Choosing Singapore’s Education System

Singapore has one of the most highly regarded education systems in the world. Not only do students get amongst the highest scores in subjects such as math and science, the bilingual education system ensures that students learn more than one language and are poised to pick up a third or even fourth language in time. There is also a growing focus on developing creativity and the arts, starting from as young as kindergarten.

If you are thinking of sending your children to school in Singapore, you can be sure that there are suitable options for every age.

Pre-School & Kindergarten (Ages 4 to 6)

In Singapore, the pre-school education programme runs for three years, consisting of Nursery, Kindergarten 1 and Kindergarten 2. Children will develop language and literacy skills, basic number concepts, social skills, creative and problem solving skills, appreciation of music and movement and outdoor play. They will also learn English and one other language, usually Mandarin, Malay or Tamil unless they are enrolled in a foreign system kindergarten.


It is best to actually make a trip to Singapore to visit your shortlisted pre-schools in person to talk to the teachers and get a feel of the school. If you are unable to visit Singapore, be sure to check online forums, blogs and websites for feedback. You can also look for pre-schools that are Singapore Pre-School Accreditation Framework (SPARK) certified. SPARK is a quality Assurance Framework which aims to raise the quality of pre-schools in Singapore through the improvement of teaching, learning administration and management process.

Pre-schools in Singapore have an extremely diverse range of teaching philosophies, so do look around for one that has a suitable environment for your child. You can enroll your child in a school that uses the Reggio Emilia or Montessori approach or simply ensure that your child starts their bilingual education as soon as possible in the best possible pre-school near your home; the choice is yours.

Primary Education (Ages 7 to 12)

As with pre-schools, there are foreign system international schools in Singapore if you prefer them for your child in addition to your choice of local schools. Singapore’s primary school system fulfils six of the 10 years of compulsory education.

Local primary schools require students to take the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) at the end of the six years. This tests the students’ proficiency in English, a second language (Mandarin, Malay, Tamil or another South Asian language), mathematics and science. The students’ PSLE results will determine which secondary schools they can enter. Some primary schools offer the Gifted Education Programme for children who do extremely well in school, typically the top one per cent of the cohort. Some primary schools feed into corresponding secondary schools, which gives them priority when it comes to getting placement.

Alternative school systems such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) are also available, generally at international schools.

Secondary Education (Ages 13 to 16, 17 or 18)

After primary school, there are several paths through secondary education. Depending on the student’s PSLE scores, he or she can enter a four, five or six-year programme that leads to different qualifications. The programmes are rigorous and as a result, Singapore’s 15-year-olds score amongst the top in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a triennial international benchmarking study.

The four-year ‘Express' programme is the path most students take. At the end of four years, students sit for the Singapore-Cambridge GCE Ordinary Level examinations (O Levels). Students must take a minimum of six subjects up to a maximum of nine. If they wish to take up a tenth subject, special permission must be received from the Ministry of Education. After sitting for the O Levels, students can either proceed to junior colleges to sit for the GCE Advanced Level examinations (A Levels) or enter a polytechnic to get a diploma.

The five-year ‘Normal’ programme culminates in the O Levels as well. However, students who take the five- year programme sit for the GCE Normal Levels examination (N Levels) during their fourth year. After sitting for their N Levels, students can choose to proceed to Institutes of Technical Education (ITE) or, if they do well, sit for the O Levels in their fifth year. This allows academically weaker students to have an extra year to prepare for the O Levels compared to students in the Express stream. After sitting for the O Levels, students have the same options as students in the Express stream.

The six-year programme is called the Integrated Programme (IP). Students in the IP skip the O Levels and sit for the A Levels or the IB Diploma Programme examination at the end of six years. This is meant to give the students more flexibility in terms of their study structure.

Tertiary Education (Ages 17 or 19 onwards)

Students who have completed their O Levels can choose to enter a polytechnic to start their tertiary education, or continue their secondary education at a junior college to sit for their A Levels. Polytechnics are seen as a more hands-on, practical route for students who wish to join the workforce sooner. On the other hand, going the A Levels route is usually seen as being the shorter and more direct route to university.

Students who opt to enter a polytechnic to earn their diploma can also enter university after graduating from a polytechnic, but that takes three years at least, more than the two years needed to sit for the A Levels. Depending on the course of study, polytechnic diploma holders are eligible to receive advanced placement credits in relevant modules which count towards the total number of credits needed for graduation.

Singapore’s education system has provisions for students of all levels of scholastic aptitude across all age groups. Furthermore, Singapore’s high levels of safety make it a great choice if you wish to send your children here to study.


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