The Nature of Education in Singapore
Although minute in land mass and population, Singapore has renowned acclaim for its education system. Countries worldwide have applauded the government’s efforts in establishing a strong and effective system which has been the backbone of the nation’s economic prosperity. The education system has been responsible for training productive citizens and developing them to drive the nation’s progress.
In a land-scarce country like Singapore which is deprived of natural resources, the citizens are the main resource the government has. Because the government wisely recognizes this, extensive efforts have been made to develop them. Education is the key arm of the government to develop its citizens and to sustain the nation’s progress. By regulating the education its citizens receive, the government ensures that the knowledge and skills they acquire can be directed to the appropriate sectors in society. Since the services sector occupies the bulk of Singapore’s economy, education necessarily gears our students towards that sector.
Supervised by the Ministry of Education (MOE), all the public schools are stringently regulated. From the teaching faculty to the curriculum, the ministry makes the final decision. Regulation is necessary not only to streamline the instruction students receive but also to siphon them according to their academic abilities. At the end of primary, secondary and junior college standards, students have to sit for national examinations to test their academic proficiency. Their academic grades will determine what kind of schools and courses they can move on to.
Students in polytechnic and the institutions of technical education receive a diploma at the end of their course. Those in junior college have the fastest access to university if they qualify for it in the national exams.
To qualify as teacher in a government school, one has to graduate from the National Institute of Education (NIE) after completing a basic degree in a recognized local or overseas university. Upon graduation from NIE, he is subsequently posted to a government school according to his field of discipline and place of residence.
Academic rigor has not only been characteristic of the Singaporean education system but also the lifestyle of Singaporeans. From the first day a child enters into a public school in Singapore, his life is subjected to grueling academic drilling. Almost every teacher he meets expects him to excel academically because it is critical to moving on to better schools and university courses. A teacher’s performance in school is also primarily assessed by the grades his students achieve.
On a larger scale, a student’s academic performance also affects the overall performance of his school. To encourage improvement and competition amongst schools, the ministry of education has a ranking system in which each public school is annually rated for its performance. Aside from its academic achievements, other factors like its sports and musical achievements are also taken into consideration. The better a school is ranked, the better the appraisal it receives from the ministry and the public.
Aside from academics, students in the public schools have to participate in co-curricular activities (CCA). These range from sports to musical ensembles and clubs of various activities. They are part of the ministry’s initiative to establish a well-rounded education. Competitions are held every year for these CCA groups so that schools which perform well are recognized for their achievements.
Interestingly, many of the public schools in Singapore are Christian by name. They were founded by Christian missionaries during the formative years of the nation. For six years I attended two Roman Catholic schools and two years in an Anglican junior college. The Roman Catholic schools held their mass every now and then on special occasions, although non-Catholics were only required to observe. Covenant parents may not be deceived into thinking that there is any spiritual instruction from these schools. There is nothing religious, nothing Christian about them. Rather than a Christian institute, the Anglican junior college I attended resembled a synagogue of Satan.
Every Singaporean parent knows that competition is the driving principle behind our education system. It is a system based solidly on merit, where the best students with the best academic grades get into the best schools and best courses. Competition to enter the best schools is extremely fierce, because these schools are famous for churning out top students. With top grades, one has better opportunities to choose the more prospective courses in university. Job opportunities are also usually better for those who come from the top schools.
Being a meritocratic society, rewards are naturally in place for those who perform well. The government, along with many business corporations, offers hundreds of scholarships to those who excel academically. These scholarships range in value and prestige. Some of the most prestigious scholarships include the President’s scholarship and the Public Service Commission scholarship. These are awarded by the government to top students who wish to serve as civil servants. These prestigious scholarships allow and pay for them to study in the world’s top universities. Upon the completion of their studies, these scholars return home to serve in various sectors of the government. In many ways their career paths are tightly secured, along with promotion opportunities and well-paying salaries.
Placing the brains at the high positions in government and business corporations has worked well for Singapore. Elaborate planning and wise policies have transformed Singapore into one of the finest cities in the world. That Singaporeans today enjoy high standards of living and technological advancements is beyond doubt due to the wise leadership of their government.
It is not my purpose to examine the benefits and advantages of our public education system. Our children are fine products of this system. The system has made doctors, lawyers, engineers and other kinds of professionals out of our covenant children. My purpose is to demonstrate the spiritual devastation this system has caused to our covenant children, in the hope that we as covenant parents will realize the absolute necessity of giving them a covenant education. The future of the church depends heavily on this.