Special Assistance Plan

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The Special Assistance Plan (Abbreviation: SAP; Chinese: 特别辅助计划) is a programme in Singapore introduced in 1979[1] which caters to academically strong students who excel in both their mother tongue as well as English. It is only available in selected primary & secondary schools.[1] 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.

Special Assistance Plan schools[edit]

Special Assistance Plan schools (or SAP schools, Chinese: 特选学校) refers to schools that offers the Special Assistance Plan. The SAP is offered at both primary (elementary) school level as well as secondary (high school) level, in Special Assistance Plan primary schools (Chinese: 特选小学) and Special Assistance Plan high schools (Chinese: 特选中学) respectively.[1]

SAP Primary Schools[edit]

Name Type 2 Area Notes Website
Ai Tong School 爱同学校 Mixed Bishan Affiliated to Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan[2] [1]
Catholic High School (Primary) 公教中学 (附小) Boys Bishan [2]
CHIJ St. Nicholas Girls' School (Primary) 圣尼格拉女校 (小学部) Girls Ang Mo Kio [3]
Maha Bodhi School 菩提学校 Mixed Geylang [4]
Maris Stella High School (Primary) 海星中学 (附小) Boys Toa Payoh [5]
Nan Hua Primary School 南华小学 Mixed Clementi [6]
Nanyang Primary School 南洋小学 Mixed Bukit Timah [7]
Pei Chun Public School 公立培群学校 Mixed Toa Payoh [8]
Red Swastika School 卍(wàn)慈学校 Mixed Bedok [9]
Tao Nan School 道南学校 Mixed Marine Parade Affiliated to Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan[2] [10]
Holy Innocents’ Primary School 圣婴小学 Mixed Hougang [11]
Hong Wen School 宏文学校 Mixed Kallang [12]
Kong Hwa School 光华学校 Mixed Geylang Affiliated to Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan[2] [13]
Pei Hwa Presbyterian Primary School 培华长老会小学 Mixed Bukit Timah [14]
Poi Ching School 培青学校 Mixed Tampines [15]

SAP High Schools[edit]

Name Type School Code Area Notes Website
Anglican High School 圣公会中学 Mixed 7101 Bedok Affiliated to Saint Andrews JC [16]
Catholic High School 公教中学 Boys IP: 9131

Special: 7102

Bishan Affiliated to: [17]
CHIJ Saint Nicholas Girls' School 圣尼各拉女校 Girls IP: 9134

Special: 7118

Ang Mo Kio Affiliated to: [18]
Chung Cheng High School (Main) 中正中学 (总校) Mixed 7104 Marine Parade Affiliated to: [19]
Dunman High School 德明政府中学 Mixed 3101 Kallang [20]
Hwa Chong Institution 华侨中学 Boys 0806 Bukit Timah Offers the Hwa Chong Diploma ;

Affiliated to:

Maris Stella High School 海星中学 Boys 7111 Toa Payoh Affiliated to: [22]
Nan Chiau High School 南侨中学 Mixed 7112 Sengkang Affiliated to Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan[2] [23]
Nan Hua High School 南华中学 Mixed 3047 Clementi [24]
Nanyang Girls' High School 南洋女子中学校 Girls 7114 Bukit Timah Offers the Hwa Chong Diploma ;

Affiliated to:

River Valley High School 立化中学 Mixed 3103 Boon Lay [26]


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 13. 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",[3] such as Japanese, German and French.

Historical context[edit]

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. This is reflected in the Bilingual Policy which came into effect in 1966.[4] 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.[5]

As English Language gained importance, more parents inclined to send their child to English-medium schools, which adversely affected enrollment of Chinese-medium schools. In 1977, admission to Chinese-medium elementary schools made up only 10 per cent of the nation's cohort, which increasingly reflected the increasingly critical status of the Chinese-medium schools, in stark contrast over a decade.[6] The need to preserve traditional Chinese schools with rich heritage and culture became a pressing agenda for the government, with raising English standards and attracting capable students into such schools a key priority, as pointed out by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.[7]

In 1979, 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.[8] The selected schools were given additional teaching resources and given assistance to run classes with a lower student-to-teacher ratio.[6]

The programme was deemed highly successful with five of the designated schools consistently attaining top ten positions in the secondary school ranking in the 1990s, outperforming several established English-medium schools.[7] This supported the Government to further expand the programme to two other institutions with strong Chinese heritage, including Nan Chiau High School, which was initially listed as an SAP school candidate in 1978.[7][9] Six top performing SAP high schools are also approved by the Ministry of Education to offer Integrated Programme (IP) to their full cohort, with The Chinese High School, Nanyang Girls' High School being the piloting schools with Hwa Chong Junior College in 2004, followed by River Valley High School in 2006 and Dunman High School in 2008. Catholic High School and CHIJ St. Nicholas Girls' School were approved to offer Joint Integrated Programme in 2013 with Singapore Chinese Girls' School.

Societal significance[edit]

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.

Concerns and criticisms[edit]

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).[10] 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).


  1. ^ a b c "Ministry of Education, Singapore: Press Releases". www.moe.gov.sg. Archived from the original on 2 January 2013. Retrieved 11 December 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d "Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan Education". Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan. Archived from the original on 2006-07-19. Retrieved 2012-11-04.
  3. ^ Guan, Lee Hock; Suryadinata, Leo (2007-01-01). Language, Nation and Development in Southeast Asia. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN 9789812304827.
  4. ^ hermes (2015-11-08). "Breaking down barriers with bilingualism". The Straits Times. Retrieved 2017-10-18.
  5. ^ Dixon, L. Quentin (2005-01-15). "Bilingual Education Policy in Singapore: An Analysis of its Sociohistorical Roots and Current Academic Outcomes". International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. 8 (1): 25–47. doi:10.1080/jBEB.v8.i1.pg25. ISSN 1367-0050.
  6. ^ a b "特选中学 保住优秀华校". 联合早报网. 2011-12-18. Retrieved 2017-10-18.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Pang, Cheng Lian (2015-10-23). 50 Years of the Chinese Community in Singapore. World Scientific. ISBN 9789814675413.
  10. ^ "SAP schools shouldn't be tweaked for sake of tokenism: Janil". 2016-08-05. Retrieved 2016-09-24.