National Education System

Singapore's education system aims to nurture every child and help all students discover their talents, realise their full potential, and develop a passion for life-long learning. We want to nurture in our young the willingness to think in new ways, solve problems and create new opportunities for the future. Equally important, we want to help our young acquire sound values and develop the strength of character to deal with future challenges. National Education aims to foster strong bonds among students and develop in them a deep sense of belonging and commitment to family, community and country.

Thinking Schools, Learning Nation (TSLN}--adopted in 1997 as our vision in education-describes a nation of thinking and committed citizens, and an education system capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century. Since 2003, we have also focused on nurturing a spirit of Innovation and Enterprise (I&E) among our students and staff. Teach Less, Learn More (TLLM), a call made by PM Lee Hsien Loong in his inaugural National Day Rally speech in 2004, was a call for our schools and teachers to teach better, improve the quality of interaction between teachers and students, and equip students with the knowledge, skills and values that prepare them for life. Teaching will be focused on developing understanding, critical thinking and the ability to ask questions and seek solutions.

A cornerstone of Singapore's education system is the bilingual policy which allows each child to learn English and his Mother Tongue to the best of his abilities. Being proficient in English allows them to plug into a globalised wor1d. Being proficient in MTL provides a link to their heritage and Asian roots, and provides them with a competitive edge with the rise of China and India, and integration of ASEAN.

There are opportunities for every child in Singapore to undergo at least ten years of general education. The school system features a national curriculum, with national examinations at the end of the primary, secondary and junior college years. In recent years, we have also moved towards a more flexible and diverse education system, aimed at providing students with greater flexibility and choice. Upon completion of their primary education, students can choose from a range of education institutions and programmes that cater to different strengths and interests. To allow a greater range of student achievements and talents to be recognised, selected secondary schools, junior colleges, polytechnics and universities have the flexibility to admit a percentage of their intake using school-based criteria in the direct or discretionary admission exercises.

At the primary level, students go through a six-year course aimed at giving students a good grasp of English, Mother Tongue and Mathematics. In addition, students will learn Science, Social Studies, Civics & Moral Education, Music, Art & Crafts, Health Education and Physical Education. They are also encouraged to participate in Co­ Curricular Activities (CCAs) and Community Involvement Programme (CIP).

Starting from the 2008 Primary 5 cohort, primary schools have introduced Subject­ based Banding to replace the EM3 stream. With Subject-based Banding, students can offer a mix of Standard or Foundation subjects depending on their aptitude in each subject. Previously, at Primary 5 and Primary 6, students in the EM3 stream offer all academic subjects at the Foundation level, while students in the merged stream1 offer all academic subjects at the Standard level.

At the end of Primary 6, students take the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), which assesses their suitability for secondary education and places them in the appropriate secondary school course that will match their learning pace, ability and inclinations.

At the secondary level, students undergo one of three courses designed to match their learning abilities and interests:

  • Express Course. This is a four-year course leading to the Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education (GCE) '0' Level Examination. In this course, students leam English and Mother Tongue, as well as Mathematics, the Sciences and the Humanities.

  • Normal (Academic) Course. This is a four-year course leading to the GCE 'N' Level Examination. Students who do well at the 'N' levels will qualify for an additional year to prepare for the GCE '0' Level Examination, or progress to Higher Nitec courses at the ITE (starting from 2007). Selected students may offer '0' level subjects at Secondary 4, or, bypass the 'N' levels and progress directly to Secondary 5 to take the '0' levels. In the Normal (Academic) course, students leam a range of subjects similar to those in the Express courses. Starting from 2013, students who do very well at the 'N' levels will have two new "through-train" pathways to the polytechnics: (i) a new one-year Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP) and (ii) a two-year Higher Nitec pathway. The latter builds on the existing ITE Direct Entry Scheme (DES).

  • Normal (Technical) Course. This is a four-year course leading to the GCE 'N' Level Examination. In this course, students leam English, Mother Tongue, Mathematics and subjects with technical or practical emphases. Since 2005, schools have also been offering Elective Modules, which cover a wide range of subjects including nursing, hospitality, digital animation and precision engineering. To enhance experiential and practice-oriented learning, a revised Normal (Technical) curriculum has been implemented in all schools from 2007.

Since 2006, secondary schools have also been offering Advanced Elective Modules in collaboration with polytechnics, to allow students to experience and benefit from practice-oriented learning in fields as diverse as digital media and entrepreneurship. Upper secondary students in participating schools are eligible to offer these modules.

To better cater to students who can benefit from a more customised and vocational curriculum, Northlight School was established. The school, which began operation in 2007, offers a 3 or 4-year enhanced vocational programme. Graduates of the school can progress to further education at the ITE, employment or apprenticeship with the industries. In 2009, the remaining vocational training centre, Assumption Vocational Institute, was remodeled to form the Assumption Pathway School to offer a similar vocational programme. From 2013, two new specialised secondary schools for Normal (Technical) students will be set up. The schools will adopt a strong focus on interactive, practice-oriented and ICT-enabled teaching methods.

The Specialised Independent Schools - NUS High School of Mathematics and Sciences, School of Science and Technology, School of the Arts and Singapore Sports School - offer programmes to develop students in areas such as the arts, sports, mathematics and sciences.

Students who are academically strong and prefer a more independent and less structured learning environment also have the choice of the Integrated Programme (IP), which spans secondary and junior college education without intermediate national examinations at the end of secondary school. lime previously used to prepare students for the GCE '0' Level Examination would be used to engage them in broader learning experiences. Selected schools also offer alternative curricula and qualifications (e.g. International Baccalaureate).

After Secondary 4 or Secondary 5, most pupils proceed to one of the following post­secondary institutions for further education/training.

  • Junior Colleges I Centralised Institute. Pupils who are academically inclined and have the necessary GCE '0' level qualifications may apply for pre-university education at the junior colleges (two-year course) and centralised institute (three-year course). This course of studies leads to the GCE '/!1\ Level Examination. If they do well, they can opt to join the National University of Singapore, the Nanyang Technological University, the Singapore Management University or the Singapore University of Technology and Design for degree courses. They can also undergo teacher-training at the National Institute of Education.

  • Polytechnics. Pupils who prefer a more applied tertiary education and have the necessary GCE '0' level grades can take up diploma courses in the Singapore Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Temasek Polytechnic, Nanyang Polytechnic or Republic Polytechnic. Polytechnic graduates who perform well in their diploma studies have the opportunity to pursue further tertiary education at the universities. From March 2010, these graduates can also apply for degree programmes offered by the Singapore Institute ofTechnology (SIT).

    The polytechnics offer a wide range of courses in the fields of engineering, applied sciences and biotechnology, info-communications, health sciences, business studies, accountancy, social sciences, mass communications and digital media.

  • Institute of Technical Education (ITE). Pupils with GCE '0' or 'N' level certificates can opt for full-time courses offered by the ITE. Courses at ITE lead to the National ITE Certificate (Nitec) or the Higher National ITE Certificate (Higher Nitec). Those who do well in these courses can proceed to the polytechnics to pursue diploma studies. Apart from full-time institutional training, students can also acquire skills certification through traineeship programmes conducted jointly by companies and ITE.

  • Arts Institutions. Pupils interested in the creative arts can choose to enrol in the
    LASALLE College of the Arts or the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) which offer diploma programmes in visual and performing arts such as music, theatre, dance, interior design and fashion design. Funded degree programmes at LASALLE and NAFA are also available since 2011.

Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT)
The Singapore Institute of Technology has commenced offering of degree programmes from AY2010. These are offered together with reputable overseas universities in areas such as Applied Sciences and Engineering, Digital Media, Hospitality, Health Sciences and Design.

SIT will become another "peak of excellence" in the increasingly diverse higher education landscape. With the five polytechnics as its strategic partners, SIT programmes will build on the training that our polytechnic graduates receive today, and will be mostly conducted in the polytechnic campuses. It welcomes not only fresh polytechnic graduates, but also values those with some working experience as it brings a fresh perspective to the classroom.

Singapore's university education aspires to prepare students not only for today's economy but also for a future one where there will be jobs that have yet to be invented and challenges not yet foreseen. Today, there are four publicly-funded universities in our higher education landscape.

  • The National University of Singapore (NUS) is a research-intensive, comprehensive university with 14 faculties and schools. Both undergraduate and graduate programmes are offered at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, NUS Business School, School of Computing, Faculty of Dentistry, School of Design and Environment, Faculty of Engineering, Faculty of Law, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and Faculty of Science. More graduate programmes are provided through the NUS Graduate School for Integrative Sciences and Engineering
    and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School offers a graduate entry model programme for students to obtain the Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. Finally, the University Scholars Programme offers an inter­ disciplinary academic experience for undergraduates.

    NUS also has many collaborative university partners that help to enrich the studenfs educational experience and student life - offering dual degree or joint programmes, research opportunities and student exchange programmes.

  • Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is a comprehensive research-intensive university organised into four Colleges, with Engineering as one of its key strengths. It is organised into four Colleges and four Autonomous Institutes (Ais). Schools under the four Colleges offer undergraduate and postgraduate programmes including Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Computer Engineering, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Business, Biological Sciences, Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Art, Design and Media, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Communication and lnfonnation. The four Als are the Earth Observatory of Singapore, National Institute of Education, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering. The National Institute of Education (NIE) conducts professional training for teachers while the the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) offers postgraduate degrees in international and strategic studies. NTU is collaborating with Imperial College London to establish the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine. The medical school is expected to admit its first batch of students in AY2013.

    NTU has many collaborations with overseas institutions such as the Massachusetts
    Institute of Technology and Imperial College London, offering dual degree or joint programmes, research opportunities and student exchange programmes.

  • Singapore Management University (SMU) is styled after an American university and has Business and Social Sciences programmes at its core. It has six schools-the School of Accountancy, the School of Business, the School of Economics, the School of Social Sciences, the School of lnfonnation Systems and the School of Law. In addition to offering single degree programmes with a second major, SMU also allows its undergraduates to combine a double degree from any of its six schools.

    SMU offers undergraduate and post-graduate programmes in Business and Management-related areas, ranging from Professional Accounting, Economics, Finance, Wealth Management, and lnfonnation Systems. SMU also hosts a wide range of research activities focusing on the social sciences including Research Institutes such as the Behavioural Sciences Institute.

  • Singapore University of Technology & Design (SUTD) is the youngest player on the higher education landscape, and is established in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Zhejiang University. SUTD will matriculate its first cohort of undergraduates in AY2012 and offer undergraduate programmes in the following four areas - Architecture and Sustainable Design, Engineering Product Development, Engineering Systems and Design, and lnfonnation Systems Technology and Design. The university will also house an International Design Centre (IDC) that will conduct world-class research on technologically intensive design. The IDC has identified three Design Grand Challenges, that of Sustainable Built Environment, Design with the Developing World and ICT-enabled Devices for Better Living. IDC faculty, staff and students will work together to design devices, systems and services that address strategic needs of Singapore, the region and the global community.


The post-secondary and tertiary institutions offer courses that provide working adults opportunities for continuing education and training (CET), so that they can keep their skills and knowledge abreast with the rapid shifts in the economic landscape.

The polytechnics and ITE offer part-time diplomas and Nitec I Higher Nitec courses respectively. These programmes are equivalents of full-time qualifications, but are designed to be modularised, more compact, and for part-time study, so as to be more
flexible and accessible for adult learners. The courses offered cover fields such as Engineering, Energy, Chemical Processes, Electronics, Construction, Aerospace, Marine and Offshore, Logistics, Business, Security, lnfocomm Technology and Digital Media, Earty Childhood Education, Retail and Tourism.

For diploma holders already in the workforce, the polytechnics offer post-diploma courses that are shorter in duration and tailored to needs of individuals and industries for skills upgrading. These are the Advanced Diploma (AD) courses for those seeking to deepen their skills and knowledge in their trained or practising field, the Specialist Diploma (SD) courses for those seeking to acquire skills and knowledge in a specialised area of their field, and Diploma Conversion or Dip(C) courses for those seeking training in a different discipline to facilitate career switches. Most of these courses can be offered part-time. The coverage broadly mirrors that of part-time Diplomas, with additional offerings in Accounting
and Finance, Healthcare, Pharmaceuticals, and Sports.

The universities offer opportunities for CET through part-time degree courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. SIM University (UniSIM), a local private university, specifically caters to the CET needs of working adults, offering a range of part­ time undergraduate and postgraduate programmes from four schools - the School of Arts and Social Sciences, the School of Business, the School of Human Development and Social Services and the School of Science and Technology. NUS and NTU also offer equivalents of full-time degrees in Engineering for part-time study.

Government subsidies and financial assistance schemes are available to support eligible adult learners pursuing CET through part-time courses at ITE and the Polytechnics, post-<liploma courses in the Polytechnics, and part-time undergraduate courses.