By Muhammad Ashar
It was in 1965 that Singapore achieved independence. The country was one of the poorest in the world, with an absence of large-scale natural resources and skilled workforce. The only resource which sustained the country was its people. Therefore, Singapore took early measures to groom its manpower intellectually and enabled itself to become a knowledge-based economy and overcome the deficiencies. Since then, education has remained the primary concern of the Singaporean government because they know that the only way to smarten the country’s manpower is through a robust and well-balanced system of education.
Today, Singapore’s literacy rate is sky-rocketing. An amazing 96.8% of the prevalent literacy rate means that people of the age of 15 and above are capable of reading and writing. More remarkable is the fact that the country has turned out to top the global OECD rankings. Amongst the 72 countries, Singapore has been leading the way in Mathematics and Science followed by Finland and Canada, some of the many countries with state-of-the-art education standards. Indisputably, the credit goes to the education system of the country which is managed by the country’s ministry of education.
Since the year 2000, primary education has been enacted compulsory for all children (bar those handicap) and parents have been made responsible for admitting their children in schools and maintaining punctuality during school hours. A failure to do so is deemed a criminal offence on the part of the parents. Similarly, policymakers have devised meticulous strategies to enhance the teaching workforce. The ministry of education recruits prospective teachers from the top 5% of the graduates in the system, which then undergo the training sessions at the National Institute of Education. The reason behind these stringent measures is to ensure the due significance of education for the country’s growth and development.
The education system in the country can be broken down into five main stages. The process starts at pre-school and goes up to the primary and secondary schooling systems. Once the secondary school finishes, students are transition to pre-university and, eventually, university education.
Pre-schools are primarily based on the core idea of the development of basic language, writing, social, and physical skills in a child. This stage usually consists of a year of nursery education followed by two years of kindergarten. In order to ensure that a child receives the best pre-school education, it is highly recommended to check that the school is accredited as per the Singapore Pre-School Accreditation Framework (SPARK).
As the child crosses the age of 7, he/she moves into the primary school education for a span of 6 years. During this phase, students are taught basic Mathematics and Science skills with a good grasp over languages. Once the student completes the primary schooling, he/she appears for a Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE). Successful candidates, then, graduate to secondary schools.
Similar to the American system of education, the secondary schooling system in Singapore spans over a period of 4 to 5 years. It is generally classified into four different streams. Special and Express streams take the student through the four-year course structure which marks the end with GCE ‘O’ Levels Examination. The Normal (Academia) and Normal (Technical) streams take 5 years to complete the secondary education.
Once the students pass secondary school, they enroll into a junior college or a centralized institute pre-university course for two and three years, respectively. During this phase, students are prepared for university courses and it is only at the end of the pre-university course that students appear for GCE ‘A’ Levels Examination.
Students can also enroll into a three-year diploma in different subjects of their choice. This stream is known as polytechnic. Polytechnic courses required more rigorous practice and group work.
Singapore has a number of universities offering a diverse range of courses. Singapore National University and Nanyang Technical University are the two most famous public universities listed amongst the top 50 universities globally. The goal of the university education in Singapore is to produce personnel who are at par with the competitive global market ready to face the challenges unforeseen.
Although education system in the country stands successful, there still are certain problems which need to be resolved. Strengths and weaknesses will be discussed in the paragraphs that follow:
Education is a serious matter in Singapore. In the primary school, a student is nurtured to work hard in studies. Unlike most of the western countries, students of primary schools in Singapore are seen doing their schoolwork at home. Moreover, the exams are relatively tough which require rigorous practice to get through. The idea behind this style of pedagogy is to inculcate the quality of stress management, responsibility and discipline in students at a very tender age. In addition to this, the education system has proven itself to be effective in imparting knowledge. This means that the teachers are proficient in delivering a concept or an idea to the students and the students are equally good in remembering and implementing the information given by the teacher.
The education system is highly criticized for its rote-learning style. The system mainly focuses on getting good grades and this, in turn, diminishes the ability to think critically. Although the system is very effective in imparting knowledge, it lacks the ability at teaching how to manipulate the acquired information and knowledge. Mathematics and Science are taught in such a way that students usually memorize the method used to solve the question without understanding the derivation and logic behind the method.
However, in recent times, the ministry of education has taken measures to manage the level of stress faced by the students. For instance, in 2012 the ministry has stopped listing the names of top exam scorers in national examinations country wide. This has proven to be a remarkable step in reducing the emphasis from the examinations. However, the thriving private tuition center industry in the country is still a major challenge to tackle.
On the contrary, the education system of Singapore is by far a front runner in terms of test scores and ranking irrespective of the immense focus on rote-learning and memorization. If the ministry could take work towards producing students who have the necessary critical skills paired with excellent memories, the country could turn out to be a role model for all nations to follow.