Singapore’s education system is widely considered one of the best in the world, with its students constantly topping international rankings in math and science. Since its independence in 1965, education is something Singapore places great emphasis on.

20% of Singapore’s national budget is spent on education and 1/2 the stock of local bookstores is dedicated to the educational and academic genre, ensuring accessible resources for all students. As a result of these sustained efforts, Singapore has an adult (between the ages of 15 to 65) literacy rate of 98.7%

Here, we take a deep dive into some of the factors that have possibly contributed to Singapore’s stellar education rankings

Education as a tool to Maintain a Competitive Edge

Singapore’s modernisation and development takes place against the backdrop of intense global competition, a limited, saturated domestic economy and a lack of any natural resources. As such, it is essential for Singapore to create links to external economies through education and innovation, moving away from traditional industrial-age production into the idea-driven markets of today.

These changes give the Singapore government the motivation to constantly fine-tune the local education system, so that students can leave its schools as a competitive global citizen.

In 2000, the former minister of education Teo Chee Hean pointed out that Singaporean students entering the workforce must be able to think critically to succeed in the economic landscape. A sentiment that rings true even 20 years later in today’s solution-driven industry.

The ability to adapt to new schools of thought and implementing them appropriately then became a hallmark of the Singapore education system. A logical course of action for a small country without many natural resources. Turning to its ability to adapt and overcome to survive in an increasingly competitive world

Teach Less, Learn More

As an active player in the global economy, Singapore’s Ministry of Education frequently reassesses and reworks its curriculum, syllabi and learning goals to keep up with the growing demands students are facing in modern society.

This was not always the case, however, originally the realistic-pragmatic Singapore has experienced great success with traditional rote learning, producing students who aced standardised tests with ease.

Despite this, it became apparent that these students were unable to keep up with the strategic and creative demands of an evolving world.

This realisation led to the implementation of “Teach Less, Learn More” in 2006. A call for educators to “teach beyond the test”. To venture beyond the textbook and into problem-solving skills and subjects,

Since then, this policy has been an important guiding principle in the Ministry’s decisions through the years

In order to make room for a more flexible, innovative education model, course content was cut by 10-20% in hopes that extra time resulting from this move could be used towards teaching students more soft skills and equipping them with the tools they need to tackle the global economy.

In the words of then Minister of Education, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Teach Less Learn More is “A call for educators to teach better, to engage our students and prepare them for life, rather than to teach for tests and examinations.”

Since the policy’s implementation, Singapore’s students have been guided by modified assessment practices to tackle subjects and problems in a more holistic manner.

The Teach Less Learn More policy met with recent success when the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently announced that Singapore students claimed the top spot in its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) Global competency test.

This test required students to identify and analyse perspectives, evaluate information, assess situations and make connections across multiple activities within a problem.

Singapore Students were met with other successes in the PISA test, coming in second after China for Math, Science and Reading.

A testimony to the holistic success of Singapore’s education system

A Culture of Academic Excellence

“The ‘talent myth’ which states that some kids are naturally smarter than others, is non-existent in Singapore”.

Thus, observes Bruce Edwin Ayers Truax, writer for the non-profit group, The Borgen Project, writes.

In a society where children are generally considered to be equal in ability. Effort and hard work is more lauded than any inherited or innate talent.

Singapore stands as a society where meritocracy and the ability to climb the social hierarchy through education does exists, giving schoolwork and academics higher stakes than usual.

In Singapore, students are motivated to gain an edge over their peers, creating a conducive culture where effort is valued and encouraged

Nevertheless, Singapore’s deeply ingrained culture of academic excellence has always served as a double-edged sword for students in its education system.

While it is a culture that has been widely panned by critics for being overly stressful and fatiguing, it might ironically be the key to Singapore’s success in standardised test performances.

With all factors considered, Singapore’s education system is built on a steady foundation and is bound to grow in scale and efficacy in the coming years. Continuing to pave the road to career opportunities for the intrepid student.