Less than half the adult population was literate in 1965 when the country became fully independent. State management was initially focused on developing industry and international trade, and it required residents with good education.
In 2015, literacy in the population over 15 years was 95.2 percent among women and 98.6 percent among men. Singapore is now considered to have Asia’s best education system, and in recent years ‘global measurements of school pupils’ knowledge, the country has been among those who have had the very best results, mainly in science and math.
Since the end of the 1990s, the share of education in the state budget has increased significantly. One reason is that the government sees a great need for extensive expansion of further education at the post-secondary level; older education needs to be updated. By tradition, teaching at all stages has been entirely teacher-led and exam-oriented.
During the 2010s, the government emphasized that modern education must be developed with foreign models to strengthen young people’s creativity, innovation and ability to solve problems. It is also needed to meet the labor needs of the country’s highly developed business community.
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For children of permanently resident parents, six-year schooling is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 14. Everyone has to pay school fees, but the state subsidizes heavily and the fee is low in the state primary school. Foreign-born children in high-income families who live in the country for a short time attend private schools.
Some children will be accommodated in the state-subsidized preschool that is available for children aged 4-6 years. According to the curriculum, it should stimulate the children’s interest in learning and give them the first basics of reading and mathematics.
During the first four years of compulsory school there is a strong emphasis on English, mathematics and mother tongue. Subsequently, the elements of natural, social and civic knowledge increase. During the 2010s, music, art and sports were also guaranteed space. In most subjects, the teaching takes place in English, but all also study one of the three native languages Chinese (Mandarin), Malay and Tamil in order to maintain ties with Asian culture. Collaboration with the parents is emphasized, and these have high expectations of the children’s performance in school.
For children with poor grades, the school provides support education. In addition, in the community there is a large number of fee-based evening courses in all school subjects from the preschool level and up through the entire school system. The most gifted students are also encouraged to read extra challenging and enriching courses.
The six-year primary school concludes with a degree that is the basis for the focus on the student’s continued studies.
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All students go on to the continuing school, which mainly has three lines. The four-year theoretically oriented ※express line§ ends with a degree and is built on with 2-3 years in a junior college or three years of polytechnic education, after which the degree with diploma gives admission to university studies. More than half of the students follow the express line. Another theoretical line is the “normal” path of five years of theoretical studies before entering junior college or polytechnic education. A third course of study entails a “normal” four-year technical continuing education followed by 1-2 years of study at a technical institute.
Above all, polytechnic education must meet the needs of modern business people with engineers, economists, biotechnologists and educated labor in the social sector.
The country has six state universities and professional colleges. The oldest, most versatile, most international and most research oriented is the National University of Singapore, NUS, which is considered one of Asia’s foremost universities.
The Singapore Government is increasingly emphasizing lifelong learning. An extensive and versatile post-secondary education has emerged with theoretical and practical courses full-time and part-time and with most possible professional specializations. The motive is to increase the availability of highly educated labor, which is seen as one of the most important factors for continuing to attract foreign companies to the country and to maintain competitiveness. Older workers need updating to be familiar with recent years’ technological developments. It also increases the ambitious career opportunities and reduces the need to look for highly qualified work abroad. One of the universities is mainly focused on providing such education.