Singapore: Global Leader in Education Quality

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Quick Take: Learn more about how Singapore invests in education to guarantee its economic future.

With secondary school and higher education students positioned in first place in international rankings such as Pisa (run by OECD)1 and the World Economic Forum,2 Singapore counteracts the economic challenge of having a small population and few natural resources by encouraging its population to pursue high-level specializations before entering the workforce.

Singapore‘s Demographics

Illustration Singapore's Demographics
Illustration Singapore's Demographics - Singapore City and Singapore Strait


LANGUAGE English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil (official languages) + other languages and dialects POPULATION 5,888 million (est. 2017) BIGGEST INDUSTRIES Accounting, Compliance Manager, Services Engineer, Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Specialist, Human Resources Generalist, Payroll Executive3,4

CURRENCY Singaporean Dollar GENDER 51.1% female, 48.9% male

Top 5 Education Indicators

Graphic top 5 education indicators

A City, an Island or a Country? All of the Above.

Singapore is an island – or one big island surrounded by other smaller islands. The island contains a city, which is also a country. Confusing? Perhaps. But one thing is for sure: One trip to this Southeast-Asian nation can make one leave full of memories. Be it from the exotic cuisine, the highly technological and urban scenario or people’s educational level – this nation is sure to surprise you.

Maintaining a healthy economy in a city-state with less than 6 million inhabitants can be a struggle at times. Unlike nations with a high population, rich natural resources, and great climate as an ally – a combination that can help fuel industries, the economy and job growth – Singapore has found in education its main source of economic growth.

This explains why schools are so qualified in Singapore. The government is the main education provider in the country for primary, secondary and tertiary levels. Since primary school, students aged between 7 and 12 are immersed in a high quality and rigorous curriculum, with an affordable price – education is not completely free, but tuitions are symbolic, with monthly fees of only S$ 13.00 for primary school (US$ 9.85) and S$ 25.00 for secondary school (US$ 18.95).17,18

After the initial six-year run, students must take the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). Depending on their score, they will be sent to a specific school based on their merit. When reaching Secondary Education, which takes another four to five years, students are placed in the Express, Normal (Academic) or Normal (Technical) course, according to how they perform in the PSLE. The different curriculums are designed to match their learning abilities and interests.

The Express Course is composed of a four-year run with language, sciences, mathematics, humanities and arts classes, as well as citizenship education, physical education and other extracurricular activities.19 In the five-year Normal Course, while the Academic curriculum is quite similar to the Express Course, the Technical curriculum prepares students for a vocational education later on, at Singapore’s Institute of Technical Education, or other technical institutions, where there is less focus on humanities and arts, and have a stronger approach to sciences and mathematics.20

This guidance is a way to direct students to future professions where they will effectively contribute to the country’s economy.  

Higher Education: Many Options According to Preferences

Higher Education is treated as seriously as primary and secondary school. The country’s public universities are ranked very highly in the world, due to the rigorous curriculums that prepare students to excel in tertiary level education.

Nonetheless, students are offered other options that do not necessarily include going to one of the country’s universities. Going to one of the 20 Junior Colleges (JC) or to Millennia Institute (MI) may be the best choice for some students who are keen on flexibility and diversity about their choice of subject combinations. Subjects are offered at three levels of study – Higher 1 (H1), Higher 2 (H2) and Higher 3 (H3), which are structured to cater to students’ interests and abilities. Some JC and MI distinctive programs include Art, Drama, Music, Bicultural Studies, and Humanities, among others.

Singapore also offers five Polytechnic institutions: Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP), Republic Polytechnic (RP), Singapore Polytechnic (SP) and Temasek Polytechnic (TP), which attract over 70,000 students. Polytechnic education provides students with hands-on experience within a dynamic and progressive learning environment, equipping them with strong skills and competencies that are demanded in the workforce.

With three campuses, the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) is another option for Singaporean students, which aims to provide them with the technical skills and knowledge to meet the workforce needs of diverse industry sectors. For those who dream to be a technician, an engineering assistant or a chef, ITE is a great choice.

Singapore also has two specialized arts institutions offering creative arts education to develop students’ artistic potential. LASALLE College of the Arts (LASALLE) and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) offer a wide range of design, media, fine arts and performing arts courses. At these institutes, students are taught how to transform their artistic vision into art forms that can succeed, in courses such as graphic design, fine arts, theater and music.

Finally, Singapore also counts with six universities that offer specialized courses on diverse disciplines. Two of them appear in the World’s 100 Top Universities Rankings: The National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University. Fees for Singaporean students at the JCs/ MI, ITE, polytechnics, universities and the arts institutions are highly subsidized to ensure students can access post-secondary education.21

Public University Graduates More Likely to Find Jobs

Entrance into any of the previously mentioned tertiary level programs is based on student grades, extracurricular activities and, in some cases, interviews with the educational institution’s board. Many students choose to pursue their degrees within a private institution –at least 70,000 students did so in 2016.

The private education sector in Singapore is regulated by the Council for Private Education (CPE). CPE reported that only 58% of students with no prior work experience were able to find jobs within six months from graduation from one of these institutions, in comparison to 83% of students coming from public universities in the same period that were employed within six months upon graduation.22

Singaporeans are Motivated to Keep Learning 23
Education never has a finish line, considering there is always more to learn. In Singapore, ongoing learning is taken very seriously. A national movement called Skills Future “provides Singaporeans with the opportunities to develop their fullest potential throughout life, regardless of their starting points.” The idea is that if every citizen keeps improving his or her abilities and knowledge, they can develop a promising future for themselves while serving the country’s needs.
 Skills Future’s Four Key Thrusts:
1. Help individuals make well-informed choices in education, training and careers2. Develop an integrated high-quality system of education and training that responds to constantly evolving needs
3. Promote employer recognition and career development based on skills and mastery4. Foster a culture that supports and celebrates lifelong learning
Learn more.

More International Students Could Benefit from Singapore’s Education System

In Singapore, there is both a declining number of international students and a reduced birth rate. How do these two factors relate to one another? With fewer births, the country now has more open spots for students within their universities.

In 2002, Singapore’s Economic Development Board predicted there would be an influx of approximately 150,000 international students by 2015. However, due to a government measure to provide more seats for local students, fees for foreign students rose after 2011. As a result, the country now receives half the number of foreign students predicted. Currently, Singapore is working to merge some of its educational institutions to counteract declining enrollments.

Singapore’s media have begun questioning whether this was the government’s best move. With more seats available at educational institutions, this might be the right time to welcome more international students into the country. Doing so would bring in diverse perspectives into classrooms, making the learning environment more vibrant and local students better prepared for their future workplace lives. An increase of international students could also improve the country’s universities’ international standing, as they would be perceived as being open to cultural diversity and welcoming of international talents.24,25

5 Highlights of Education and Culture in Singapore

1. Singapore has the highest quality education system according to OECD and the World Economic Forum.

2. More than 73% of Singaporeans are bilingual. Although most of them learn English as a second language, many locals are fluent in at least two languages, Mandarin being the second most popular.26

3. Higher Education professor salaries are above average compared to other countries in the region.

4. The country has a growing stand-up comedy scene happening right now, with weekly shows taking place throughout the city.27,28 However, the country does maintain tight restrictions on arts and cultural performances, as well as bubble gum, cigarette, and drug consumption.29

5. Food is one of Singapore’s key attractions, particularly classic dishes such as fish head curry, Singapore crab, and laksa (a spicy noodle), among others.30

Final Illustration Special country Singapore

Infographic: TRiiBU Studio


1 Singapore tops latest OECD PISA global education survey. (2016, December 06). Retrieved February 28, 2018, from 2 Competitiveness Rankings. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2018, from 3 Singapore Demographics Profile 2018. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2018, from 4 Williams, A. (2016, May 04). What are the hot jobs in Singapore in 2016? Here are 5 highest-paying sectors. Retrieved February 28, 2018, from 5 University Staff Academic Salaries and Remuneration: A Comparison of New Zealand and Select International (Australia, Canada, UK and USA) Data [PDF]. (2012, April). Universities New Zealand Te Pokai Tara. 6 Salary: Assistant Professor in India. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2017, from,5_IN115_KO6,25.htm. 7 Highest Salaries for Professor in Japan. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2017, from,5_IN123_KO6,15.htm. 8 Salary: Assistant Professor in Singapore (Singapore). (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2017, from,9_IM1123_KO10,29.htm. 9 INTERNATIONAL STUDENT SATISFACTION WITH NEW ZEALAND [PDF]. (n.d.). New Zealand Ministry of Education. 10 Key Facts & Data. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2017, from 11 S, R. (2017, March 31). In The Developing World, India Is A Major Hub For Foreign Students. Retrieved November 23, 2017, from 12 Japan. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2017, from 13 Davie, S. (2016, April 04). Singapore may rue fall in foreign student numbers. Retrieved November 23, 2017, from 14 World University Ranking. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from 15 Research and development expenditure (% of GDP). (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2017, from

16 Government expenditure on education, total (% of GDP). (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2017, from 17 PRIMARY. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2018, from 18 What are the current fees payable by Singapore Citizens? (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2018, from 19 Express Course Curriculum. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2018, from 20 Normal Course Curriculum. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2018, from 21 Post-Secondary Education – Pursuing pathways that fit your interests, abilities and passions[PDF]. (2017, October). Singapore: Ministry of Education Singapore. 22 Davie, S. (2016, September 23). Private school graduates find it harder to land jobs: Poll. Retrieved February 28, 2018, from 23 Skills Future. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2018, from 24 Davie, S. (2016, April 04). Singapore may rue fall in foreign student numbers. Retrieved February 28, 2018, from 25 Time for Singapore varsities to admit more international students – Kelvin Seah and Ivan Png. (2018, January 30). Retrieved February 28, 2018, from 26 Lee, P. (2016, March 10). English most common home language in Singapore, bilingualism also up: Government survey. Retrieved February 28, 2018, from 27 Comedy Masala. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2018, from 28 Home | The Comedy Club. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2018, from 29 Brown, L. (2012, March 01). How To Travel In Singapore Without Getting Caned. Retrieved February 28, 2018, from 30 Need to know: Singapore. (2017, October 24). Retrieved February 28, 2018, from

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