Education In Singapore: Types Of Schools And Curriculums For Your Child

 In Education, Singapore, The Finder

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)

Government schools

education in Singapore - Stamford Primary School
Photo credit: 123RF

If you’re thinking about applying to a government school, here’s what you need to know:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Fulfill vaccination requirements for measles and diphtheria. Find out more here.
  5. 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.
  6. 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

education in singapore
Photo credits: EtonHouse International

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

National Curriculum

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)
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Art
  • Music
  • 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
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Physical Education
  • Arts Education
  • Character and Citizenship Education
  • Humanities
  • 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.

Examinations

PSLE

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.

GCE O-Level

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.

GCE A-Level

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.

More on The Finder:

Universities In Singapore: The Ultimate Guide For International Students
7 Top International Schools In Singapore Offering World-Class Education To Children

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Education in Singapore

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Education in Singapore

To help you understand Singapore’s education better, here is a comprehensive guide to schools in Singapore!

Frederick Tan Author at Moovaz

Frederick Tan

Melbourne expert

Frederick Tan Author at Moovaz

Frederick Tan

Melbourne expert

Overview

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Pre-school Options

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.

MOE Kindergartens

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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Others

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.

Some schools specialise in nurturing children’s artistic or musical talents, such as NAFA Arts Preschool, Da Little PreschoolArts Kidz Preschool and Centre Stage School of the Arts.

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 SchoolhouseEtonHouse Zhong Hua PreschoolMaple Bear PreschoolElfa PreschoolMindChamps 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.

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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.

Local Schools

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.

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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.

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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.

Local Schools

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.

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International Secondary Schools

The international secondary school system is similar to the international primary schools as stated above.

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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.

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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.

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Polytechnics

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).

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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.

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University Options

Singapore has a both public and private internationally-recognised universities to choose from.

Public-funded Universities

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.

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Private Universities

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.

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Conclusion

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.

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