The education system in Singapore is managed by the Ministry of Education, which controls state schools and supervises the development of private schools. Private and international schools are regulated by the Council for Private Education. All children must attend six years of compulsory education at primary school between the ages of 7 and 12. Classes are taught in English, although most children are also required to learn a ‘mother tongue’ such as Malay, Tamil or Mandarin. After primary school children may enter different types of secondary school for four or five years depending on the type of studies, then go on to post-secondary and higher education.
Term dates for most schools in Singapore are set centrally by the Ministry of Education. State schools follow a two-semester structure, with the academic year running from January to November. Many private institutions also stick to this system, but some international schools may take their term dates from their parent country’s education system instead. Extracurricular activities are heavily encouraged and in secondary school all children must take at least one, so the school day is usually structured to accommodate this.
Although there are only a small number of autonomous public universities in Singapore, the number is growing as the government continues to invest in education. There are also large numbers of private universities and international campuses of foreign universities based in Singapore. Admission to university usually requires a minimum of 12 years of full-time education and a Singaporean High School Diploma or equivalent qualification. Other options for post-secondary education in Singapore include polytechnics, junior colleges and the Institute of Technical Education.
Almost all students in Singapore have to pay tuition fees at some level, but the costs for foreign students are significantly higher than those charged to Singaporean citizens and permanent residents. Some publicly-funded universities offer reduced fees to selected applicants, but not all institutions will make such offers to international students. Private universities are usually more expensive but also have more flexibility to support foreigners wishing to study there. There are several scholarships for to university students too, but again many are not available to foreign nationals.
Universities in Singapore offer a complete range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Undergraduate degrees typically last three or four years while postgraduate degrees range from a single year of studies through to five or six years. Although courses cover a large spectrum of subject areas, there is a strong emphasis on economic value in education planning in Singapore, so there tend to be more options on offer for science and business-orientated courses.
While the older universities in Singapore are better established for research, there are more opportunities developing as the government continues to grow the higher education sector. For information about current research and potential grants, contact the National Research Foundation.
Primary and secondary education
Schools in Singapore are characterised by streaming and frequent assessments, but standards of education are considered very high. Although the state school system is not free, fees are heavily subsidised by the government for Singaporean children and permanent residents. Unlike some countries in the surrounding region, Singapore’s state schools do allow the children of foreign nationals to attend, but the cost of tuition is much higher and the application process can be complicated.
Preschool and childcare options
Although not compulsory, preschool education is considered increasingly important in Singapore, and the Ministry of Education has created a Nurturing Early Learners (NEL) curriculum to supplement the central education system. As well as the new Early Childhood Development Agency, several kindergartens have been created as part of the scheme, but they are currently only accessible to citizens and permanent residents. There are plenty of private preschool and childcare options in Singapore though, most of which are willing to accept the children of foreign nationals.