Singapore has consistently topped international leagues that measure students’ reading, mathematics, and science abilities. Alongside other East Asian countries like Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, this little city-state has competed and defeated countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Sweden, and the United States.
In 2018, the Programme for International Student Assessment, better known as PISA, Singapore ranked second. It fell closely behind China, which took first place across all three subjects.
Singapore securing a spot within the Top 10 of PISA every year for around a decade now is pretty impressive. It is the only nation in Southeast Asia that managed to clinch the top spot and regularly enter the Top 10.
The National University of Singapore also landed in the 25th spot of this year’s Time’s Higher Education World University Rankings. Nanyang Technological University is also on the list, reaching the 48th spot.
Singapore: the Centre of Education in Southeast Asia
These accolades have encouraged students hailing from everywhere in the world to travel to the city-state to study. In 2018, around 65,000 students studied in a high school in Singapore or world-class universities. In nearly 6 million people, international students make up a significant portion of the population.
English as the First Language
The number of foreigners studying, working, and living in Singapore is only increasing year by year. The island has become a melting pot for cultures and traditions from all over the world.
One reason why Singapore has become competitive globally is that the majority of its population speaks English. Singaporean students from all age brackets are fluent in English, sometimes speak the language better than natives.
About 75% of Singaporeans speak English. In fact, in the 2020 edition of Education First’s English proficiency ranking, Singapore was 10th globally, achieving a “very high” score of 611. It is the highest score received by an Asian nation, with the Philippines trailing far behind at 2nd in the continent and 27th globally.
Highly-Skilled Teachers Command the Classroom
In Singapore and many countries across East Asia, teaching is a well-respected profession. Students look up to their teachers and trust that they are getting quality education on par with the global standard.
What makes Singaporean teachers so competitive is the extensive training they receive before they are deployed to classrooms. Nearly all (89%) of Singapore teachers said that they were given adequate instruction in the subject, pedagogy, and classroom management before they officially became educators. For comparison, globally, only 79% of teachers felt prepared to teach before they were given their assignments.
Many Singaporean teachers also have mentors during their first few years in the education system. Most of them also attend courses and seminars, participate in peer observation and coaching, and join a teachers’ network to improve their skills further.
Also, teachers in Singapore receive ample pay. The starting salary for educators is higher than the national average, attracting and retaining the best graduates in the country.
Placing Greater Focus on Education
Singapore has not always been on top of the world when it comes to education. Back in the ‘70s, the city-state lagged.
However, the government, led by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, knew that the key to forging a strong and wealthy nation is education. Singapore made major changes in its education system at a national level.
All schools adhered to government-approved curriculum materials. There was less diversity in the types of schools available to students (unlike its former conqueror, the UK). There were uniform entry qualifications for those who wanted to become a teacher.
Moreover, the education system has not remained stagnant for years. Regulators re-evaluate the education system and seek to make improvements. When students reported high levels of anxiety or stress due to the pressures of getting good grades and scoring high on tests, Singapore’s Ministry of Education announced that it would stop releasing the list of top-performing students.
Investing in the Future
Studying in Singapore is surprisingly affordable. The government pours money toward aiding and supporting students who may not have the financial resources to continue studying. There are scholarships everywhere, many willing to send the best students to the top academic institutions anywhere in the world.
However, those who stay in Singapore receive a quality education, no matter which school they go to.
Singapore’s educational system is, in no way, perfect. Still, other countries can learn a lot from how the city-state managed to turn out globally competitive students within only a few years since its independence in 1965.