Center on International Education Benchmarking

Singapore is an extraordinary success story. In less than 50 years, it has gone from an impoverished island with no natural resources and a population a majority of whom were illiterate to a country of 4.7 million people with living standards that match those of the most highly developed industrial nations. From the very beginning, Lee Kuan Yew, the world-famous prime minister who led Singapore to this achievement, understood that education would be an essential element in the creation of a single unified nation from a group of clashing ethnic and religious groups and in the development of the kind of world-class workforce that would be required to fulfill the very ambitious economic goals he had set for Singapore.

The education system is highly centralized. The Ministry of Education is responsible for education for kindergarten (ages four to five) through higher education. The Ministry allocates funding for all schools, sets course syllabi and national examinations, oversees teacher credentialing, manages the teacher and principal evaluation and promotion system, and hires and assigns principals and teachers to schools. Schools are grouped into geographic clusters intended to provide local support for the Ministry’s education policies and initiatives. These clusters can help determine how the curriculum will be implemented, and can choose teaching materials, though the Ministry makes recommendations. The cluster superintendents, who are successful former principals, are responsible for providing leadership to principals, and to facilitate the sharing of resources and best practices between cluster schools.

The Ministry also determines all national education goals and curriculum guidelines.   These goals, which are revisited regularly, emerge after widespread discussion with partners in the system and with the public, reflecting the high premium the Singaporean people place on education. The goals are then used to structure policy initiatives and create benchmarks to measure progress.

As of 2003, Singapore students are required to participate in six years of compulsory education. Although this is the least amount of required schooling in any of the top-performing countries, students in Singapore almost universally choose to remain in school for at least another four years beyond primary school. Ninety-nine percent of students also attend preschool for one to three years.



Ethnic Makeup

Chinese 74.3%, Malay 13.4%, Indian 9%, other 3.2%


$528.1 billion; $94,100 per Capita

Major Industries

Services: 75.2%; Industry: 24.8%; Agriculture: 0%


Unemployment: 2.2% ; Youth Unemployment: 8.6%

Educational Attainment

Secondary School Completion: 96.7%