Secondary education in Singapore

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The Ministry of Education language centre.

Secondary education in Singapore is largely public, and is compulsory until a child has reached 16 years of age.[1] At the end of public primary education, Singapore students take the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) and are placed into the different streams and secondary schools based on their results. There are three main public secondary education streams: Express, Normal (Academic) (N(A)), and Normal (Technical) (N(T)), with special and private education courses also being available.[2][3] The Express stream has a higher cut-off mark (for the PSLE) than the Normal (Academic) stream, which has a higher cut-off than the Normal (Technical) stream.[3] Secondary students can move between streams based on their academic performance.[4][5]

The Express stream is a four-year course leading to the Singapore-Cambridge GCE Ordinary Level (O-level) examinations, while the Normal streams are four-year courses leading to the Normal Level (N-level) examinations. N(A) students take the N(A) examinations, which allows them to apply for local polytechnics and Institutes of Technical Education (ITE).[4] After their N(A)-levels, students may also choose to remain in secondary education for an additional year as a secondary five student to study for the O-levels, which allows students to enter junior colleges and the Millennia Institute.[4] Secondary 5 will be abolished in 2025. N(T) students take the N(T) examinations, which allows students to apply to the ITEs.[5] After their N(T)-levels, students may choose to transfer to the N(A) stream to study an additional year for the N(A) examinations.[5]

There are ongoing debates about the effectiveness of streaming, with some arguing that it should be abolished because its detrimental psychological effects. Streaming will be abolished by 2025.[citation needed]

Academic Grading[edit]

A student's overall academic performance is measured through several scoring systems (such as the L1R5, L1B5 and L1R4 scoring system) depending on which post-secondary institution a student is applying to. Each grade has a point value respective to it, for example, with grade A1 being 1 point, A2 being 2 points, and B3 being 3 points, and so on. The lower the points obtained, the better the result. In the L1R5 scoring system, the student's first language (L1) and relevant 5 subjects (R5) are counted. Consequently, an L1R5 score of 6 points is considered the best score attainable. A student requires an L1R5 score of less than 20 points to be eligible to enter junior colleges. On top of that, students must also pass English and Mother Tongue examinations.[citation needed]

For non-major examinations, several schools use the Mean Subject Grade (MSG) scoring system, while schools running the Integrated Programme (IP) also use the Grade Point Average (GPA) scoring system.[citation needed]

Co-curricular activities[edit]

"Co-Curricular Activities" (CCAs) are compulsory in all secondary schools, where all pupils must participate in at least one core activity, and participation is graded together with other achievements throughout the four years in a scoring system known as LEAPS ("Leadership, Enrichment, Achievement, Participation, Service"). There are many co-curricular activities offered at the secondary level, and each student is judged based in these areas.

Special Assistance Plan[edit]

The Special Assistance Plan (Abbreviation: SAP; Chinese: 特别辅助计划) is a special programme in Singapore introduced in 1979 that caters to academically strong students who excel in both Chinese as well as English. The main objective of the programme is to preserve schools with strong cultural backgrounds and create bi-cultural environment, to allow capable students to master both these languages.[6] The special programme were run in designated institutions that offers English and Chinese at first-language level under the Special stream (a variation of the Express stream, according to the education grading system in use since 1982).[6] Nine secondary schools piloted the programme, which is deemed overwhelming successful with five of the designated schools consistently attaining top ten positions in the secondary school ranking in the 1990s, surpassing several established English-medium schools.[6]

Gifted Education Programme[edit]

The Gifted Education Programme (GEP) was set up by the Ministry of Education in 1984 amid some public concern to cater for intellectually gifted students. As of 2005, the schools participating consisted of 9 primary schools — Anglo-Chinese School (Primary), Catholic High School (Primary), Henry Park Primary School, Nan Hua Primary School, Nanyang Primary School, Rosyth School, Tao Nan School, St. Hilda's Primary School, and Raffles Girls' Primary School. Seven secondary schools originally started the programme, but with the introduction of the Integrated Programme, most have folded the GEP programmes into their IP curriculum. The two remaining secondary GEP schools are Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), a school which provides both Cambridge 'O' Levels and the Integrated Programme, and is one of the top school globally in the International Baccalaureate, and Dunman High School, a mixed autonomous government school; the autonomous all-boys Victoria School had to suspend GEP classes due to low enrolment, as GEP students preferred IP schools.

Pupils entered the programme through a series of tests at Primary 3, which identified the top 1 per cent of the student population. A second selection used to be conducted at Primary 6 for those who do well in the PSLE, but this was discontinued after it was found to be too difficult for these students to catch up with the programme. In the programme, pupils were offered special enrichment programmes to cater for their needs. However, not all students in GEP were successful. Some were not accustomed to the fast pace of study, which affected their performance in the core subjects, and chose not to continue the programme at secondary level.

The Secondary School Gifted Education Programme was discontinued at the end of 2008 as more students were taking the Integrated Programme (IP).[7]

Integrated Programme[edit]

Hwa Chong Institution was one of the first four schools in Singapore to offer an Integrated Programme.

The Integrated Programme, also known as the "Through-Train Programme" (直通车), is a scheme which allows the most able secondary students in Singapore to bypass "O" levels and take "A" levels, International Baccalaureate or an equivalent examination directly at the age of 18 after six years of secondary education.

First introduced in 2004, the programme allows for more time to be allocated to enrichment activities. By bypassing the GCE "O" level examinations, the students are supposedly given more time and flexibility to immerse themselves in a more broadly-based education. In addition, the students enjoy more freedom in the combination of subjects between Years 1 - 4 as compared to their non-IP counterparts. Generally, only the top performers (usually from Special, and sometimes Express, stream) are eligible to be part of the IP programme. This will ensure that the main body of the students pursue their secondary education at their own pace by first completing a 4-year "O" level course before going on to a 2-year "A" level education (as opposed to a 2-year "O" level and 4-year "A" level education).

As a result, schools with an IP allow their students to skip the "O" levels at Secondary 4 and go straight into junior colleges (JCs) in Year 5/JC1. The Integrated Programme with the revised Singapore-Cambridge GCE "A" levels or the IB Diploma as a terminal qualification has become an increasingly popular alternative to the standard secondary education pathway. This is because it is perceived as having moved away from the usually heavy emphasis on the sciences, a phenomenon resulting from the post-independence need for quick and basic technical and industrial education; to subjects in the arts and humanities. Such programmes are more project-based and students are expected to be independent learners.

The first batch of IP students sat for the revised GCE "A" Level or International Baccalaureate Diploma examinations in 2007.

Admission to post-secondary institutions[edit]

Upon completion of the 4- or 5-year secondary school education, students (excluding IP students) will participate in the annual Singaporean GCE 'O' Level, the results of which determine which pre-universities or post-secondary institutions they may apply for. Pre-university centres include Junior Colleges for a two-year course leading up to GCE 'A' Level, or the Millennia Institute for a three-year course leading up to GCE 'A' Level. Junior Colleges and the Millennia Institute accept students on merit, with a greater emphasis on academics than vocational-technical education. Students who wish to pursue vocational education go on to post-secondary institutions such as the polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), where they receive a diploma upon successful completion of their courses.

Admission to a two-year pre-university course at Junior Colleges after graduating from secondary school is determined by the L1R5 (first language + 5 relevant subjects) scoring system. This scoring system is based on the 'O' Level subject grades, which range from A1 (best) to F9 (worst). The candidate adds the numerical grades for six different subjects: English (or another language taken at the 'first language' level), a Humanities subject, a Science/Mathematics subject, a Humanities/Science/Mathematics subject, and two other subjects of any kind. The best L1R5 unmodified score is therefore 6, for a student with A1 grades in six subjects which meet the criteria.

Students scoring 20 points and below may be admitted for either a Science or Arts Course. Also, a student must achieve at least a C6 grade, which is 50% or higher, in the GCE 'O' Level English Language and Mathematics papers to qualify for Junior College admission. Pre-university centres that are particularly associated with academic excellence, however, usually expect students to attain points in the single digits, to be admitted. This is because the system is merit-driven, with places given to those with lower scores first.

For admission to a three-year pre-university course at the Millennia Institute, the L1R4 (first language + 4 relevant subjects) scoring system is used, and students are expected to score below 20 points to be admitted. Students may opt for any of the science, arts or commerce streams when pursuing a three-year pre-university course.

For students seeking admission to diploma courses in polytechnics, the L1R2B2 (first language + 2 relevant subjects + 2 best subjects of any kind) scoring system is used. However, students will also be required to meet specific prerequisites outlined by the different polytechnic schools they are applying for. Students applying for courses in the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) Colleges will also have an independent scoring system, depending on the course they are applying for.

Bonus points can be deducted from a student's aggregate score, thus lowering it. These bonus points may come from either scoring an 'Distinction' or 'Merit' grade in CCA, taking Malay (Special Programme) or Chinese (Special Programme) as a third language, taking Higher Mother Tongue Language and obtaining a minimum of 'D7' or through affiliation (for feeder schools). Bonus points are capped at 4, except for those applying to schools offering Chinese Language Elective Programme (CLEP) or Malay Language Elective Programme (MLEP).

Private education[edit]

Most students in Singapore are educated at public schools. A minority are home-schooled or educated in private schools.[8] The Ministry of Education prohibits students who are Singapore citizens from being educated in private schools without prior permission.[8] Admission to public schools for international students is not guaranteed and is based on aptitude and school vacancies.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Overview of compulsory education | Ministry of Education". Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  2. ^ "Special educational needs | Ministry of Education". Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  3. ^ a b "Courses and subjects for secondary schools | Ministry of Education". Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  4. ^ a b c "Normal (Academic) course for secondary school | Ministry of Education". Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  5. ^ a b c "Normal (Technical) course for secondary school | Ministry of Education". Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Lee, Kuan Yew (2011). 李光耀 - 我一生的挑战 - 新加坡双语之路. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings. pp. 97–122. ISBN 978-981-4342-04-9.
  7. ^ "Gifted kids to take 'integrated' path". Channel NewsAsia. Singapore. 21 September 2006.
  8. ^ a b Yuen, Sin (14 August 2016). "Private schools need MOE permission to admit S'porean children". The Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  9. ^ "International Students Admissions". Ministry of Education. Retrieved 21 October 2020.