Singapore School System: The Stages of Education

This article will provide you with everything you need to know about the Singapore School system, and the following will be covered in this article: 

  • Singapore School System structure
  • The syllabus and curriculum 
    • The stages of Singapore education system overview
      • Primary education 
      • Secondary education
      • Tertiary education
        • Junior College (JC)
        • Polytechnics
        • Institute of Technical Education (ITE)

Singapore school system structure 

The learning system here in Singapore consists of 6 years of primary education, 4 to 5 years of secondary school, and 1 to 3 years of post-secondary education.  

Preschool, also known as nursery or kindergarten is not compulsory and voluntary offered by both the Ministry of Education Singapore and private providers. 

The syllabus and curriculum

The Ministry of Education Singapore curates the syllabus and curriculum for the PSLE, GCE O, N and A-Levels and it differs from the Cambridge IGCSE curriculum. The Ministry of Education Singapore curates the curriculum to focus on students’ engagement and creativity. The syllabus is constantly reviewed to develop newer opportunities for teachers and students.

The stages of Singapore school system overview 

Stages Age Curriculum 
Nursery
Kindergarten 5 to 6
Primary School

6 years 

Primary 1 to Primary 6

7 to 12 years old  Primary School Curriculum 

Takes National Exams at Primary 6 – Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) 

Secondary School 

4 to 5 years

Secondary 1 to Secondary 4/5

 

13 to 16/17 years old GCE O-Level Curriculum

Students will be streamed into different streams: Express, Normal Academic and Normal Technical depending on their PSLE score 

Takes National Exams at Secondary 4 or Secondary 5

Takes either the N or O levels 

International Curriculum 

Students may also enrol themselves into schools like School of the Arts (SOTA) 

View SOTA’s curriculum here.

Post Secondary School 
Junior College 

2 years 

J1 to J2

17/18 to 19/20 years old  GCE A-Level Curriculum

Students will have to choose to stream into the Arts or Science stream in their first year. 

Students will take National Exams (A-Levels) at the end of their JC years – J2

Find out what does H1, H2 and H3 mean in JC. 

International Baccalaureate (IBDP)

There are certain post-secondary schools that offer Singaporean students to take the IBDP curriculum instead of the GCE A-Levels. 

Polytechnic 

3 years 

17/18 to 20/21 years old Students complete their three-year course to obtain a diploma. 

Read also: The Ultimate Guide to all the Polytechnics in Singapore

University Students complete their course to obtain a degree or bachelors. 

Primary education

singapore school system

The six years of primary education in Singapore is compulsory and all Singapore citizens living in Singapore must attend primary school. 

 

The compulsory education act is passed to ensure that every Singaporean child can attain common knowledge that will provide a strong foundation for further education. Singapore also hopes to provide every child with the common school experiences that will help build national identity and encourage social cohesion. 

Every child will study the primary curriculum for 6 years to sit for their Primary School Leaving Examinations, also known as PSLE, at the end of their sixth year. 

This is a national examination and will determine the schools and streams the child will proceed to for their secondary school education. 

Primary school curriculum 

The Singapore Ministry of Education oversees the development of the national curriculum to attain the ‘Desired Outcomes of Education. 

The primary school curriculum is focused on ensuring that children build a strong foundation in the core subjects, English language, Mathematics, Science and their Mother Tongue language. Children will also take up several additional subjects such as civics and moral education, physical education, arts and music. 

Mother tongue language

Mother tongue language, also known as a second language by other countries, is a compulsory subject here in Singapore. 

Singapore is a multiracial country that homes the Chinese, Malays, Indians as well as Eurasians. 

To preserve our multicultural and racial diversity, Singapore hence established the Bilingual Education Policy in Singapore where MTL is a compulsory subject to be taken in primary schools. 

Henceforth, students can appreciate their cultural heritage and communicate more effectively in their mother tongue languages. 

Subjects that primary school students will take up: 

 

Primary 1 – 2 English Language 

Mother Tongue Language 

Mathematics 

Primary 3 to 6 English Language 

Mother Tongue Language 

Mathematics 

Science

Science will only be introduced to the students after primary 2.

For a more in-depth overview of the PSLE curriculum, read All you need to know about the PSLE curriculum. 

Learn more about the new PSLE scoring system too! 

Secondary school curriculum 

Children will attend secondary school education based on their academic results for their PSLE. They will also be streamed into 3 different streams, Express (E), Normal Academic (NA), Normal Technical (NT). 

Even though students are sorted into different bands, the subjects that are taken by the students are essentially the same if not similar, the only difference would be the level of difficulty. 

The core subjects taken by an upper secondary Express student are as follows: 

  • English language 
  • Mother tongue language 
  • Science 
    • Double or Triple Pure Science
      • Biology, Chemistry, Physics 
    • Combined Science with Electives 
      • Combined Science of (Physics and Chemistry or Biology and Chemistry) 
      • Design and Technology, Art or Home Economics 
  • Mathematics 
  • Humanities
    • Pure Geography/ History/ Literature with Social Studies or;
    • Combined Humanities (Social studies and Geography or History) 

The lower secondary school students (Secondary 1 and Secondary 2) students will take all the subjects in their first two years before the streaming exercise at the end of their secondary 2 years

Children will be able to choose the subjects they are interested in and they are competent to take.

The selection of subjects at this stage will determine the subjects your child will be sitting for their O level examinations at the end of their final year in secondary school, showing on their final transcripts and result slips. 

Different schools offer different subjects and choices for your child, for example, not all schools provide triple pure science or pure humanities. This is an extremely crucial point to note for it may affect what your child is able to pursue in polytechnic or university. 

Hence it is important when it comes to choosing the right secondary school after PSLE, it is important to be aware of what the schools are able to provide for your child for their development. 

Tertiary education 

singapore school system

Students will sit for their GCE O or N level examinations at the end of their secondary school journey. They will then decide which path they wish to take moving forward. 

Junior College

The junior college education path is a 2-year path and students will sit for the GCE A-Level examinations at the end of their JC 2. 

In junior college, students will also be streamed into the science or art stream and they will need to take relevant core subjects with respect to their stream. 

The basic subject combination for a JC student would be:

  • Three H2 content-based subjects
  • One H1 content-based subject
  • Compulsory H1 subjects
  • Mother-Tongue Language (MTL)
  • General Paper
  • Project Work 

H1 subjects are worth 1 point and H2 subjects are worth 2 points. H3 subjects are offered to students who are academically able to cope with the additional subject(s) on top of their H1 and H2 subjects.

H1, H2 and H3 refer to the depth of the subject taken by the student, with H1 subjects being briefer than H2 and H3 subjects and H3 being a more advanced level of the subject. 

Read also: JC curriculum: what is H1, H2 and H3? 

Polytechnic 

The alternative path to Junior College is Polytechnics, students will choose a specific course they wish to study and the course of study is 3 years. Here’s the ultimate guide to all the polytechnics in Singapore. 

They will be graded by a Grade Point Average of 4.0. 

There are many different courses offered by all the polytechnics in Singapore and they are classified into different faculty. Under these faculties, there are specific courses offered accordingly. 

Institute of Technical Education 

The ITE is a public education institution in Singapore that provides secondary school graduates pre-employment training. The ITE offers Nitec and Higher Nitec, both of which are 2 years courses to complete respectively. 

Students from the Normal Technical (NT) stream will enter a Nitec stream at one of the few ITE colleges in Singapore. 

Whereas a secondary 4 Normal Academic (NA) student can choose to go Nitec, Higher Nitec or Polytechnic depending on their N level results. 

Upon completion of their ITE education, the students will move on to polytechnic education (or a private university) if they wish to continue pursuing their course of interest. 

In a nutshell

The education here in Singapore is broad and offers every child an opportunity to learn. There are also private universities that are able to support children with their interest and passion. 

Every child is different and Tutopiya believes that every child should be entitled to learn and study. 

 

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