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Context

Singapore is an extraordinary success story. Since becoming an independent republic in 1965, it has transformed from an impoverished island with no natural resources and a mostly illiterate population to a country of 5.8 million people whose living standards match those of the most highly-developed industrial nations. From the very beginning, Lee Kuan Yew, the prime minister who led Singapore to this achievement, understood that an educated workforce would be essential to fulfilling his ambitious economic goals.

In 2009, when Singapore participated for the first time in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the results of Prime Minister Lee’s efforts were already clear.  That year, Singapore’s 15-year-olds were among the top performers in all three subjects. In 2015, the nation was first in the world in all three subjects; in 2018, four Chinese provinces outperformed Singapore, but the small island nation continued to outperform every other nation. 

At the end of World War II, Singapore implemented the first in a succession of economic development strategies rooted in improved education and training.  Since the 1990s, the nation has focused on boosting creativity and capacity for innovation in its students.

In 2004, the government developed the “Teach Less, Learn More” initiative, which moved instruction further away from its early focus on rote memorization and repetitive tasks and toward deeper conceptual understanding and problem-based learning. Educators abandoned the practice of funneling students into ability-based tracks and began sorting them into three different “bands” in secondary school based on their ultimate educational goal. Although students take most of their classes within their bands, they can take classes in other bands depending on their aptitude and interest in a given subject. The goal is to achieve full subject-based banding, with students freely mixing and matching classes from different bands, by 2024. 

Singapore’s current priorities for its education system are reflected in the title of its initiative “Every School a Good School.” This set of reforms aims to ensure that all schools have adequate resources to develop customized programs for their students; raise professional standards for teachers; encourage innovation; and foster partnerships between schools and communities.  In addition, Singapore launched the “Learn for Life” initiative in 2018 to promote greater flexibility in teaching, learning, and assessment. With more opportunities for self-directed learning in and out of school, Singapore hopes to encourage lifelong learning for all Singaporeans, in ways that bring them satisfaction and meaning.  

Despite Singapore’s strong emphasis on educational equity, there remains a large gap between the nation’s highest-performing and lowest-performing students on PISA. This gap, which persists across all three subjects, did narrow somewhat in mathematics and science in the latest round of PISA.  In addition, Singapore stands out among OECD countries for its low percentage of low-performing students and high percentage of high-performing students, including a very high percentage of top-performing students with low socioeconomic status.  Ten percent of disadvantaged students in Singapore are in the top-performing group compared to an OECD average of three percent.

Quick Facts

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Population

Population: 5,866,000

Population growth rate: 0.95%

Demographic makeup: Chinese 76%, Malay 15%, Indian 7.4%, Other 1.6%

Source: CIA World Factbook 2021

GDP

GDP: $555 billion

GDP per capita: $97,341(2019 estimate in 2010 dollars)

Source: CIA World Factbook 2021

Employment

Unemployment rate: 2.25% 

Youth unemployment rate: 9.1%

Source: CIA World Factbook 2021

Economy

Services-dominated economy

Key services industries: wholesale and retail trade, business services, finance and insurance

Key industrial areas: electronics, chemicals, logistics and transport engineering

Source: CIA World Factbook 2021

Postsecondary Attainment

Ages 25+: 55.8% 

Source: World Bank, 2018

Governance

Governance Structure

Singapore’s education system is highly centralized. The Ministry of Education oversees kindergarten (ages four to five) through higher education and lifelong learning. 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, each overseen by a superintendent, to provide local support for the Ministry’s policies and initiatives. The cluster superintendents, who are successful former principals, collaborate with principals in their cluster on how to implement the curriculum and which teaching materials to choose from among a set the Ministry approves and strongly encourages teachers to use. The cluster superintendents also facilitate the sharing of resources and best practices between cluster schools.

While the Ministry sets the framework for the educational system, other entities operate within that framework. Independent or semi-autonomous agencies such as the National Institute of Education (teacher training), the Examinations and Assessment Board (national assessments), and the Institute of Technical Education (vocational education) have clearly defined areas of responsibility and work closely with the Ministry.

Planning and Goals

Singapore articulates clear and comprehensive system-wide goals for education. These goals, which the nation revisits regularly, emerge from widespread discussion with partners in the system and with the public, as well as from extensive benchmarking of other leading education systems. Singapore structures policy initiatives around its education goals and creates benchmarks to measure progress. For example, in 2013, Singapore held a National Conversation to gather input on a vision for the 2030 education system strategic plan. Goals included improving character and citizenship education, strengthening digital literacy, building more knowledge and understanding of the history and cultures throughout Asia, expanding supports for disadvantaged students, and building more adult education opportunities. 

In addition, Singapore’s leaders monitor educational research and benchmark best practices from around the world so that the system can continue to match the performance of the world’s best.

Education Finance

The Ministry of Education directly funds all schools based on the number of pupils. In addition, all schools receive a set grant (called an Opportunity Fund) to use for their low-income students and students from ethnic minority groups. Although this supplemental funding is distributed by the Ministry, schools can choose how to spend it. The Ministry also provides funding directly to students from low-income families in the form of subsidies, called Financial Assistance Schemes, for educational materials and activities and funds for school meals. In addition, the Ministry in 1970 created the Education Fund, which collects contributions from Singapore residents to both support all students and low-income students through scholarships and by providing textbooks, meals and uniforms for students who need these but do not otherwise qualify for financial assistance. 

Accountability

School Accountability

Schools in Singapore conduct annual self-evaluations of their practices and outcomes using the Ministry-developed School Excellence Model, which includes nine criteria for performance. Schools then develop improvement plans based on the results. Additionally, external inspectors evaluate each school every five years. The external inspectors, made up of university professors and successful school leaders, provide feedback to the schools and offer coaching and support for improvement.

Improvement efforts are organized through Singapore’s school cluster system. Cluster superintendents meet regularly with principals to monitor their improvement efforts. High-performing schools are eligible for awards. The Ministry annually awards schools that demonstrate outstanding achievement in a single year or over a period of years. The highest award, the School Excellence Award, is given to one school each year.

Teacher Accountability

Singapore uses the Enhanced Performance Management System (EPMS) to conduct annual teacher evaluations. EPMS assesses teachers’ performance based on 16 different competencies, including their work in the classroom and their interaction with the greater school community. Teachers first conduct a self-appraisal, and then supervisors evaluate them against the EPMS. These evaluations are qualitative and consist of written feedback rather than numeric scores of specific indicators. Teachers base their professional development plans on EPMS feedback. Principals, alongside the School Staff Developer (in charge of professional learning) and the Cluster Superintendent, co-construct a “Current Estimated Potential” for each teacher using the results of the EPMS. This estimate, or snapshot of the teacher’s short-term career trajectory, is shared with the teacher and used to help them articulate their career goals. Teachers can earn rewards based on EPMS results, including honors and salary bonuses. The Ministry also selects teachers for awards and recognition at the national level.

Foundation of Support

Supports for Young Children and Their Families

Singapore has several policies in place to support families with children. Working mothers are entitled to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave if their child is a Singapore citizen and they have worked at their company for at least three months. Otherwise, they are entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave. Fathers are entitled to two weeks of paternity leave. Working parents also receive six days of paid childcare leave per year if their child is under 7 years of age.

In 2008 the government adopted the Enhanced Marriage and Parenthood Package, which includes a “Baby Bonus,” providing cash awards for each child, and a Child Development Account (CDA), providing dollar-for-dollar matching of parent contributions to an account that can be used for health care, childcare, and other purposes. The government also makes an initial grant contribution to each child’s CDA. 

Singapore provides universal health care to citizens. The primary form of support is government subsidies, which cover 80 percent of the cost of care in hospitals and clinics. These subsidies are supplemented by the “3Ms”—Medisave, a mandatory savings program; Medishield, catastrophic health insurance; and Medifund, an endowment to support health care for low-income families. In 2013, the government set up Medifund Junior, which provides support for low-income children, and extended the fund’s benefits to include primary care, dental services, prenatal care, and delivery.

In 2016, Singapore piloted KidSTART, which partners with hospitals and community organizations to provide supports for low-income families, including home visits, developmental screenings and referrals, and parent education, from pregnancy until children reach age 3. KidSTART is now a permanent program. 

Childcare for children up to age 4 is privately run in Singapore, but the government has taken steps to ensure care remains affordable for all families. In 2009 Singapore created the Anchor Operator scheme (AOP), which provides subsidies to participating centers with a requirement that they cap fees. The government expanded the AOP in 2014, and in 2016 added the Partner Operator scheme (POP) to subsidize additional centers. The government also sets aside 30 percent of childcare slots for low-income families and directly subsidizes their fees. Parents also can use funds from Child Development Accounts to pay for childcare. 

Supports for School Aged Children

All students in Singapore receive an Edusave account, to which the government contributes funds so that it can invest in their future.  Families can draw on these accounts for any type of educational expense; disadvantaged students receive additional funding. The Ministry of Education also provides financial assistance for students from low-income families. The aid supports school fees and other expenses for students in government or government-aided private schools. Financial aid for independent schools is also available.  

These supports are available in the context of a broader safety net for children.  The government’s Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) administers ComCare, which provides cash grants to low- and moderate-income families on a sliding scale. It also covers long-term assistance needed for care and school-related expenses for children of disabled parents. The MSF also oversees the National Council of Social Service, an umbrella group of 450 private organizations that provide services to Singapore citizens. Services include school-based social work and support for students at risk of dropping out of school. 

Learning System

Preschool

In Singapore, children ages three through six can attend either a public or private kindergarten or a childcare center. Formerly, the Ministry of Social and Family Development oversaw childcare centers while the Ministry of Education oversaw kindergartens. But in 2013, the government created the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) to coordinate oversight of all early childhood education. 

Most childcare centers and kindergartens in Singapore are privately run but licensed by ECDA. A subset of centers caps their enrollment fees in exchange for government subsidies, part of a national effort to increase access to childcare for low- and middle-income Singaporeans.  Beginning in 2013, the government opened a small number of public kindergartens to model quality programming and further expand access to early education. In 2017, the Prime Minister announced plans for a fourfold increase in the number of public kindergartens by 2025.  

ECDA regulates programs for children ages 4-6 as well as programs for younger children. Data from program inspections are not publicly available. ECDA established the Singapore Preschool Accreditation Framework (SPARK) to accredit centers. Accreditation is voluntary, but there are incentives to participate, including access to government subsidies and to professional development for staff. As of 2017, 40 percent of centers in Singapore had attained SPARK certification. Of these, about 10 percent have also attained SPARK commendation, a mark of especially strong teaching and learning practices. 

ECDA has developed the Nurturing Early Learners Kindergarten Curriculum Framework as suggested guidance for children ages 4 to 6. The government does not assess learning outcomes for students in kindergarten or childcare; the first nationwide screening of children’s literacy and numeracy skills takes place in the first month of primary school. 

Primary and Secondary Education

System Structure

In Singapore, the system includes six years of primary school, followed by four to six years of secondary school, and one to three years of postsecondary school. The curriculum for primary schools is common for all students in years one to four. For years five and six, students can take individual courses at the foundation or standard level. Foundational level courses are designed to provide more support for students. As they enter secondary school, students, their parents, and their teachers jointly agree on one of three bands or “streams” they will join: Express, Normal (Academic), and Normal (Technical). All streams offer the same course of study, but Express is accelerated and Normal (Technical) offers more applied work. In most cases, students’ scores on the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) are the primary determinant of the stream they will join, but parents and students can advocate for different streams if they demonstrate accelerated learning or need more help. Singapore is piloting and implementing a system under which students choose streams for specific subjects, rather than their overall course of study, a practice known as subject-based banding. For example, a student could pursue a technical stream in mathematics, but an express stream in English. Subject-based banding currently exists in all primary schools, and the goal is to have full subject-based banding in all secondary schools by 2024. 

In addition to these options, Singapore has four specialized schools for students who perform poorly on the PSLE. These schools offer foundational coursework in mathematics and literacy, alongside vocational offerings leading to skill certificates and extensive social supports. There are also specialized independent schools that focus on the arts, sports, and mathematics and science. These schools receive public funding and use the MOE curriculum, but have more flexibility in their program offerings.

Students who want to apply to university stay in secondary school for an additional two years to take A-level courses, as part of the Integrated Program.  Those who do not do that have multiple postsecondary options: Polytechnics, the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), Junior Colleges, a Polytechnic Foundation program and a small set of Arts Institutions. Students choose their postsecondary school based on their secondary school stream as well as results from the General Certificate of Education (GCE) examinations, described in more detail below. Polytechnics offer three-year diploma programs. Graduates may pursue university education after they earn their Polytechnic diploma without taking A-level exams, if they so choose.  ITE offers shorter technical or vocational education programs, through National ITE Certificate (Nitec) aligned courses and work-based learning. Students graduate from ITE with a Nitec or Higher Nitec qualification and can then continue their vocational studies at a polytechnic or at university.  They can also stay at ITE and earn a technical or work study diploma, which also allows a pathways to slect university programs. Junior Colleges offer two- or three-year pre-university education, preparing students for the required examinations to enroll in universities or for entry into Polytechnics.  

Standards and Curriculum 

The Ministry of Education oversees the development of the national curriculum, which includes “Desired Outcomes of Education.” The desired outcomes are student excellence in life skills, knowledge skills, and subject discipline knowledge organized into eight core skills and values: character development, self-management skills, social and cooperative skills, literacy and numeracy, communication skills, information skills, thinking skills and creativity, and knowledge application skills.

The primary school curriculum includes ten subject areas: English, mother tongue language (available for Chinese-, Malay- and Tamil-speaking students), mathematics, science, art, music, physical education, social studies, and character and citizenship education. A coding class was added to the curriculum in 2019.  And in 2021, the Ministry introduced an updated character and citizenship education curriculum which focuses on mental health and cyber-wellness and on the establishment of peer support structures within every school, among other topics. For primary students who qualify as gifted, Singapore offers individualized enriched curriculum opportunities.

Secondary education varies depending on school and program type. Students in the express and Normal (academic program) are required to take English, mother tongue language, mathematics, science, and humanities (geography, history, and English literature). For students in the Normal (Technical) program, compulsory subjects include English, mother tongue language, mathematics, computer applications, and social studies. There are electives available for both the Technical and Normal program as well.

The Ministry of Education has been very involved with the implementation of its primary and secondary curriculum. During the shift from rote learning to the current model emphasizing student engagement and creativity, Ministry officials were very “hands-on” in schools. They met regularly with school leaders and developed extensive professional learning opportunities for teachers around the new curriculum. However, in recent years, the Ministry has taken a step back, encouraging schools to consider the curriculum as a framework which they should adapt to their students’ needs. The Ministry also encourages secondary schools to differentiate themselves through theme courses or special programs designed to attract students with shared interests.

Assessment and Qualifications

Teachers perform continuous assessment of their students at all levels of education. On a day-to-day basis, this assessment is informal and based on student work in and out of the classroom. Previously, all students in primary school took school-based exams throughout the year and at the end of each year, but in 2019, the government dropped the exams for Primary 1 and 2 and in 2021 dropped the mid-year exams for Primary 3 and 5, as well as Secondary 3. By removing these exams, the government hopes to shift focus away from grades and competition and toward learning for its own sake. 

At the end of primary school, all students take the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) in four subjects: English, math, science, and mother tongue. Students take exams at one of two levels, based on the level of subjects they took in years five and six. In 2021, the Ministry began to update the PSLE scoring process. Going forward, students will be graded based on individual performance in subjects rather than benchmarked against each other. These scores will be translated to Achievement Level tiers, which will help students determine their stream for lower secondary education, as well as which school they will attend. Students send their examination scores to up to six lower secondary schools, ranked in order of preference. The schools then choose their students based in large part on their PSLE rankings. That said, the Ministry also allows some schools to admit students based on their talents in academic areas, sports, or co-curricular activities without factoring in PSLE results, to provide greater diversity in student talents and interests. Since 2018, schools have been able to offer up to 20 percent of their places to students through this process, called direct school admission. The Ministry of Education helps place those students who are not accepted into their schools of choice. 

At the secondary level, student take subject-based exams, depending on their band.  After four years of study, students take O-level exams in the express and N-level exams in the Normal (Technical) program.  Students in the Normal (Academic) program can take the N-level exams after four years of study or the O-level exams after five years.  Students who wish to study at university take A-level exams after an additional two years of study.  

Learning Supports

Struggling Students 

Despite Singapore’s strong emphasis on equitable funding, the most recent results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) exposed a large gap between the nation’s highest- and lowest-performing students. However, the gap has been narrowing in mathematics and science, and educators hope to address academic disparities through early diagnosis and intervention of learning issues. Schools screen students at the beginning of first grade for reading and numeracy skills; those who need extra help (approximately 12-14 percent) are taught in small learning support programs to keep them on pace with their peers. 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 when they reach lower secondary school are offered extra time and support to complete their studies, and teachers may recommend they  join the Normal (Technical) stream for most subjects. If students show improvement, they can transfer into a faster-paced band. They can also take courses in different bands if they are only struggling with a particular subject.

Special Education

Whenever possible, the government encourages students with special needs to enroll in mainstream schools, either initially or after having met certain benchmarks in special education. Currently, about 80 percent of all students with special needs attend mainstream schools. To help facilitate their integration, learning support specialists known as Allied Educators help students with conditions such as dyslexia or autism. As of 2018, there was at least one Allied Educator in every mainstream primary and public school, a 40 percent increase over the previous five years. The Ministry has also provided specialized training in special education to a designated group of general education teachers within each mainstream school, to create a strong support system for students with special needs; about 15 percent of teachers in mainstream schools had completed this training by 2019. In addition, since 2020 the Ministry has provided all teachers in mainstream schools with access to online professional learning focused on supporting students with special needs. 

In 2019, the Ministry implemented two peer mentoring interventions to support students with special needs in mainstream schools. Circle of Friends allows students with social, emotional or behavioral difficulties to meet with their teacher or Allied Educator along with a group of six to eight of their peers. Over five to eight sessions, the students work together to find solutions for the student in difficulty. Facing Your Fears is a similar program designed to support students suffering from anxiety. In this intervention, groups of two to four students meet with facilitators and Allied Educators to learn self-management strategies over 10 weekly sessions. 

For students who need more intensive or specialized assistance, Singapore has 19 government-funded special education schools run by 12 social service agencies. These schools serve populations with highly specific needs: the deaf, the blind, students with autism, or those with the most severe cognitive challenges. Special needs education is available through the postsecondary level, where students with intellectual disabilities are prepared for the workforce through special training programs. The government continues to invest in special education and plans to open seven new schools by 2027. These schools serve less than 2 percent of the total student population.

The Ministry allocates extra funds for special needs students at 150 percent or 300 percent of the base per student cost, depending on whether they attend mainstream or special schools. The Ministry increased spending for special schools by 40 percent from 2015 to 2020 and has pledged to continue this increase. The National Council of Social Services also contributes funding to special schools, specifically for additional social supports.

Digital Platforms and Resources 

The Student Learning Space (SLS) provides a library of curriculum-aligned, Ministry-curated resources (e.g., lesson plans, videos, assessments) for all grade levels and subjects. The Ministry assigns teams of teachers to work full-time creating these resources, which are continually updated based on feedback from teachers and students (as is the design of the SLS itself). Singapore announced plans for the SLS in 2013, piloted it in 2017, and expanded it to all schools in 2018.  Every student in grades 1-12 has an account to access the SLS. Using templates, teachers create lessons by compiling SLS resources or using a mix of SLS resources and their own materials. Students can also access SLS resources on their own, independent of assignments. Teachers can choose to share the lessons they have created with their peers within the SLS.  

In 2020, after students shifted to periodic home-based learning in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Singapore decided to make home-based learning via SLS a permanent feature of the education system. Starting in 2021, secondary school students will have up to two days a month of online learning, and all secondary school students will be provided with a device.  Singapore plans to pilot online learning strategies in primary schools to determine the best approach to building these skills for younger students. The Ministry believes that students will benefit from having self-directed learning time at home that complements in-person instruction.  

Career and Technical Education

Development of the System

Technical and vocational education gained importance in Singapore at the end of World War II when industrialization created a demand for skilled workers.  After attaining independence in 1965, Singapore began investing heavily in vocational education in order to support the country’s very ambitious economic development plans.  The Ministry of Manpower worked with economic agencies and industry groups to identify critical workplace needs. Those needs, as well as projections of future needs, were used to inform curriculum planning for vocational education.  Singapore created polytechnic institutions in the 1960s as the primary vocational training route for Singaporeans. 

Singapore founded the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) in 1992, at a time when vocational education was viewed as a “last resort” for weak students; the five existing polytechnics were not desirable educational options. Singapore wanted to revolutionize vocational education.  Spread across a set of state-of-the-art campuses, ITE was designed to be a world-class example of how vocational and technological skills could be translated to a knowledge-based economy. 

Today, ITE is filled with simulated and real-world workspaces for students to demonstrate their job skills in a wide variety of high-growth industries. Since 1995, enrollment in vocational education has doubled, and vocational students now make up over 60 percent of the cohort who go on to postsecondary education, with about one-third of those students heading to the ITE and two-thirds to polytechnics. 

Recently, Singapore has taken further steps to strengthen its vocational education opportunities for youth and adults. Following the recommendations of the ASPIRE (Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review) commission, in 2016 the government launched SkillsFuture, a national lifelong learning effort. ASPIRE envisioned a coherent workforce-development system, beginning in lower secondary school and extending throughout adulthood. For young people, SkillsFuture includes strengthened education and career guidance, “enhanced” internships, more overseas market immersion opportunities, and the development of individual learning portfolios. For those entering the workforce, it includes apprenticeships, known as “Earn and Learn” programs, and credits toward course fees for work skills-related instruction. And for adults, it includes monetary awards for skills courses, subsidies for mid-career professionals pursuing additional coursework, and fellowships. Anchoring the system is a skills framework and set of qualifications, overseen by the SkillsFuture Council, a body led by the deputy prime minister and including leaders from industry, labor, and government. The framework outlines a body of skills in 34 industry sectors.

Governance and System Structure

Singapore’s career and technical education (CTE) offerings take place primarily at the postsecondary level. At the primary and secondary levels, the emphasis is mainly on career exploration and guidance. A career guidance curriculum has been mandatory since 2014, and the Ministry of Education has created a web portal that enables students to examine their own strengths and interests and explore careers that match them. In addition, students pursuing the Normal (Technical) route in secondary school take coursework that prepares them for entrance exams at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), Singapore’s primary postsecondary CTE institution.  

CTE Programs

ITE offers two-year programs leading to a National ITE certificate (Nitec), with the option of an additional advanced program leading to a Higher Nitec certificate. Starting in 2022, the ITE will introduce a new curriculum that allows students to achieve a Nitec and Higher Nitec in a total of three years instead of four. The new curriculum, which will be phased in over time, is designed to prepare graduates with deeper industry-relevant skills for employment and sufficient foundational skills to allow for lifelong learning. ITE programs are offered in six broad areas: Applied and Health Sciences, Business Services, Design and Media, Electronics and ICT, Engineering, and Hospitality. A technical diploma program (similar to an apprenticeship program) was recently added to the ITE program in Culinary Arts and Engineering, as was a work-study diploma that is offered in a range of areas. ITE requires all students to enroll in data analytics courses and to participate in a three- to six-month internship. The ITE has a reputation for producing highly-skilled graduates, and salaries for ITE graduates have become quite high in recent years. In 2018, 76 percent of ITE graduates found employment within six months of completing school, leading more students to see vocational education as a strong choice for future success.

Another route for secondary graduates who want to pursue technical training is the polytechnics, which offer three-year degree programs in technical fields. Polytechnics now offer nearly 150 diploma programs, and, like the ITE, have worked to remain closely connected with industry, growing and changing alongside Singapore’s economy. Students receive a combination of experiential and classroom-based learning. Up to 40 percent of graduates of postsecondary vocational education pursue a university degree. In many cases they are able to transfer enough credits to complete a bachelor’s degree in two years.

Recent Reforms

In 2020, Singapore’s government announced steps to upgrade the SkillsFuture program. Most notably, the plan included another round of financial credits for all adults ages 25 and older to use towards continuing education, plus an additional credit for skills training or retraining for adults ages 40 to 60. These credits can be used in addition to any credits issued since 2016. Individuals must use the new credits by 2025, however. Credits apply to more than 8,000 courses offered by polytechnics, ITE, and universities.

The government has also called for increasing the number of work-study placements for students from 1,600 to 5,000 by 2025; doubling job placements for mid-career workers to 5,500 by 2025; and increasing the capacity of reskilling programs for mid-career workers. The plan also called for grants to employers to cover 90 percent of the cost of skills training and job redesign, and 20 percent salary support to employers who hire workers ages 40 or older through professional conversion or career transition programs.

Teachers and Principals

Teacher Recruitment

Only one institution—the National Institute of Education (NIE)—is authorized to prepare teachers, and it offers both a master’s degree and a bachelor’s degree route into teaching. In this way, Singapore limits its teacher recruitment only to those students qualified for the country’s rigorous research universities. Each year, Singapore calculates the number of teachers it will need, and opens only that many spots in the training programs. The selection process is competitive: teaching is a highly-regarded profession in Singapore and students in teacher-education programs receive a stipend during their training. On average, only one out of eight applicants is accepted. Typically, successful candidates have scored at the middle or above on Singapore’s challenging A-level exams. The many other steps in the application process include tough panel interviews that focus on the values, skills, and knowledge that make for a good teacher, as well as intensive reviews of the candidate’s academic record and contributions to school and community.

Teaching salaries in Singapore are largely commensurate with those of other professions. Indeed, the Ministry of Education monitors teacher salaries in relation to other professional salaries and adjusts them to ensure they remain competitive.  The maximum salary for a lower secondary teacher is twice the GDP per capita. Teacher salaries increase with years of experience.  Successful teachers can earn retention bonuses every three to five years as well as performance bonuses, which can be up to 30 percent of their base salary. Eligibility is determined through annual evaluations that also serve as a basis for coaching and mentoring between teachers. 

Teacher Preparation and Induction

The National Institute of Education (NIE) is housed in Nanyang Technological University, one of the most prestigious institutions in Singapore’s higher education hierarchy. All primary and secondary teachers are trained at the NIE. During their training, teacher candidates receive a monthly stipend equivalent to 60 percent of a starting teacher salary, and their tuition is covered by the Ministry of Education. Once they have completed training, teachers must commit to three full years on the job.

The undergraduate teacher-education program is a four-year program that includes 22 weeks of practical experience in schools. The graduate program is a 16-month program that includes 10 weeks of practical experience. Students entering the graduate program first attend the Introduction to Teaching program run by the Academy of Singapore Teachers (AST), a professional learning organization run by teachers. Then, to help them gauge their true interest in teaching, prospective candidates spend a few months to a year working in schools as untrained contract teachers before beginning their coursework.

Both undergraduate and master’s programs are guided by the Teacher Education Model for the 21st Century, a framework that states the values, skills, and knowledge (“V3SK”) needed for teachers. The curriculum for the undergraduate route includes academic studies—the content the teachers will teach—as well as education studies, curriculum studies, and service learning. Undergraduate students also have opportunities to participate in practicums in other countries.

After graduation from either the undergraduate and graduate programs, all beginning teachers take part in a two-year induction program led by the AST and funded by the Ministry of Education. During this period, teachers have a reduced teaching load in order to attend classes and work with a trained mentor.

In 2019, early childhood educator training programs were merged under the National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC), in close collaboration with NIE. NIEC offers certificate-level and diploma-level pre-employment training for postsecondary students as well as continuous education courses for mid-careerists. All students are offered training awards, including full sponsorship and allowance to further incentivize people to join the program. Prospective early childhood teachers take courses and complete practicums and internships.  To teach at a public Ministry Kindergarten or Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) preschool, educators must have an early childhood diploma qualification or participate in a nine-month sponsorship program as a trainee teacher. To teach at an ECDA infant or toddler site, “educarers” must have an early childhood certificate. 

Teacher Career Progression

Singapore’s well-known three-track career ladder is a key component of its teacher development system. Once teachers at the primary and secondary level have demonstrated their eagerness and readiness to take on a new role (generally no sooner than three years into the job) they may choose among three career tracks: the teaching track, the leadership track, and the specialist track. In the teaching track, teachers can work their way up to become Principal Master Teachers. In the leadership track, teachers can be promoted from a leadership position within the school all the way up to the position of Director-General of Education. In the specialist track, teachers are focused on research and teaching policy, with the highest-level position being Chief Specialist. Teachers are not automatically promoted to the next level in any track. Moving along to new roles and responsibilities requires teachers to complete required training or mentorship, as well as demonstrate through the Educator Performance Management System (EPMS) that they have the requisite knowledge, skills, and competencies to do the job well. The EPMS includes an annual evaluation in three areas: Professional Practice, Leadership Management, and Personal Effectiveness. Teachers are expected to set and meet personal goals for their work and to demonstrate improvements in a rubric of competencies during observations of their teaching.

The EPMS is also used to determine how well a teacher fits into a given track. Principals and School Staff Developers observe all teachers for three years in order to determine which career path would best suit them. After teachers choose a career path based on their EPMS score, observations, and their own preference, they may make a lateral move if they feel the pathway does not suit them. 

For the first three years of teaching, all teachers receive annual raises. After that, while all teachers may receive annual cost of living increases, substantial raises mainly come with promotion along the career track. Within each track there are 13 stages which offer salary increases independent of teachers’ specific job descriptions, and which must be earned based on the principals’ recommendation. In addition, annual performance bonuses for superlative work can equal between 10 and 30 percent of a teacher’s salary.

A similar three-track ladder exists in early childhood teaching. ECDA and SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) developed a Skills Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education that highlights the 13 occupations for early childhood educators, falling along three tracks: Leader, Teacher, and “Educarer.” Educators can progress within each track and move laterally between them. To achieve promotion along any of the tracks, educators must receive ECDA certification and acquire relevant competencies and professional qualifications. Educarers work with children ages two months to four years in kindergarten and childcare centers while teachers work with children ages four to six. Leaders serve in leadership roles in both kindergarten and childcare centers. In the educarer and teacher track, educators can advance to senior educarer and senior pre-school teacher, respectively. Leaders can advance to pinnacle leader. As teachers advance through and between the tracks, their salaries increase respectively. 

Teacher Development

Teachers have access to several types of professional development opportunities. They can improve their practice through courses at NIE or at AST, where offerings range from in-service training to online classes on a variety of subjects related to teaching. Teachers can participate in as many as 100 hours of government-funded professional development per year. The Ministry and NIE also offer scholarship opportunities for teachers seeking master’s and doctoral degrees in Singapore or abroad, either full- or part-time. 

In addition, the career ladders are a key component of Singapore’s teacher development strategy. Career ladders ensure that teachers can stay in the profession while taking on new roles and responsibilities and provide the structure for their peer-to-peer mentoring, collaboration, coaching, and development systems. Further, the career ladder guarantees that curriculum development is led by those who know teaching and learning best. For these reasons, the career ladder is not only crucial for Singapore’s strategy to recruit and retain teachers, but also a key element of its professional growth strategies and its approach to overall teaching and learning. 

Principal Recruitment, Preparation and Development 

Singapore prioritizes developing skilled principals who can ensure that their schools offer high-quality and equitable learning opportunities. In their third year on the job, in consultation with their principal, teachers can choose the leadership track of Singapore’s three-track career ladder. If they continue to demonstrate the right combination of skills and if the role is available to them, they can advance to department head and vice principal. In this way, all principals start out as teachers and then serve in two administrative roles before advancing to school leadership. Department heads and vice principals usually participate in the Management and Leadership in Schools Program run by the NIE, which aims to proactively prepare them for the next stage of the leadership track. Vice principals on the verge of being promoted to principal must participate in a two-day simulation test and interview process during which they respond to real-world scenarios. Those who pass muster then go on to the Leaders in Education Program at the NIE, which incorporates coursework, fieldwork, mentoring, and visits to leaders of other industries and other countries. Both the Leaders in Education Program and the Management and Leadership in Schools Program include training in management theory and practice. 

Singapore balances both mandates and positive incentives for professional development. Cluster superintendents, themselves former principals, design professional development and collaborative learning opportunities for principals in their cluster. They also evaluate their principals using the Enhanced Performance Management System, working with each principal to set personal goals for improvement and designing a professional learning plan that helps the principal meet those goals. Principals who have served a minimum of six years are permitted to take one-year sabbaticals at full pay to make international study visits, conduct research, write books, or pursue advanced degrees.

Singapore also supports its principals through an international school leader exchange program, Building Educational Bridges, which focuses on building leaders’ capacity to innovate by learning more about international education systems’ leadership practices. Principals can apply for Ministry funding to cover the cost of this two-week program, offered through the NIE.