The Winning Dynamics of Singapore’s Education System



Once again, students from Singapore have made us proud in the international arena by topping the PISA survey.

The results from the latest Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015 were released. Around 540,000 15-year-old students in 72 countries and economies were tested on science, reading, maths and problem-solving skills.

In a recent Facebook post PM Lee Hsien Loong wrote “To our students, well done and keep it up! My thanks as well to parents, teachers, principals and MOE staff, who work hard to nurture in our children a positive attitude towards learning, and prepare them for the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow.”

The Winning Formula of Singapore’s Education System

This winning combination is a result of the vision of our pioneers. From 1960s to 1980s, there was a greater emphasis on technical education. Education became a path to prosperity and power to the State – a focused system that greatly enabled the government’s then nation-building efforts. In the efficiency-driven phase of the 80s and 90s, the emphasis was to move Singapore from a labour intensive to a skill-intensive economy.

1) Recognition of Talent: The Aspiration Driven Era

The government has embraced a mind-set shift in policy framework to cater to students who are unable to excel in mainstream education. We have transitioned into the ability-based, aspiration driven phase – an important factor which has enabled our students to consistently do well.

What is more pertinent is the recognition of talent and a holistic vision of meritocracy. The government also announced the Thinking Schools Learning Nation (TSLN) vision for the 21st century, in line with the vision of our former Minister of Education, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam who once said that “diverse paths are also provided for students with talents in different fields so as to train young people to embrace change and do well in life.” (Lee, S.K. Goh, C.B. Fredriksen, B. Tan, J.P. 2008)

2) Collaboration of Key Stakeholders

The top-down method of teaching has been abandoned in favour of the more interactive and engaging style of collaboration. Today, parents, educators, principals and the Ministry have come together to create a holistic education for students.

In School Plus for example, parents and educators actively collaborate via Geniebook: an interactive interface that allows parents to track the progress of their children and provides teachers with a platform to generate a personalised curriculum that bridges the students’ learning gaps. Any deviation from the expected performance is identified early and rectified promptly enabling both parents and educators to work more effectively.

3) Investment in Education

Although there are differences in academic performance between schools, there is little variation between schools in terms of infrastructure and resource facilities. The Programme for Rebuilding and Improving Existing Schools (PRIME) was launched in 1999 to ensure that all students have access to facilities that can support a diverse range of educational programmes. Today, almost all schools in Singapore are equipped with computer laboratories, resource libraries and IT learning resource rooms.

4) Role of Teachers

The role of an educator today is vastly different from the bygone eras. A centralised training system through the National Institute of Education (NIE) conducts training for educators ensuring that the curricula taught in mainstream schools follow the Ministry’s guidelines.

In addition, the Education Ministry has outlined key competencies for the 21st Century to equip students with the necessary skills for navigating a cosmopolitan world. The key competencies are Civic Literacy, Global Awareness and Cross-Cultural Skills; Critical and Inventive Thinking and Communication, Collaboration and Information Skills.

5) Information and Communications Technology

Despite our technological advancements in classrooms, our focus remains big on enhancing learning and not technology alone. In a report published recently, an MOE spokesman said: “We have focused efforts on building the capacity of teachers, as part of their pedagogical repertoire, to use technology appropriately and meaningfully in our schools.”

Technology is only a tool; not a means to replace the role of an educator; which remains an integral and intrinsic aspect for the continued success of our students.

6) International Benchmarking

The Education Ministry has also consistently used international benchmarks to scale up the academic value-chain. Our mathematics syllabus for instance, was created after reviewing math papers worldwide. A strong foundation in the primary level has empowered our students in achieving great success in the future, and the recent PISA survey confirms it.

This recent victory of our students is a testament to the continued efforts of the various stakeholders in moulding a high-performing education system. These efforts place great emphasis on clear goals, rigorous standards, well-trained educators and efficient policies that will carry our aspirations into the next millennium and beyond.


Contributed by Mohammad Saleem, Content Writer


  • The Straits Times on November 11, 2015, – ‘Students don’t perform better with tech use.’
  • – Singapore – Rapid Improvement followed by Strong Performance.
  • Branwen Jeffreys Education Editor, BBC – Singapore – a winning combination?


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