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Education and Schools

Singapore - Education and Schools

Education takes a high priority in Singapore and, as a result, foreigners and permanent residents have the opportunity to attend local schools in Singapore that are ranked among the best in Southeast Asia. There are also private schools and international schools that are along the same standards as the educational institutions that foreigners would find in their native countries.

Education in Singapore is managed by the Ministry of Education (MOE). Both private and state schools have variations when it comes to their admission policies, amount of government aid, tuition costs, and their extent of autonomy in their curriculum.

In the Singaporean school system, the first ten years of schooling are categorized under two phases: six years of primary education and four or five years in secondary school. Primary school is mandatory and starts at age seven. Upon completion of primary school, students continue on to secondary school based on their results in the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE). Mandatory exams are administered and designed to determine the type of secondary school courses that are most suited to the student's aptitude. At the completion of secondary school, students sit for the UK based GCE 'O' Level examinations. Some of the independent secondary schools in Singapore no longer use the GCE 'O' Levels and have instead replaced it with the IB program. This results in a 6-year secondary school education that leads up to pre-college.

There are several options available to students after secondary school. Some students choose to pursue a GCE 'A' Level certificate at a centralized institute (CI) or junior college (JC) for 2-3 years. An additional option is to pursue a diploma at one of the five polytechnics for 3-4 years. Other pre-university options include specialist schools (School of the Arts and the Singapore Sports school), and private institutions (La Salle College of the Arts and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts). Technical schools (Institutes of Technical Education) offer vocational training as well.

Singapore has three universities: National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, and Singapore Management University. These offer undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in areas such as engineering, medicine, informational technology, science, liberal arts, mass communications, law, and business management.


Kindergartens offer up to three years of pre-school for children from ages 3-6. These years are also called “Kindergarten 1” and “Kindergarten 2.”

Kindergarten itself focuses on teaching students how to interact with other children their own age as well as how to participate in the formal education system. Some of the common activities include developing social skills through music, play, and games. Students will also begin learning two languages and practicing their written and oral language skills. Kindergartens can be run by international schools, child care centers, religious institutions, civic groups, business groups, and community foundations.

During their primary education years, children go through a four year foundation stage and a two year orientation stage. In the foundation state, children begin their solid foundation (both written and oral) in the English language and begin learning a secondary language as well. Subject matters include arts and crafts, social studies, health, physical education, civics, moral education, music, and math. Science is not taught until after the third year.

After their fourth year in primary school, students advance to the orientation stage. Here, they will take subjects at various levels that are based on their scores in the subject matters at hand. Although primary school is mandatory, there are exemptions for those who are being homeschooled, those attending full-time religious institutions, and those who have special needs and are unable to attend mainstream educational institutions.

Upon completion of the six years of Primary education, pupils sit for the national Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) and will then decide on the secondary school of their choosing. The secondary school they attend will be based on their choices as well as on their merit. Based on the results of their PSLE, they are placed in different secondary education tracks which include: "Special", "Express", "Normal (Academic)", or "Normal (Technical)".

The majority of the lessons in Singapore are taught in English. Singapore’s bilingual policy means that even the youngest students at age seven learn a second language. The most popular second languages are Tamil, Mandarin, and Malay. Some students might also learn a third language such as Japanese or German. Foreign students whose first language is not English might be required to sit for an English proficiency test or attend English language classes.

One of the most important ideologies in Singapore is that of meritocracy. This is essential in the education system and helps identify students who might someday make good leaders. As a result, there is a fair amount of importance placed on academic performance. The grading system is instrumental in measuring the students’ efforts, knowledge, and ability. Not only is having strong academic credentials critical in helping the student in their education career, it can also assist them in the job market. Therefore, curricula are tied to subject matters that can be tested on.

Curricular activities

At the secondary level, curricular activities are mandatory. All students have to participate in at least one of them. Some of the curricular activities include Performing Arts, Sports and Games, Clubs & Societies, and Uniformed Groups. These activities vary by schools, of course.

Holidays and important dates

The school year is divided into two semesters: the first starting at the beginning of January and ending in June; the second starting in July and ending in December. Scheduled school holidays include Teacher’s Day, Children’s Day, Day After National Day, and Youth Day. Public holidays include New Year’s Day, Chinese New Year, Good Friday, Labor Day, Vesak Day, National Day, Hari Raya Puasa, Hari Raya Haji, Deepvali, and Christmas Day.

Foreign nationals and permanent residents

An education in the public school system requires a certain amount of fees. The amount of school fees will depend on your immigration status. Permanent residents, for instance, generally pay less than those who are considered foreign students. Primary school fees for a foreign student from a non-ASEAN country are SGD$1,260 per year. Pre-university school fees are SGD$3,720 per year. On the other hand, primary school fees for a permanent resident are only SGD$42 per year and pre-university school fees are just SGD$84 per year.

Due to its big expatriate community, Singapore has a lot of international schools. However, these do not normally admit Singapore residents unless they receive permission from the Ministry of Education.

There are also private schools that fall under The Council for Private Education (CPE). These schools must meet certain requirements in regards to their managers, teachers, courses and examination boards. The requirements are stringent and most schools do not pass them the first time they try.

To enroll a student in Primary school, the child must be 6 or 6+ on January 1st of the year of admission. There is a high level of competition during P1 enrollments when it comes to the good local Singapore schools. Most parents actually enroll their children in these schools when they are as young as three and can attend a pre-school program. If a child is not a permanent resident or Singapore citizen, application for admission into P1 must be made under the last phase of enrollment. Parents must approach their school of choice directly, although vacancies can be checked through the Ministry of Education’s website.

For the rest of the primary and secondary years, application for admission can be made all through the year subject to vacancies. Admission is based on the availability of vacancies in the school, so long as there aren’t any Singapore Citizens or Singapore Permanent Residents on the waiting list. The foreign student will be tested on subjects such as English, Mathematics and Mother Tongue Language.

For students who are permanent residents, parents can contact the school directly and have the tests administered there. The school must first be contacted and then an application form will be completed. Supporting documents needed for the application process include:

· Completed AIES Application Form
· A recent passport size color photo
· A certified true copy of the passport
· A certified true copy of birth certificate
· A copy of Dependent Pass (if any)
· A copy of Deed Poll (if any)
· A copy of Immigration Exemption Order (if any)
· A copy of Student Pass (if any)
· Non-refundable test fee: S$620

Applicant’s parents’ documents
· A copy of personal particulars page of passport
· A copy of Deed Poll (if any)
· A copy of Singapore NRIC (if any)
· A copy of Re-entry Permit (if any)
· A copy of Employment Pass/Work Permit (if any)

Once the school has received the student’s application, a placement test will be administered. If the student’s performance is satisfactory, the school will issue a Letter of Acceptance (LOA).

As a permanent resident, the student can start school as soon as they receive their LOA. If the student is not a permanent resident or doesn’t hold a Dependent Pass, then they will need to apply for a student pass. However, the Letter of Acceptance is only valid for two weeks.

For more information, please visit the Ministry of Education’s website at http://www.moe.gov.sg

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