Special Assistance Plan
The Special Assistance Plan (Abbreviation: SAP; Chinese: 特别辅助计划) is a programme in Singapore which caters to academically strong students who excel in both their mother tongue as well as English. It is only available in selected secondary schools. In a SAP school, several subjects may be taught in the mother tongue, alongside other subjects which are taught in English. Currently SAP schools only cater to those studying the Mandarin mother tongue, although theoretically, future SAP schools for other mother tongues are a possibility.
- Anglican High School 圣公会中学
- Catholic High School 公教中学
- CHIJ Saint Nicholas Girls' School 圣尼各拉女校
- Chung Cheng High School (Main) 中正中学（总校）
- Dunman High School 德明政府中学
- Hwa Chong Institution 华侨中学
- Maris Stella High School 海星中学
- Nan Chiau High School 南侨中学
- Nan Hua High School 南华中学
- Nanyang Girls' High School 南洋女子中学校
- River Valley High School 立化中学
A student's admission to a SAP school (or any secondary school for that matter) is decided based on their results in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). To enter a SAP school, a student must achieve a PSLE aggregate score that puts him in the top 10% of his cohort, with an 'A' grade for both the mother tongue and English. This means that only a relatively small group of students who are academically and linguistically strong may enter a SAP school. Consequently, SAP schools have a reputation of being the "elite" group of secondary schools in the country, alongside independent and autonomous schools. This stems from the Singaporean tradition of effective bilingualism in the education of the elite students from SAP schools. Some students, regardless of whether they are in a SAP school, are offered a chance at effective trilingualism in secondary education starting from age 12. The first language, English, is the international language of commercial and the administrative and legal language of Singapore, a former British colony. The mother tongue reflects the cultural and ethnic identity or in recent times, the linguistic curiosity of the students, e.g. Malay and Indian students who opt to study Mandarin as second Language in Singapore. The "third languages" are foreign languages which are considered by MOE to be "economically, politically and culturally vital", such as Japanese, German and French.
Many SAP schools were historically Chinese language medium schools, i.e. they taught all academic subjects in Mandarin (including science and mathematics), and which may have taught English as a foreign language. Following Singapore's independence in 1965, the government recognised four official languages in Singapore (English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay and Tamil), but clearly designated English as the main language of basic and higher education, government and law, science and technology as well as trade and industry. While according official recognition to the languages of different ethno-linguistic communities in Singapore, it sought to promote English as a neutral common language to unite a culturally diverse nation of immigrants. English was also held to be the language of international higher education, science/technology and commerce. As such, it was indispensable to Singapore, given her ambition to become a 'Global City', articulated as early as 1972.
In 1980, the Ministry of Education (MOE) designated nine Chinese-medium secondary schools as Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools. These schools were intended to provide top-scoring primary school leavers with the opportunity to study both English and Mandarin to high levels of competence. Also, these schools were to preserve the character of traditional Chinese-medium secondary schools and allay fears that the Government was indifferent to Chinese language and culture amid declining enrolments in Chinese-medium schools.
With rapid economic development and exposure to Western, particularly American popular culture and values in the 1970s and 1980s, Singapore began to change from a lower income, poorly educated society to a more confident, educated, vocal and individualistic society. Around the same time, in the 1980s, the world was witnessing the rise of Japan and the Asian newly-industrialised economies or NIEs, of which Singapore was one. Economically, America appeared unable to compete with rising Asian manufacturing competitors, especially Japan and was facing budget deficits. Singapore politicians from the dominant People's Action Party synthesised these various situations and developed certain ideas that came to be known as the Asian Values discourse.
According to this line of argument, Singapore, along with Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan, had succeeded so spectacularly in no small part because of their shared Confucianist cultural heritage, which emphasised values such as hard work, education, family unity, deference and loyalty to authority figures, community spirit (in contrast to Western individualism), etc.
To better sell this argument to a multi-ethnic population where the non-Chinese / non-'Confucianist' communities formed at least a quarter of the population, the discourse was re-branded 'Asian Values', rather than Confucian Work Ethic. In Singapore, traditional Asian culture was seen as a source of the nation's economic success thus far. As such, the government embarked on programmes and campaigns to promote traditional culture, including the revitalised Speak Mandarin Campaign (targeted at English rather than dialect speakers, as was historically the case) as well as SAP schools.
Taiwanese political critic Ying-tai Lung has argued that Asian values are doublespeak for the suppression of universal values, such as human rights and freedom of speech.
Concerns and criticisms
The SAP school programme is periodically criticised in the national media by Singaporeans who are concerned about the ethnic segregation that it inevitably promotes. SAP schools only offer Mother Tongue lessons in only one language (Mandarin). In addition, several other subjects may also be taught in Mandarin (subjects that are usually related to Chinese culture – e.g. Chinese literature or the history of China).
- p.166. Tan, Jason. (2001). "Education in the Early 21st Century: Challenges and Dilemmas"' in Singapore in the New Millennium: Challenges Facing the City-state. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies: Singapore.