Secondary education in Singapore
Secondary education in Singapore is based on four different tracks or streams:"Integrated Programme", "Express", "Normal (Academic)", or "Normal (Technical)". Singaporeans are forbidden to attend international schools on the island without Ministry of Education permission. At the end of Primary 6, the national Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is held. The examination determines whether the student is ready to leave primary school by passing; places in secondary schools are allocated according to students' performance in the examination.
"Express" are four-year courses leading up to the Singapore-Cambridge GCE "O" Level examination. The difference between these two courses is that in the "Special" stream, students take 'Higher Mother Tongue' (available for Chinese, Malay and Tamil only) instead of 'Mother Tongue'. A pass in the Higher Mother Tongue 'O' Level Examination constitutes the fulfilment of the Mother Tongue requirement in Singapore, whereas Ordinary Mother Tongue Students will have to go through one more year of study in their Mother Tongue after their 'O' Levels to take the H1 Level Mother Tongue Examinations and fulfil the MOE's requirement. A foreign language, French, German, or Japanese, can be taken in addition to the mother tongue or can replace it. That is especially popular with students who are struggling with their mother tongues, expatriates, or students returning from abroad. Non-Chinese students may also study Chinese and non-Malay students Malay, as a third language. The programme is known as CSP (Chinese Special Programme) and MSP (Malay Special Programme). Mother tongue teachers conduct these lessons in school after the usual hours. Students of Higher Mother Tongue languages are allowed to have up to two points taken off their O-level scoring, a scoring system discussed below where a lower value is considered better, if they meet set benchmarks. The Ministry of Education Language Centre (MOELC) provides free language education for most additional languages that other schools may not cover and provides the bulk of such education, admitting several thousand students each year.
Normal is a four-year course leading up to a Normal-level (N-level) exam, with the possibility of a fifth year followed by an O-level. Normal is split into Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical). In Normal (Technical), students take subjects of a more technical nature, such as Design and Technology, while in Normal (Academic) students are prepared to take the O-level exam and normally take subjects such as Principles of Accounting. In 2004, the Ministry of Education announced that selected students in the Normal course would have an opportunity to sit for the O-level exam directly without first taking the N-level exam. Secondary 5 will be abolished in 2025.
There are ongoing debates about the effectiveness of streaming, with some arguing that it should be abolished for its detrimental psychological effects, streaming will be abolished by 2025.
With the exception of schools offering the Integrated Programme, which leads to either an International Baccalaureate Diploma or to an A-level exam, most students are streamed into a wide range of course combinations at the end of their second year, bringing the total number of subjects they have to sit at O-level to between six and ten, with English, Mother Tongue or Higher Mother Tongue Language, Mathematics, one Science and one Humanities Elective being compulsory. Several new subjects such as Computing and Theatre Studies and Drama are being introduced in tandem with the Ministry of Education's revised curriculum.
- English Language
- Mother Tongue Languages (Chinese, Malay, Tamil, etc.)
- Higher Mother Tongue Languages (Higher Chinese, Higher Malay, Higher Tamil, etc.)
- Combined Humanities
- Literature in English/Malay/Chinese/Tamil
- Higher Art (Art Elective Programme)
- Higher Music (Music Elective Programme)
Mathematics & Science group
- Elementary Mathematics
- Additional Mathematics
- Science (Physics, Chemistry), Science (Physics, Biology), Science (Chemistry, Biology) (these 3 combined together is also known as pure science.)
- Integrated Sciences
- Design and Technology -opt- a math
- Computer Applications
- Elements of Business Skills (2009 onwards)
- Food and Nutrition
- Principles of Accounts
- O-Level School-Initiated Electives [OSIEs] (Economics, Computer Studies, etc.)
The list above is not exhaustive, and does not include new subjects such as Computing and Theatre Studies and Drama, or less common subjects, such as Integrated Sciences.
Grade and scoring systems
All secondary schools in Singapore standardises the academic grading system after the grading system awarded at the Singapore-Cambridge GCE O-Level examination, which a student sits at the end of four or five years of secondary education, taking at least 6 subjects. The level of achievement in each subject is indicated by the grade obtained, with A1 being the highest achievable grade and F9 being the lowest:
- A1/A2 (Distinction)
- B3/B4 (Merit)
- C5/C6 (Credit/Pass)
- D7/E8/F9 (Below O Level Pass)
At the end of secondary education, only candidates that have attained C6 grade and above for at least 5 academic subjects will receive a School Graduation Certificate (SGC), whereas those above E8 will receive 'O' Level certificates.
A student's overall academic performance is measured through several scoring systems (such as the L1R5, L1B5 and L1R4 scoring system) depending on which type of post-secondary institution a student is applying. Each grade has a point value respective to it, for example, with grade A1 being 1 point, A2 being 2 points, and B3 being 3 points. Thus, the lower the points obtained, the better the score. For example, in the L1R5 scoring system, the student's L1 or first language (either English or Higher Mother Tongue Language) and R5 or relevant 5 subjects (which must include at least one from the Science & Mathematics group, one from the Humanities group, and excluding subjects such as Religious Studies, Mother Tongue "B" and CCA). Consequently, an L1R5 score of 6 points is considered the best score attainable to enter a Junior College. A student requires an L1R5 score of less than 20 points to be eligible for Junior College. On top of that, students must also pass English and Mother Tongue examinations.
For non-major examinations, several schools use the Mean Subject Grade (MSG) scoring system, while schools running the Integrated Programme (IP) also use the Grade Point Average (GPA) scoring system.
"Co-Curricular Activities" (CCA) are compulsory at the secondary level, where all pupils must participate in at least one core activity, and participation is graded together with other achievements throughout the four years in a scoring system known as LEAPS ("Leadership, Enrichment, Achievement, Participation, Service"). There are many co-curricular activities offered at the secondary level, and each student is judged based in these areas. Competitions and performances are regularly organized. Co-curricular activities are often categorized under the following: Uniformed Groups, Performing Arts, Clubs & Societies and Sports & Games. Students may also participate in more than 1 CCA.
The main uniform groups are NCC (National Cadet Corps), NPCC (National Police Cadet Corps), NCDCC (National Civil Defence Cadet Corps), St John Ambulance Brigade, Red Cross Youth, Singapore Scout Association, Girl Guides, the Boys' Brigade and the Girls' Brigade. Students are expected to learn drills and must wear the respective uniforms.
This is to prepare male students for National Service (NS) when they reach the age of 18. Besides military drills, they also learn skills such as team-bonding and first-aid.
Performing Arts CCAs vary from school to school, although most will include the Choir, Military/Concert/Symphonic Band, Chinese Orchestra, Dance groups for different ethnic cultures, Drama and Debate. Most are oriented towards performing and the musical arts.
Clubs and societies
There is a broad range of clubs and societies, ranging from Singapore Youth Flying Club to Robotics, Media and Infocomm Clubs and martial arts.
Special Assistance Plan
The Special Assistance Plan (Abbreviation: SAP; Chinese: 特别辅助计划) is a special programme in Singapore introduced in 1979 that caters to academically strong students who excel in both their mother tongue as well as English. The main objective of the programme is to preserve schools with strong cultural backgrounds and create bi-cultural environment, to allow capable students to master both English and Chinese. The special programme were run in designated institutions that offers English and Chinese at first-language level under the Special stream (a variation of the Express stream, according to the education grading system in use since 1982). Nine secondary schools piloted the programme, which is deemed overwhelming successful with five of the designated schools consistently attaining top ten positions in the secondary school ranking in the 1990s, surpassing several established English-medium schools.
Currently, eleven designated secondary schools offers the Special Assistance Plan, namely:
Gifted Education Programme
The Gifted Education Programme (GEP) was set up by the Ministry of Education in 1984 amid some public concern to cater to the intellectually gifted students. As of 2005, the schools participating consisted of 9 primary schools — Anglo-Chinese School (Primary), Catholic High School (Primary), Henry Park Primary School, Nan Hua Primary School, Nanyang Primary School, Rosyth School, Tao Nan School, St. Hilda's Primary School, and Raffles Girls' Primary School. Seven secondary schools originally started the programme, but with the introduction of the Integrated Programme, most have folded the GEP programmes into their IP curriculum. The two remaining secondary GEP schools are Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), a school which provides both Cambridge 'O' Levels and the Integrated Programme, and is one of the top school globally in the International Baccalaureate, and Dunman High School, a mixed autonomous government school; the autonomous all-boys Victoria School had to suspend GEP classes due to low enrolment, with GEP students preferring IP schools.
Pupils enter the programme through a series of tests at Primary 3, which will identify the top 1 per cent of the student population. A second selection used to be conducted at Primary 6 for those who do well in the PSLE, but this was discontinued after it was found to be too difficult for these students to catch up with the programme. In the programme, pupils are offered special enrichment programmes to cater for their needs. However, not all students in GEP are successful. Some are not accustomed to the fast pace of study which affects their performance in the core subjects and may choose not to continue the programme at the secondary level.
The Integrated Programme, also known as the "Through-Train Programme" (直通车), is a scheme which allows the most able secondary students in Singapore to bypass "O" levels and take "A" levels, International Baccalaureate or an equivalent examination directly at the age of 18 after six years of secondary education.
First introduced in 2004, the programme allows for more time to be allocated to enrichment activities. By bypassing the GCE "O" level examinations, the students are supposedly given more time and flexibility to immerse themselves in a more broadly-based education. In addition, the students enjoy more freedom in the combination of subjects between Years 1 - 4 as compared to their non-IP counterparts. Generally, only the top performers (usually from Special, and sometimes Express, stream) are eligible to be part of the IP programme. This will ensure that the main body of the students pursue their secondary education at their own pace by first completing a 4-year "O" level course before going on to a 2-year "A" level education (as opposed to a 2-year "O" level and 4-year "A" level education).
As a result, schools with an IP allow their students to skip the "O" levels at Secondary 4 and go straight into junior colleges (JCs) in Year 5/JC1. The Integrated Programme with the revised Singapore-Cambridge GCE "A" levels or the IB Diploma as a terminal qualification has become an increasingly popular alternative to the standard secondary education pathway. This is because it is perceived as having moved away from the usually heavy emphasis on the sciences, a phenomenon resulting from the post-independence need for quick and basic technical and industrial education; to subjects in the arts and humanities. Such programmes are more project-based and students are expected to be independent learners.
The first batch of IP students sat for the revised GCE "A" Level or International Baccalaureate Diploma examinations in 2007.
The schools offering the IP / IB programmes in Singapore are:
- Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) (IP - IB)
- Cedar Girls' Secondary School (IP, last two years at Victoria Junior College)
- Dunman High School (IP + Bicultural Studies Programme)
- Methodist Girls' School ( IP-IB 5th/6th year with ACS-I & O-levels 4yrs)
- National Junior College (IP)
- NUS High School of Mathematics and Science (IP - NUS High School Diploma)
- Nanyang Girls' High School (IP + Bicultural Studies Programme, last two years at Hwa Chong Institution)
- River Valley High School (IP + Bicultural Studies Programme)
- Temasek Junior College (IP + Chinese Language Elective Programme)
- Hwa Chong Institution (IP + Bicultural Studies Programme)
- Raffles Institution (IP)
- Raffles Girls' School (Secondary) (IP, last two years at Raffles Institution)
- Victoria School (IP, last two years at Victoria Junior College)
- St. Joseph's Institution (IP-IB)
- Singapore Chinese Girls' School (IP, last two years at Eunoia Junior College)
- CHIJ St. Nicholas Girls' School (IP, last two years at Eunoia Junior College)
- Catholic High School (IP, last two years at Eunoia Junior College)
Specialised Independent Schools (SIS)
- NUS High School of Mathematics and Science, focuses on Mathematics, Science, Technology and Engineering.
- School of Science and Technology, Singapore, focuses on applied learning in Science, Technology, Aesthetics, Engineering and Mathematics.
- School of the Arts, Singapore, focuses on Visual, Literary and Performing Arts.
- Singapore Sports Schools, focuses on Sports and Athletics.
Admission to post-secondary institutions
Upon completion of the 4- or 5-year secondary school education, students (excluding IP students) will participate in the annual Singaporean GCE 'O' Level, the results of which determine which pre-universities or post-secondary institutions they may apply for. Pre-university centres include junior colleges for a two-year course leading up to GCE 'A' Level, or the Millennia Institute for a three-year course leading up to GCE 'A' Level. Junior colleges and the Millennia Institute accept students on merit, with a greater emphasis on academics than vocational technical education. Students who wish to pursue vocational education go on to post-secondary institutions such as the polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), where they receive a diploma upon successful completion of their courses.
Admission to a two-year pre-university course at junior colleges after graduating from secondary school is determined by the L1R5 (first language + 5 relevant subjects) scoring system. This scoring system is based on the 'O' Level subject grades, which range from A1 (best) to F9 (worst). The candidate adds the numerical grades for six different subjects: English (or another language taken at the 'first language' level), a Humanities subject, a Science/Mathematics subject, a Humanities/Science/Mathematics subject, and two other subjects of any kind. The best L1R5 unmodified score is therefore 6, for a student with A1 grades in six subjects which meet the criteria.
Students scoring 20 points and below may be admitted for either a Science or Arts Course. In addition, a student must also achieve at least a C6 grade, which is 50% or higher, in the GCE 'O' Level English Language and Mathematics papers in order to qualify for junior college admission. Pre-university centres that are particularly associated with academic excellence, however, usually expect students to attain points in the single digits, in order to be admitted. This is because the system is merit-driven, with places given to those with lower scores first.
For admission to a three-year pre-university course at the Millennia Institute, the L1R4 (first language + 4 relevant subjects) scoring system is used, and students are expected to score below 20 points to be admitted. Students may opt for any of the science, arts or commerce streams when pursuing a three-year pre-university course.
For students seeking admission to diploma courses in polytechnics, the L1R2B2 (first language + 2 relevant subjects + 2 best subjects of any kind) scoring system is used. However, students will also be required to meet specific prerequisites outlined by the different polytechnic schools they are applying for. Students applying for courses in the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) Colleges will also have an independent scoring system, depending on the course they are applying for.
Bonus points can be deducted from a student's aggregate score, thus lowering it. These bonus points may come from either scoring an 'A' or 'B' grade in CCA, taking Higher Mother Tongue Language and obtaining a minimum of 'D7', or through affiliation (for feeder schools). Bonus points are capped at 4, except for those applying to schools offering Chinese Language Elective Programme (CLEP) or Malay Language Elective Programme (MLEP).
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