Education in Singapore is known to be one of the best in the world. The city -state ‘s education system has gone through several reforms since its declaration of independence in 1965, since it is closely linked to the economy. To revive Singapore, the government has prioritized the efficiency of its education system to better face economic challenges. This “effective” system is based on rote learning, student monitoring and orientation, and the ability to comply with requirements 1 . This elitist policy is explained by the fact that Singapore’s only natural resource is the intelligence of its inhabitants.
In 2012, Singapore’s education system ranked first overall 2 in the Program for International Student Assessment ( PISA ), and in 2009 it was ranked 5 th 3 . Since the 1980s, the state of Singapore has achieved high rankings in international assessments and championships like Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study ( TIMSS ) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study ( PIRLS ) 2 .
In 2015, the OECD ranked Singapore as the top education system in the world based on the performance of 15-year-old students in math, science and reading. Singapore has also won several other major prizes such as first place for three years in a row at the International Young Physicist’s Tournament and first place at the 27th World Schools Debating Championship 2 .
Development of education in Singapore since 1965
Prior to independence, education in Singapore was rather rudimentary. The first Malay schools were founded by the British in 1823. Children were taught the basics of reading and writing there . In 1857, the first English schools were founded there and in 1911, after the revolution in China, Chinese schools were given priority. Education in English and Chinese was more developed than in Malay schools, but still insufficient. It was only after obtaining its own government in 1959 that Singapore began to improve its education system 5 .
Education in Singapore is closely linked to the economic development of the country since independence in 1965. Singapore had to climb the slope at the economic and industrial level through 3 economic stages. The education system underwent several changes and reforms during these periods to meet the needs of the state.
The first stage takes place during the 1960s to mid-1970s as Singapore begins to form as an independent city-state. At that time, Singapore was in a state of survival in industry, economy and education. The government focused on industrial development and made reforms in the education system to meet the demand for labor. During this first stage, Singapore restructured the education system to produce more adequate “manpower” and redress the balance between technicians and scientists. These changes prepared young people coming out of school for the new economic activities that were generated by the growing manufacturing sector of the 1970s .
The second stage takes place during the mid-1970s to the 1990s. In the 1970s, the Singapore government decided to raise the quality standards of their productions. For this, the education system has been reviewed to ensure that the required skills are in place. It was in January 1979 that a new education system was put in place to better support economic development. The level of education has been increased and has become more sophisticated to allow students to reach an appropriate level of knowledge 6 .
A bilingual policy has been put in place in addition to writing standards, manuals and materials which have been increased. In 1980, The Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore (CDIS) was established with the aim of providing high quality teaching materials, including textbooks and multimedia tools. The philosophy of this new education system was to let young people progress at their own pace .
The third stage took place during the 1990s and is still ongoing today. For this period, Singapore wishes to be part of a new economic policy suitable for the 21st century . The education system is completely overhauled and a skills-based education is introduced, focusing on innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. The Thinking Schools, Learning Nation (TSLN) vision and information technology-focused initiatives, such as computer literacy, are developed to prepare students for the future. At the level of higher education (universities and polytechnics), there is a demand for teaching that excels and many levels of specialization to meet market demands.6 .
An important event during this course was the introduction of school rankings in 1992 2 . The reasoning behind this decision was that if the schools competed, they would improve.
The dates differ according to the sources (1st stage: 1960-mid 80; 2nd stage: mid 80-mid 90; 3rd stage mid 90-today) 2 .
The education system
Singapore has around 370 schools and half a million students, so it is a public education system. Students receive six years of primary education and then four or five years of secondary education. After that, students have the choice of pursuing their studies in colleges, in technical education institutions, in polytechnics and ultimately in universities 2 .
In administration, there is only one Ministry of Education (MOE) which oversees public schools in Singapore.