The “Thinking Schools, Learning Nation” (TSLN) vision was launched by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in June 1997.1 It aims to encourage young Singaporeans to perceive education as a life-long process2 as well as to develop creative thinking skills and a lifelong passion for learning.3 TSLN complements economic restructuring efforts such as the drive towards a knowledge-based economy that would create a thinking and inquiring workforce.
The Gifted Education Programme (GEP) is an enrichment programme designed to nurture intellectually gifted students to their fullest potential. It was introduced in 1984 by the Ministry of Education (MOE) as part of reforms to create an education system that caters to diverse talents and learning aptitudes.
The Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme was introduced in 2004 by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to cultivate a flexible and broad-based education system in Singapore that looked beyond grades.1 The scheme gives education institutions, such as secondary schools and Junior Colleges (JCs), greater flexibility to select and admit students based on a holistic assessment of both their academic and non-academic talents and achievements.2 Additionally, the newly established Early Admissions Exercise (EAE) has replaced the Direct Polytechnic Admission (DPA) in polytechnics and has also been introduced to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).3
The General Certificate of Education (GCE) was introduced in 1951 in the United Kingdom. In Singapore, GCE examinations have been conducted annually as part of the country’s national examination system since the 1970s. Held for the first time in 1971, the Singapore-Cambridge GCE Ordinary Level (O-Level) examination is the common examination taken by students at the end of secondary four. The Singapore-Cambridge GCE Advanced Level (A-Level) examination was introduced in 1975 as the common examination for students at the pre-university level, followed by the GCE Normal Level (N-Level) examination in 1984 to provide less academically inclined secondary students with an alternative qualification to the O-Level certificate. In 2004, the Integrated Programme (IP) was introduced to enable academically strong secondary school students to proceed to junior colleges without sitting for the GCE O-level examination.
The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is a national examination held annually for pupils at the end of their primary school education. Introduced in 1960, the PSLE has undergone many modifications over the years. In the 1960s and ’70s, changes to the PSLE system were mainly concerned with providing alternative educational pathways to pupils who failed the examination. In the ’80s and ’90s, the focus shifted towards fine-tuning the PSLE grading system so that pupils would enter the most appropriate secondary-level academic stream. From the 2000s onwards, the PSLE framework was further tweaked to de-emphasise competition and encourage the holistic development of children. In August 2005, an overseas version of the PSLE was launched. Known as the Singapore International Primary School Examination (iPSLE), it was developed for pupils of overseas primary schools that followed a curriculum similar to that in Singapore.
Rankings of secondary schools and junior colleges (JCs) based on academic performance were first published by The Straits Times in 1992. The ranking was sanctioned by the Ministry of Education (MOE), and the key objective was to help parents and students make informed decisions on school choices.1 The school ranking became an annual exercise thereafter, undergoing a number of changes over time, including the shift to a banding system in 2004.2 In 2012, the ranking system was abolished after MOE decided to push for a school culture that emphasises less on academic achievements, but more on providing a holistic and well-rounded education.
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