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Country Focus: Education System in Singapore

The education system in Singapore

The education system in Singapore is renowned worldwide for its excellence. It is well-regulated, highly competitive, and designed to bring out the best in every student.

While the Singapore education system has much to commend, it’s important to consider its potential drawbacks. Both local and international students can thrive under this system, but they may also face unique challenges.

Education Policies

Singapore’s education policies aim to nurture the whole child and develop them into lifelong learners.

One key policy implemented through the education system is the bilingual policy. The bilingual policy has been a cornerstone of Singapore’s language policy since the People’s Action Party (PAP) was elected to power in 1959. The policy emphasizes the use of English and the mother tongue languages of the three main ethnic groups: Mandarin for the Chinese, Malay for the Malay community, and Tamil for the Indians.

English is the official working language of Singapore and is taught as a first language. The mother tongue languages are taught as a second language. The aim of this policy is to equip students with language and cultural competencies, preparing them for a globalized world. It also serves to strengthen an individual’s values and sense of cultural belonging.

However, the formation of the bilingual policy was never properly established, causing intense debate both within and outside of Parliament regarding the appropriate level of proficiency for both English and the mother tongue. The policy has undergone significant changes over the years, contrary to the popular assumption that Singapore has always maintained a consistent stand on bilingualism.


  • Policies such as the bilingual policy equip students with language and cultural competencies, preparing them for a globalized world.
  • The focus on holistic development ensures that students receive a well-rounded education.


  • The system’s competitiveness and focus on academic achievement may overshadow the holistic development goals.
  • The bilingual policy, while beneficial, may pose challenges for international students who are not proficient in their mother tongue.

Grading System

Singapore’s grading system is rigorous and competitive, with a strong emphasis on academic performance. It's important to note that while these grading systems are designed to measure academic achievement, they can sometimes inadvertently contribute to increased stress and anxiety among students. Here's how:


Unhealthy Competition: Grading systems can encourage unhealthy competition between students, leading to undue stress. The relentless pressure to succeed, often measured by grades or a GPA, can contribute to students being sleep-deprived, anxious, and even engaging in self-harm.

One-Size-Fits-All Approach: Grading systems can also create a one-size-fits-all approach to learning that doesn’t take into account individual learning styles or levels of understanding. This can lead to stress and anxiety, especially for students who may struggle with traditional academic methods.

Test Anxiety: High-stakes tests and assessments, which are often a significant component of grading systems, can cause stress and anxiety. Some students may see their cortisol levels spike on testing days, leading to increased stress.

Socioeconomic Factors: Stress from grading systems can disproportionately affect students from low-income neighborhoods, who tend to fare worse on high-stakes tests.


  • The system encourages students to strive for academic excellence.
  • It provides a clear benchmark for students’ academic abilities, which can be helpful for university admissions and job applications.


  • The high-stakes nature of the grading system can create significant pressure and stress for students.
  • It may not fully reflect a student’s capabilities, particularly in non-academic areas.

Private Tuition

Private tuition is prevalent in Singapore, with many families investing in additional academic support for their children. The private tuition industry in Singapore has grown significantly over the years. As of 2018, the industry was valued at over S$1.4 billion. This growth is primarily driven by increasing average real incomes of households and the desire for parents to see their children keep up with the competition.

According to estimates, almost two-thirds of local students are currently or previously enrolled in a centre-based or home tuition programme. Despite the pandemic, families continue to invest in private tuition, with some spending up to S$2,000 a month.

Tuition centres play a significant role in this industry. These centres offer a range of services, from providing additional academic support to preparing students for national exams. The number of tuition and enrichment centres has also seen a corresponding increase over the years, growing from about 700 in 2012 to more than 950 in 2019.

The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened Singapore's reliance on private tuition. With the shift to home-based learning, many parents have sought additional academic support for their children to supplement school-based learning.


  • Private tuition can provide personalized learning experiences and extra academic support.
  • It can help students keep up with the rigorous curriculum and improve their grades.


  • The high cost of private tuition can create financial strain for families.
  • It can contribute to educational inequality, as not all families can afford the additional expense.

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