Support for Pre-Primary Children and Families
Singapore offers extensive supports for young children and families, particularly low-income families. These include paid parental leave and payments to all families who have children, including both a one-time “baby bonus” for new parents as well as an education savings account with matching funds to reward parents who invest in their child’s education. Child care is subsidized on a sliding scale and the government is focused on expanding provision and raising the quality of the programs. Preschools (called kindergartens in Singapore) are available for children aged 3-5, and the government provides income-based subsidies for low and middle-income parents. Providers are both public and private, but all adhere to national quality standards to received public subsidies. Many supports have been significantly expanded in the last few years, including doubling the childcare subsidy for low-income families, efforts have been made to build capacity and quality , as part of an effort to ensure that the country is globally competitive.
Supports for Disadvantaged Populations
The Singapore government promotes policies that address the gaps between students from different backgrounds, and address environmental conditions, such as a single-parent household or low family income level, that can affect a student’s performance. The Singapore Ministry of Education promotes equity by funding all schools on a standard and equitable per student basis. The Ministry also gives each school a standard amount of extra funds to use flexibly for low-income students at the school, allowing schools to provide enrichment activities or extra help or to buy computers or books, as needed. Low-income students are also given funds directly, for travel to and from school and breakfasts, as well as individual student accounts with funds for educational activities.
To that end, the government has instituted local community councils responsible for identifying families in need and for providing aid and support in multiple forms. Each ethnic group also has a similar committee in local communities. The government also provides monetary assistance to directly to low-income families. The government offers grants for all students to attend college; these grants increase substantially for lower income students.
Supports for Struggling Students
Despite the strong emphasis Singapore places on equitable funding, there is still a large gap between Singapore’s top-performing students and its lowest-performing students – a gap that was made apparent in the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) results.Educators hope to address this gap through early diagnosis and intervention of learning issues. Students are screened at the beginning of first grade for reading and numeracy skills, and students who are considered to need extra help (approximately 12-14 percent) are taught in small learning support programs to ensure that they keep pace with their classmates. As part of this program, the Ministry funds learning specialists at each school who work with these groups of students.
Students who are still struggling by the time they are in lower secondary school are offered an alternate curriculum (called “band”). This curriculum is equally rigorous, just allows students extra time to master its content. If students show improvement, they are allowed to transfer into a faster paced band. They can also take courses in different bands, if they are only struggling with a particular subject.
In addition to these structural interventions, Singapore assigns well-regarded teachers and school leaders to help schools and teachers who are struggling. It is very hard, if not impossible, for teachers to move up the career ladder unless they have served in schools serving high proportions of disadvantaged students.
The Ministry of Education and the National Council of Social Services fund special education (SPED) schools for students with identifiable disabilities. These schools are typically structured around the type of disability they cater to, such as students with sight or hearing impairment or students with learning or developmental disabilities, and have long waiting lists for admission. Special needs education is available through the post-secondary level, where students with intellectual disabilities are prepared for the workforce through special training programs. These schools serve less than 4 percent of the student population.
Whenever possible, the government encourages students to join the mainstream educational system either initially or after having met certain benchmarks in special education. To help facilitate this “mainstreaming,” Special Needs Officers are placed in mainstream schools to help students with conditions such as dyslexia or high-functioning autism. The ministry also announced that in the coming years, they hope to have 10 percent of all primary and secondary school teachers trained in special education, in order to provide a strong support system for these students in mainstream schools. The Ministry allocates extra funds for special needs students (at 150 percent and 300 percent of the base per student cost, depending on whether students are mainstreamed or served in special schools). The National Council of Social Services also contributes funding to the schools, specifically for additional social supports.
Singapore does not require students with special needs who are unable to attend a mainstream school to complete compulsory education. The Singapore government estimates the special needs population who cannot or do not attend school to be just 0.01% of the population.
PISA 2015: Variation in Science Performance Explained by Socioeconomic Background
Annual Expenditure by Educational Institutions per Student for All Services
(2013, in equivalent USD converted using PPPs for GDP, by level of education for public institutions only) Source: OECD