Structure of Education in Singapore

The complete control and management of Singapore’s education is in the hands of Ministry of Education (MOE).  With continuous endeavor from MOE, today Singapore can be considered to have a strong and well- reputed education system. As per recent study Singapore is ranked fourth in terms of World’s Best Education System. The entire education system of Singapore is broadly classified into following educational stages:
  • Preschool
  • Primary
  • Secondary
  • Pre-University
  • University
The first brush of Singaporean children with education system starts with Preschool. The children then move to Primary and Secondary stage of education in that order. After the successful completion of Secondary education students can move for higher studies in the form of Pre-University and University education in that order.

Preschool Education

The preschool education constitutes of Playschool, Nursery and Kindergarten. Though this level of education is optional, more and more parents are sending their wards to playschool (3 years or younger) or Nursery (4 Years). By the age of 5, most children will be attending Kindergarten for 2 years (K1 and K2).

The preschools are run by the private sector, including religious bodies, community foundations, business groups, etc. However, every preschool need to register itself with the Singapore Ministry of Education before being functional.

Primary Education

The primary education usually starts at the age of 7 and spans for 6 years in total. It is the first step towards formal education. It is like attending First Grade through Sixth Grade as followed in the American education system.

The primary education is broadly divided into two stages:
  • Foundation stage - Primary 1 to 4, First 4 years
  • Orientation stage - Primary 5 and 6, Remaining 2 Years
The primary education is compulsory with exceptions made for children who are homeschooling or with special needs having inability to attend mainstream schools or attending some full- time religious institution. Primary education is provided free of cost to children of all Singapore citizens in schools under the administration of the Ministry of Education, though there is a nominal monthly fee of upto 13 Singaporean Dollar (SGD) per student towards miscellaneous expenses.

After completion of 6 years of primary education, students have to appear for a Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE). All those students who passed the exam are admitted in a secondary level course.

Secondary Education

After passing PSLE, students are placed in secondary school course considering a combination factor of merit ranking in PSLE and student’s inclination towards a course. Apart from PSLE students can also opt for direct admission to a secondary school through a scheme called Direct School Admission – Secondary (DSA-Sec) exercise. Here the participating schools directly select a certain number of students in a secondary level course based on their talents and achievements across a varied range of areas (including art and sports).

The DSA-Sec Exercise is applicable only for admission into Independent, Autonomous and mainstream schools with special programs that have been given the flexibility to frame their own admission criteria. The DSA-Sec takes place before the declaration of PSLE results, every year.

The entire secondary education is categorized into four streams: Special, Express, Normal (Academic), or Normal (Technical). Special and Express are four-year courses at end of which students will appear for Singapore-Cambridge GCE "O" Level examination.

The secondary education is usually completed in 4-5 years. It is similar to attending Seventh Grade through Tenth Grade in the American education system.

After completion of the secondary education, the students need to appear in Singaporean GCE 'O' Level exam. Based on the merit in that exam, students proceed to pre-university education.

Pre-University Education

Pre- University education is similar to attending Eleventh Grade and Twelfth Grade as per the American education system. At this level students can opt for a wide range of subjects from varied academic areas covering Humanities, Arts and Languages, Sciences and Mathematics streams.

Pre- university education is broadly classified into:
Junior Colleges- Junior Colleges offer a 2-year junior college/3-year centralized institute pre- university course leading to the GCE ‘A’ Level examination. These colleges equip students with necessary skills and knowledge as requisite for university education.

Polytechnics- Polytechnics offer 3-years diploma course in varied subjects like tourism, biotechnology, digital media, engineering, business studies, etc. All these courses are practical-oriented, with plenty of group work.

Apart from Junior Colleges and Polytechnics, students can also enroll themselves in Institute of Technical Education (ITE). These institutes promote and impart vocational and technical education in Singapore. It is one of the key components of Singapore’s education system as about one-fourth of secondary school leavers enroll themselves in the ITE.

All the three ITE colleges offer the National ITE Certificate (NITEC), Higher NITEC, Master NITEC and diploma programs.     

University Education

Singapore has six national universities, namely the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Management University, Singapore University of Technology & Design, Singapore Institute of Technology and SIM University.

The first two universities, National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, are public universities and provide a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs including doctoral degrees. Both these universities are listed in Top 50 Universities of the world.

The third university, Singapore Management University (SMU), established in the year 2000 comprises of six schools that impart undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs in Business Management, Accountancy, Economics, Information Systems Management, Law and the Social Sciences. SMU is Singapore's first autonomous government- funded university.

The next two universities, Singapore University of Technology & Design (SUTD) and Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), are again autonomous government-funded universities. SUTD is established in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Zhejiang University, and offer undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral degrees in varied Engineering Design courses. SIT was established in year 2009 and offers specialized degree programs in Engineering & Applied Sciences, Health Sciences, Design, Interactive Digital Media, Education & Social Sciences, and Hospitality.

The last university, SIM, is the only national private university in Singapore. It was established in year 2005 and is dedicated to adult learners only. The university offers part-time degree programs only for working adults.

General Information on Singapore Age Criteria and Fees

The following age ranges are for students seeking admission into schools-

 Level Seeking Admission To Permissible Age Range
(as at 1st January of Year of Admission)
 Primary 1  6 to 8
 Primary 2  7 to 9
 Primary 3  8 to 10
 Primary 4  9 to 11
 Primary 5
 10 to 12
 Primary 6  11 to 13
Students appear for the major examinations i.e. Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) conducted towards the end of the year.
 Secondary 1  12 to 14
 Secondary 2  13 to 15
 Secondary 3  14 to 16
 Secondary 4  15 to 17 Students appear for the major examinations i.e. the GCE ‘N’ or GCE ‘O’ Level Examinations conducted towards the end of the year.
 Secondary 5  16 to 18
Students appear for the major examinations i.e. the GCE ‘O’ Level Examination conducted towards the end of the year.
 Pre-University 1  16 - 18
 Pre-University 2  17 to 19
Students appear for the major examinations i.e. the GCE ‘A’ Level Examination conducted towards the end of the year.
 Pre-University 3 Students appear for the major examinations i.e. the GCE ‘A’ Level Examination conducted towards the end of the year.

For latest updates see official website of Ministry of Education
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