How is Singapore’s Education System the Best in the World?

As Singaporeans, I’m sure that many of us are more than familiar with the notion that our education system is the ‘best in the world’.

Of course, the idea that anything is ‘best’ in the world is highly subjective in nature. However, I believe that we can collectively agree that Singapore’s education system is a rather incredible one!

I recall being on a school overseas immersion programme many years back to Thailand and meeting the local students. Upon learning of where we were from, many expressed compliments for the education that we receive. 

This made me ponder: What exactly makes Singapore’s education system good? How does it compare to that of other countries? If you have clicked on this article, then you must be wondering the same.

Luckily for you, this article serves to explain how Singapore’s education system really works and why it is so effective!

Worldwide Ranking

As a fellow Singaporean myself, I am proud to share that Singapore’s education system has repeatedly ranked as one of the best in the world by the OECD

According to the statistics gathered from PISA 2018, Singaporean students scored 549 points to the worldwide average of 487 points in reading literacy, 569 points to 489 points in mathematics and 551 points to 489 points in science. 

Overall, Singapore has also ranked higher than some other advanced nations such as Canada and even Finland. Compared to some Asian countries, Singapore has also outranked Japan! 

So, it would be quite safe to say that the Singaporean education system has been very successful in educating our youth, compared to most other countries.

How does Singapore’s education system work?

Firstly, it is noted that every Singaporean child must undergo compulsory education. According to the Ministry of Education, all Singapore citizens born after 1 January 1996 must attend a national primary school unless an exemption is permitted. 

Students typically spend 6 years in primary school before moving onto secondary school, which lasts about 4 years. Here, Singaporean students undergo ‘streaming’, a process that decides what students will learn based on academic merit and interest!

In secondary school, after completing ‘Lower Secondary’ (in Year 1 and 2), students can elect to enter either the ‘Science’ or ‘Art’ streams.

The ‘Science’ stream, as the name suggests, allows students to begin branching their foundational studies in science. Science students will begin learning the basics of the sciences, such as Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

The ‘Arts’ stream allows students to begin learning the basics of humanities subjects, such as Literature, History, etc.

However, despite being put into different streams, students from either stream will still get the opportunity to learn about subjects from the other stream. This usually happens when students take on ‘Electives”. 

For example, a secondary school student in the ‘Science’ stream may take Elective Literature, along with their science subjects.

After graduating secondary school, students will typically opt to enter tertiary education. This could be choosing to go to either a Junior College or Polytechnic.

Many tend to struggle making the choice to go to either institution. However, it is important to note that neither one is better than the other, it just depends on the learning style of the individual!

In a Junior College, students will continue to be taught more theoretical knowledge, and the academic structure is more similar to that of secondary school than in university. It typically lasts about 2 years.

Students in Junior College will also enter either a ‘Science’ or ‘Arts’ stream (MI, a pre-university institution that prepares students for ‘A’ Levels also offers a ‘Commerce’ stream). 

In a Polytechnic, however, students are no longer ‘streamed’ in the sense that they are now able to enter more specialised courses. Here, they are taught more applicable skills that prepare them for entry into the workforce in their specialised areas or industries. 

After a typical duration of about 3 years in a Polytechnic, students will graduate with a diploma, allowing them to enter the workforce immediately after graduation.

With that being said, after their tertiary education is completed, most students opt to enter university. There, they will continue to further their education in more specific fields and prepare them even more for their selected career paths.

How is this method more helpful for students? 

In the primary levels, all students are exposed to the same curriculum that is designed to lay the foundations in their understanding of common subjects such as English, Mother Tongue, Science and Mathematics.

Strong foundations in these subjects prepare the students for entry into secondary school

Upon entering secondary school, Year 1 and 2 students fall under the ‘Lower’ Secondary category, where they will be taught subjects that belong to both the ‘Arts’ and ‘Science’ categories. These two years are crucial in allowing the students to try out different subjects and decide which ones they are best at or are the most keen in pursuing.

In Year 3 and 4, students will be put into the stream that they have selected, where they will continue their foundational studies on the subjects that they have interest in. Thus, beginning their preparations to enter their likely work industries early on.

After graduation and entry into tertiary education, students are allowed to choose between a Junior College or a Polytechnic, both with very different academic structures.

Students that prefer a more hands- on approach to their learning and are keen on entering the workforce as soon as possible may enter a Polytechnic. On the other hand, students that have not yet decided on a specific career path and are interested in continuing their theoretical studies may do so in a Junior College.

Thus, this system accommodates to Singaporean students’ interests and academic learning styles. It also prepares them well from an early age, making sure that our students are well prepared before going down their career paths, creating a highly educated generation of young Singaporeans.

Holistic Development

Aside from the academics of the Singaporean education system, it also emphasises heavily on the holistic development of young Singaporeans. This is often achieved through Co-Curricular activities (CCAs). 

CCAs are often mandatory for primary and secondary school students to hone additional skills at an early age. Students are encouraged to pick up a CCA of their interest, such as Badminton, Dance, Art, etc. Many students also opt to partake in more than one CCA!

This helps to ensure that students are not only focusing on their academic achievements, as we all know, good grades aren’t everything! CCAs also grant students ample opportunities to make more like-minded friends with similar interests and build on their social skills.

The type of CCA they end up joining can develop more than just their social skills. For instance, sport CCAs encourage sportsmanship and teamwork, public speaking CCAs develop confidence and eloquence in speech, etc.

Students in tertiary education are also generally very keen in partaking in CCAs, even if they are not mandatory. Most times, students opt to enter a CCA that is similar to what the have taken part in in secondary school.

Typically for older students, CCAs become a good way to spend their time away from their studies while still honing their skills in different areas.