There is proposal on major changes in Singapore Primary School including scrapping examinations for the lower primary students. Do you agree that the Primary 1 & 2 examinations should be scrapped and adopt other forms of assessment?
Overview of the Singapore Education System

Singapore offers a broad range of educational opportunities – both for children and adults alike. Singapore’s education policies are dynamic and changes in accordance to the nation’s needs. As a parent or student, it is important to keep updated on the latest policies that are available online at the Ministry of Education (Singapore) website at  

Refer to Figure 1 for a diagrammatic overview of the Singapore Education System.

Pre-school in Singapore (also known as nursery, Kindergarten 1 and 2) are for children aged between 3 to 6 years old. Pre-schools in Singapore are privately run, but must be registered with the Singapore Ministry of Education.



The 6 years of primary school education in Singapore are compulsory by law for all children. Primary school starts at the age of 7, regardless of whether the child has attended pre-school.  At the end of Primary 6, the children sit for a national examination, the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination). 

Primary school education has undergone some major changes. New teaching and ways of assessing a child’s abilities are being adopted. New school facilities and including after-school care services are also in the pipeline, in preparation towards single-session schools by 2016.  Since 2008, students in primary 4 (age 10) are streamed according to subjects taken at various levels (foundation or standard levels), instead of their academic abilities.

Students moving on to secondary school education are streamed into Express, Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical), primarily based on their PSLE results. From 2004 onwards, students can choose to be considered for admission into secondary schools by participating in the Direct School Admission Exercise for Secondary Schools (DSA-Sec), which is based on a combination of a student’s academic and non-academic achievements. This exercise applies only for admission into Independent, Autonomous and mainstream schools with special programmes that have been given greater flexibility to set their own admission criteria. The DSA-Sec takes place before the PSLE results are released each year.

Students in the Express / Special streams take the GCE “O” Level Examinations (General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level Examinations) at the end of the 4th year of secondary education at age 16.

Students in the Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical) stream take the GCE “N” Level Examinations in their 4th year, and some have the option of taking the GCE “O” Level Examinations in the 5th subsequent year at age 17. Since 2004, selected students in the Normal Stream can opt to bypass the “N” level examinations and directly sit for the “O” level examinations instead.

Secondary students are strongly encouraged to participate in co-curriculum (after school) activities, such as a sport, or a performing arts groups, or join a club or society for an all-rounded education experience.

There are a number of programmes students can opt for, but these programmes are offered in selected schools only. (See Figure 2 for Summary). Of the 5 programmes listed, the Gifted Education Programme (GEP)’s entry point is primary 4 (age 10). Entrance into the GEP is based on a series of screening tests.



The Integrated Programme (IP) is a new initiative that allows students to bypass the GCE “O” Levels completely, and instead take a final examination at the end of 6 years (at age 18) for entrance qualification into universities. The IP is currently offered in 11 schools, and is operated in a number of ways. Students can join the IP at either age 13 (after PSLE) or at age 15 (secondary 3). Students on the GEP in secondary schools are offered to do the IP as well. Schools that offer the IP have full discretion to selecting students at age 15 (secondary 3) to join the IP as well. Students take either the GCE “A” Level or International Baccalaureate (I.B.) Diploma Examinations, depending on the operating model the school they are attending has adopted. Students can also transfer between Specialized Schools and mainstream Secondary Schools, if they choose to opt out of the IP halfway through. In 2007, the first batch of students took the I.B. examinations.

Students with special talents in sports or the arts can also consider pursuing a specialized education in Specialized Schools with the Singapore Sports School or School of The Arts, both leading up to an I.B. Diploma. The National University of Singapore High School of Mathematics and Science (NUS High School) is also a specialized school offering a 6-year programme specializing in maths and science, leading up to a NUS High School Diploma certification.

Upon completion of secondary education, there is a range of post-secondary education for students.

Normal (Technical) students continue with vocational education and training at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) after completing the GCE “N” Level examinations, and Normal (Academic) students who do not qualify to take their GCE “O” Levels can also pursue a vocational education at ITE in preparation for employment in the workforce.

Students with qualifying “O” Level results can opt to enter a junior college / centralized institute (JC/CI) and pursue a 2/3-year course leading to a GCE “A” Level certification, a pre-requisite for university admissions. 

Alternatively, students with qualifying “O” Level results can opt to enter a polytechnic and pursue a diploma in a specific set of skills in preparation for the workplace for another 3-4 years. (See box for more information about diploma education in Singapore). Some students with polytechnic diplomas go on to pursue a university degree.

Admissions to various post-secondary school options (JC, CI or ITE) are carried out centrally by MOE in an annual exercise known as the Joint Admissions Exercise (JAE). Students can also seek admission into a junior college via a Discretionary Admission Exercise that is conducted independently by schools before the JAE is conducted each year.

Table 3: The 5 Polytechnics in Singapore
  • Nanyang Polytechnic
  • Ngee Ann Polytechnic
  • Republic Polytechnic
  • Singapore Polytechnic
  • Temasek Polytechnic 

There are currently 4 universities in Singapore, as well as a number of specialized private schools for business, engineering, information technology and so on. Three universities (National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University) accept students with no work experience, while the 4th university, the Sim University (UniSIM) caters to working professionals. There are also a number of private institutions specializing in post secondary education certification in the arts (La Salle College of the Arts and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts).

Singapore Education Emphasis

Singapore’s education system places a strong emphasis on bilingualism – all lessons are taught in English except for Mother Tongue languages. Languages are taught and assessed from as young as pre-school. Secondary school students can also opt to study languages (and culture) at a higher-level.

The Singapore education also emphasizes a broad-based education for all its students. Singapore’s primary education emphasizes 4 core subjects – the study of at least two languages (English and Mother Tongue), Mathematics and Science. Secondary school students take between 6-10 subjects from a range of groups (languages & literature, humanities, mathematics and science). Secondary school students in the Special/Express streams can also pursue a number of subjects at a higher level under the various programmes (see Figure 2). In addition to the examinable subjects, students also take a number of non-examinable subjects, such as physical education, aesthetics, health and moral (civic) education.

While the system is not without its flaws, overall, Singapore’s education system receives warm recognition all over the world, from world leaders to leading universities and multinational employers.

Su-Ann Phillips

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