Yan's Corner - In Touch

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Education in Singapore - a global experience

This article first appeared in Postmag, Weekend Magazine of The Borneo Post, on 3rd September, 2005.

First Class Education for all

“We are aiming for a mountain range, not a pinnacle. We want many routes up, many ways to succeed. If you are a teh tarik man, you must be a good teh tarik man, pour the tea and turn around … In Chinese, they say hang hang chu zhuang yuan: In every profession, there are people who are outstanding, who are world-class and I think we must be like that in Singapore.”

Thus, says the Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, at his national day rally delivered on August 21, 2005.

Mr Lee was touching on the education system of Singapore aiming to give everyone, not just an elite few, a first-class education.


Global Experience through education

While Singapore wants to develop every talent, and aiming at a strong Singapore team, it also hopes to give their students a global experience through the admission of foreign students in its basic education and higher learning comprising of preparatory education from kindergarten to “A” level, certificate/diploma education and tertiary education (undergraduates and postgraduates).

“We want to give our own students a global experience through a learning environment with the presence of international students,” said Magdalene Lee, Director of Education Services, Singapore Education.

Singapore Education is a multi-agency initiative by International Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Education, Singapore Economic Development Board, Singapore Tourism Board and SPRING Singapore (Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board).

“One of our strong points in our education system is that courses are designed to prepare the students to join the work force. At the end of the day, these students are to join the workforce. We live in a very globalize world, students are also prepared to be globalize.” Said Magdalene.


“I spoke to some principals of schools in China; they felt that their students are more motivated to learn English when they see children in Singapore who are Chinese can master English. Likewise, our own children in Singapore are inspired to learn Chinese language when they see China students mastering the language.” Said Dane Lim Cher-Wee, Manager Basic Education and Higher Learning Department, Education Services Division of Singapore Tourism Board.

Magdalene said that opening Singapore universities and polytechnics and even high schools for international students is not purely an economic gain. It opened Singapore students to enrich their learning with the opportunity to learn together with international students. This offers a board-based curriculum and global perspective. She added scholarships are also made available to international students.

At present there are 66,000 foreign students in Singapore. The figure does not include the children of expatrates in Singapore. Public schools are allowed to take foreign students up to 20% of its total students’ population.

International Link-Up

Education is important to give Singaporeans the skills and training for a new economy. It also helps Singaporeans from poor backgrounds break out of poverty, thus said Mr Lee, the Prime Minister of Singapore.

Universities and polytechnics have linked up with foreign universities to run degree programme in niche areas.

There is a new initiative to give students more overseas exposure in the coming years. This would prime students to compete globally.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic has an early childhood education program with which it hopes to interest institutions such as Wheelock College in Boston, known for its degree course in the area.

Nanyang Polytechnic, which has run a digital media design course wince the mid-90s, is eyeing American institutions such as the DigiPen Institute near Seatle.

These entire joint programs are aiming to give the students that global experience in order to compete globally.

Learning Hub

Singapore is bringing life back to Bras Besah and Bugis area. Many of the old institutions were there in the 60s and 70s. This included St. Joseph’s Institution, Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, St. Nicholas, St. Anthony’s, Raffles Girls’ Primary School, Raffles Institution and Catholic High.

Now, educational institutions are moving back to this area. Singapore Management University, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, the new National Library are there. La-Salle-SIA College of the Arts would be up next year. Another new arts school would also be built.

“Changes have begun. It’s very different now. Students hang out in cafes, shops, new National Library. Some shops at the area have changed to give it a more student lifestyle.” said Dane Lim Cher-Wee, Manager Basic Education and Higher Learning Department, Education Services Division of Singapore Tourism Board.

The Prime Minister Mr Lee said in the national rally, “It’s something new and exciting but also something old and nostalgic about Bras Basah, Bugis.”

The Prime Minister’s school, Catholic High was also there. He related that the students used to haunt the whole area after and before classes.

“We will make this again into a lively arts, cultural, learning and entertainment centre in the middle of the city. And a new generation of Singaporeans are now forming memories and sentimental links and attachments to the new landscape, just as the older generation did, and it will be one of the things which will anchor Singaporeans in Singapore.” Promised Mr Lee to its citizens.

Education System

The basic education and higher learning in Singapore comprises of preparatory education, which is from kindergarten to “A” level; certificate/diploma education and tertiary education comprising of undergraduates and postgraduates.

There are three local universities, namely, National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University.

Singapore has an Education Excellence Framework that focuses on academic excellence, organisational excellence and excellence in student protection and welfare practices.

Liew Shang Zhao, ASEAN Secondary Scholarship student who studies in Raffles Institution Secondary 3 in 2003 left words at Singapore Education website –

“Since my arrival …. I must say Singapore education lives up to its name. I made the choice to further my education in Singapore because I viewed it as a stepping-stone to the working world … Boarding provides us with the opportunity to get to know and form close friendships with people of many different background….”

Support Services for international students

The Education Services of Singapore Tourism Board provides information and support services for international students. It also facilitates a conducive environment for international students to learn, love and play in Singapore. Some of the activities organized include road shows, education fairs and seminars in overseas market to raise awareness of Singapore education.

“Our work with schools is not purely promotional but it is engaging friends overseas. Engaging here means working with schools through road shows and information centres. In this way, we are able to bring across what Singapore has to offer in the most unbiased way possible. This also includes students exchange program.” Said Dane.

When asked on how Singapore Tourism Board and Ministry of Education work together in promoting education in Singapore globally, Magdalene said,

“Singapore Tourism Board provides a platform for the educational institutions to participate. We either organize our own road shows or participate in the education fair organized by the private sections.”

Scholarships available

There are a number of scholarships available for all nationalities. Scholarships are generally awarded to students based on academic merit and performance during the interview.

A few of the scholarships are –

NUS Graduate Scholarship for ASEAN Nationals, which finances the pursuits of a graduate degree by full-time coursework. Only nationals of a member country of ASEAN (except Singapore) are eligible to apply for the scholarships.

The Temasek Scholarship is available to all ASEAN nationals or permanent residents (except Singapore) and other Southeast Asian nations.

Other corporate scholarships include, DBS Scholarship, OCBC Scholarship, PSA Corp Scholarship.

Room of Improvement

Will the intake of foreign students deprive the opportunity of Singaporeans in universities? Magdalene said with a firm no.

“The government will ensure that that this does not happen. The inclusion of international students is a win-win situation. It is good for our own students, international students and also for the economic gain.”

Magdalene stressed that there is no way that we can learn of another countries better than learning in an environment where there is a mix of international students.

“They are training people to be hands-on, minds-on and hearts-on. So, you develop a complete rounded person.” Said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong praising the educational institutions.


Next: NUS High School of Science and Maths. Read about the “Malaysian Star”, Carmen Cheh who shines in Singapore..

4 comment(s):

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