aesthetics, Engineering and Mathematics)
- Singapore Sports School (Sports)
- School of the Arts (Visual, Literary and Performing Arts)
If you’re interested in enrolling yourself or your child into private schools, a list of private schools can be found here.
Curriculum in Singapore
For early childhood education, Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) created the Nurturing Early Learners (NEL) Framework that supports preschool curriculum development in Singapore. The NEL Framework is for children from 4 to 6 with the aim of nurturing children’s curiosity, encouraging active learning and fostering their competence.
Find out more about the NEL Framework here.
The curriculum for Primary school includes 6 years of studying the following subjects:
- English Language
- Mother Tongue Language (MTL)
- Physical Education
- Social Studies
- Character and Citizenship Education
Find out more about Primary school education here.
Secondary school education has multiple courses available to cater to students who have different strengths and talents. Based on a student’s results for PSLE, they can enter Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical).
Express is a four-year course that leads to GCE O-Level examination, with subject streaming occurring in the second year of studies. Students can also enter the Express Integrated programme, which is a six-year course leading to the GCE-A Level examination, skipping the GCE O-Level examination.
Some subjects offered includes:
- English Language
- Mother Tongue Languages
- Physical Education
- Arts Education
- Character and Citizenship Education
- Principle of Accounts
The curriculum in international or private schools differ from school to school, so it is important to check the international schools you’re interested in before applying. Some schools might not follow the national curriculum in Singapore and have their own syllabus instead.
The PSLE is a national exam taken by every student at the end of their sixth year in Primary school. Established by MOE, this national examination guides the child to a suitable academic programme in Secondary school to ensure their comfortable learning progress. Students will then enter a secondary school studying subjects where their academic strengths lie in.
Students can also register as private candidates for PSLE here.
The GCE O-Level, also known as the Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level, is a national examination held annually in Singapore. The national examinations are conducted by both MOE, SEAB and UCLES.
At the end of their fourth year in Secondary school (Express), students sit for the O-Level examinations based on the subjects taken during their secondary school education. Students from the Normal Academic stream take this national examination at the end of their fifth year of secondary school. Approximately 30,000 students in Singapore take the GCE O-Level exam each year. After finishing the GCE A-Level, students can choose to go to a post-secondary school educational institute of their choice, usually being Junior College, Polytechnic or NIE.
The GCE A-Level, also known as the Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education Advanced Level, is also another national examination held annually in Singapore. Conducted by MOE, SEAB AND UCLES, this examination is usually taken by students post-secondary level of education. Every student entering Junior College (JC) will have to take the GCE A-Level at the end of their second year of studies.
Subjects taken at A-Level are usually a range of H1 to H3 subjects that are chosen at the beginning of their two years at JC. The General Paper (H1) is a compulsory subject that every student has to take. It develops students’ ability to think critically and communicate their ideas clearly while showing a clear understanding and knowledge of global and local issues. After finishing their GCE A-Levels, students are free to apply for tertiary education and head to a university of their choice.
All in all, education in Singapore has consistently been praised as highly successful and competitive, a perfect place to receive an education for international students and expats alike. It’s important to consider whether to enrol into an international or public school when studying in Singapore, and to ensure that your child is learning at a pace that’s comfortable for them.