Singapore’s Education System, Good But Not Enough


Singapore students up to their teens are among the brightest in the world according international testing. Singaporeans shoud be proud and not be dismissive of this achievement. Singapore is up there with other Asian giants and they can’t be terrible peers to have. However, while Singapore students compete and are among the best in PISA rankings consistently, there are valid criticisms on why we don’t produce the right type of scientists, artists, engineers etc enough to propel Singapore in industry, commerce, the arts to be right at the top of the world. Since education is the foundation of one’s future, what happened between impressive PISA rankings and the real world?

The lack of creativity, risk appetite, and recently even EQ at work are reasons posited. The assumption is that everyone agree on what is creativity, risk appetite and EQ should be seeded in school ready to bloom when the students enter the workforce. The stellar education system that made Singapore teens top in problem-solving (with Korea) is just not enough for real world problem solving it seems.

Focusing on creativity, can it be seeded in school? Yes and of course, depending on what one means and wants out of creativity. Oddly and as a fleeting thought, that people say Singaporeans are not creative is a close-minded close-ended argument which lacks creativity, and in a way proved that Singaporeans lack creativity. The foundation for creativity seeded in schools would be a holistic education i.e. diversity and divergence opens minds, and even ways to handle selected deviance. Which is a separate deep question altogether as semi-tolerated deviance in behaviour and ultimately discipline in schools is a double-edged sword.

Despite criticisms, education system delivers, says PM Lee
By Joy Fang -
April 11

SINGAPORE — Although the education system here has often been criticised, it is essentially a good system that has delivered good results, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

“We often see and read or hear criticisms of Singapore’s education system — it’s too structured, it’s too pressured, it’s too competitive, it’s too much hard work, (it’s) so stiff,” he said.

While he acknowledged the pressures faced by parents and students, Mr Lee said the Government had taken steps to address the issue and reduce unhealthy competition, such as ending the practice of publishing the names of top Primary School Leaving Examination performers and using a banding system, instead of grades, to assess students’ performance in co-curricular programmes.

“I think it has helped to reduce some of this pressure-cooking sentiment, that you must get it exactly right, the last one-quarter of a mark,” said Mr Lee, who was the guest of honour at Chong Boon Secondary School’s 20th Anniversary Dinner in his Teck Ghee ward.

However, while the Government tries to improve the education system, he added: “Don’t forget this is a good system and it delivers good results for us”.

Mr Lee said there is no youth unemployment problem here, unlike in many other countries. Graduates from Singapore’s schools, such as universities, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education, are highly sought after by employers and manage to get good jobs.

Singapore students have also performed well in international competitions and comparison studies, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Mr Lee said.

He cited the recently-published results from a new PISA test, which had assessed 15-year-old students around the world for problem-solving skills.

“It’s a new test, no 10-year-series, no studying for the test. You need common sense, you need to be able to think, you need to have creativity and judgment,” he pointed out.

About 1,400 Singapore students were randomly selected by the PISA team for the test.

Every secondary school had students who participated and they formed a representative sample of Singapore’s student population.

Singapore students came up tops among the territories and countries that had participated, outperforming students in developed countries such as in Europe and the United States, as well as Asian economies that have high-pressure education systems, such as Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong.

“I think the test shows that we are not doing badly. We are not near the bottom, we are not even at the middle. We are well above many countries in the world,” Mr Lee said.

However, he added, Singapore must continue to learn and improve, as well as raise the quality of all institutions, whether they are neighbourhood schools, schools for those with special needs or special talents, or institutes of higher learning.

“We have to teach skills like critical and creative thinking; we have to help our students to climb higher, especially those from the less-advantaged homes,” Mr Lee said.

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4 responses

  1. My friends, Singapore is relatively new nation state with a vibrant and thriving economy after fifty plus years of Indpendence from Great Britain ! It’s educational institutions are a mirror image of the British and performing well at tests and exams like the Senior Cambridge and Higher School Certificate External Sydnicate approved has made Singapore students take away the Great in the Britain ! The higher university education system nationally in a North America even at the top tier Ivy League Universities don’t wholly and solely put a great deal of focus on Test Scores at SAT or the ACT as the only criteria for their thoroughly selective admission process,the Test Scores being the first pass the post for consideration meant that only about 10% of students with high scores from very good high schools get admitted to say Harvard, Yale, MIT, Columbia , Princeton and so on !Obviously the students whole high school career and their cultivation of Advance Placement AP courses matter quite a good deal and in some cases extracurricular activities like sports, hobbies and soaking part time in community voluntary services can get wider proper considerations for admissions ! consider this Bill Gates of Microsoft and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook aren’t top tier Harvard College university material but yet they went on to be very creative about the Cyber World that is even now in a constant creative revolutionary Modus Operandi ! Rote Learning and taking and getting good scores are a master Kung Fu Tze ‘s legacy that copied admirably by the west especially Anglo-Anerican systems of education in the English medium of Instructions,that was never reversed in a well led Singapore, quite unlike in Malaysia ! It has been argued the English Medium of thinking about problems and communication them likewise is in essence the creative germination virus that hit the minds in education,it seems jingoistic
    but true as the Nobel Prizes in Sciences/ Economics and Medicine almost always stay with the European Anglo-American world !There is statistical prejudice because Nobel Prize for Literature sometimes go to translated works of non English Writers !

    Frankly what Singapore needs for it’s growing intelligent students is a more relaxed liberal attitude in class room instructions and learning, by rote isn’t always better nor fun !American top tier universities thoroughly believe in the fun and happiness in learning new ideas and things ! Majullah Singapura, bukan Mahjjong Leh Singapura !

    Gerald Heng Sr.
    Metrowest Boston,MA.
    & Washingtone DC ,USA .

    April 11, 2014 at 10:34 am

  2. Pingback: Daily SG: 11 Apr 2014 | The Singapore Daily

  3. Paul

    Singapore must have a really bad education system. Or else why are there so many expat schools – the German school, the Australian school, UWC, Dover Court etc… If we really have the best schools in the world, surely these expat parents would not be wasting thousands of dollars to send their children to inferior schools. They are more intelligent than that – after all, they run the banks, Universities etc etc

    April 12, 2014 at 12:19 am

  4. Actually the Ex Patria Schools are a tradition initiated by the British / American/ French / German or what have you in overseas outposts where the ExPatria Foreigners live and work,while there like in Singapore ,China or Japan,they have their own schools run on their own national standard system including their native languages. In fact even the Americans have their American School System in London UK for their children of the expatriates,even though English is a common lingo of instructions !PRChina has the most expatriate Schools because the Chinese Schools clearly teach in Chinese ,and they don’t abide with the civic lessons that teach the Thoughts of Chairman Mao Zedong ! They call those lessons the Torts of the Chairman Mao ! There aren’t too many Singapore Expatriate Schools globally because there aren’t too many Singaporean Top Tier Professionals abroad,but I think it might change as Singapore progress in economics and professionalism !Remember the Expatriate Schools have their children learning Bismark, George Washington, Napoleon , and in the case of the British, Queen Victoria who remained unamused by your theory !

    Gerald Heng Sr.
    Metrowest Boston,MA.
    & Washingtone DC, USA
    1969-1982 Londoner, UK

    April 12, 2014 at 2:54 am

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