Education in Singapore: Universities and International Schools

Singapore Management University (Photo from Google)
Singapore Management University (Photo from Google)

(continued from yesterday)
Private tuition in Singapore
Private tuition is a lucrative industry in Singapore, since many parents send their children for private tuition after school.
A straw poll by The Straits Times newspaper in 2008 found that out of 100 students interviewed, only three students did not have any form of tuition. In 2010, the Shin Min Daily News estimated that there were around 540 tuition centers offering private tuition in Singapore.
Due to their high demand, tuition centers are able to charge high fees for their services; they have an annual turnover of Singapore $110.6 million in 2005. However, this industry is largely unregulated, though tuition centers are required to be registered with the Ministry of Education. There is no such requirement for individual private tutors.
The official government stance on private tuition is that “it understands parents want the best for their children and that it is their decision whether to engage tutors”.
Singapore as a “Global Schoolhouse”
Education has always represented an area of focus for Singapore since its independence in 1965. Its emphasis on education partly reflects Singapore’s virtual lack of natural resources and Singapore’s need to develop its human resource and manpower capability in its continuing quest to build a “knowledge-based economy”.
In recent years, the goal of the education sector and in particular tertiary education has moved beyond simply building local manpower capabilities. It is actively being developed by the Singapore government as a source of revenue. The government’s plan, which was initiated in 2002, is to make Singapore a “Global Schoolhouse”, attracting revenue-generating international students. In 2002, the education sector accounted for 3.6% of Singapore’s economy. The government’s aim was to grow this sector to 5% of Singapore’s economy over the subsequent decade.
Education policies of Singapore
Meritocracy is a fundamental ideology in Singapore and a fundamental principle in the education system which aims to identify and groom bright young students for positions of leadership. The system places a great emphasis on academic performance in grading students and granting their admission to special programs and universities, though this has raised concerns about breeding elitism. Academic grades are considered as objective measures of the students’ ability and effort, irrespective of their social background. Having good academic credentials is seen as the most important factor for the students’ career prospects in the job market, and their future economic status.
Curricula are therefore closely tied to exam oriented topics, and the competitiveness of the system led to a proliferation of “ten-year series”, which are compilation books of past examination papers that students use to prepare for examinations.
Bilingualism (Mother Tongue)
Bilingualism, or “mother tongue policy”, is a cornerstone of the Singapore education system. While English is the first language and the medium of instruction in schools, most students are required to take a “Mother Tongue” subject, which could be one of the three official languages: Standard Mandarin, Malay or Tamil.
In recognition of Singapore’s linguistic and cultural pluralism, another stated objective of the bilingual policy is to educate students with their “mother tongues” so that they can learn about their culture, identify with their ethnic roots, and to preserve cultural traits and Asian values.
Financial assistance for education
Education policy in Singapore is designed to ensure that no child is being disadvantaged because of his or her financial background. Therefore, school fees in public schools are heavily subsidized. There is no school fee for 6 years of compulsory education in primary school although students still need to pay standard miscellaneous fees of Singapore $6.50 per month. Moreover, schools may optionally charge second-tier miscellaneous fees of up to the maximum of Singapore $6.50 per month.
The Ministry of Education established the “Financial Assistance Scheme” (FAS) to provide financial assistance for education to low income families with gross household income of Singapore $2,500 or a per capita income of less than Singapore $625. Students eligible for FAS receive a full waiver of miscellaneous fees, and partial subsidy on national examination fees. They may also enjoy full or partial fee subsidy if they are in Independent Schools.
Each year, the “Edusave Merit Bursary” (EMB) is given out to about 40,000 students, who are from lower-middle and low-income families and have good academic performance in their schools. Individual schools also have an “Opportunity Fund” to provide for their own needy students. In addition to these, there are many other assistance schemes from either the government or welfare organizations to help students cope with finances during their studies.
Special Education in Singapore
Singapore was one of only two countries in ASEAN that was not a signatory to the “Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”. The convention mandates that persons with disabilities should be guaranteed the right to inclusive education.
However, in Singapore, “any child who is unable to attend any national primary school due to any physical or intellectual disability” is exempted from compulsory education, and there are no public schools for such children. Instead, they may attend “special education schools” built largely by the Ministry of Education and run by voluntary welfare organizations. These schools receive more than 80% of their funding from the Ministry of Education.
Academic Appointments at National University of Singapore
Full-Time Appointments
Tenure Track
Faculty members interested in and with the potential for sustained excellence in both teaching and research. Assistant Professors are appointed on term contracts, while Associate Professors and Professors may be appointed either with tenure or on term contract.
Research Track
They are the Staff members with focus on conducting fundamental research of high international quality. Appointments on this Track include Research Assistants, Research Fellows, Senior Research Fellows, Associate Professor (Research) and Professor (Research). They are on term contracts of 1 – 3 years in the first instance.
Teaching Track
They are the Staff members with focus and passion that are oriented towards teaching excellence, student learning, and pedagogical research and innovation. Appointments in this Track include Teaching Assistants, Instructors, Lecturers, Senior Lecturers, Associate Professor (Teaching) & Professor (Teaching). They are on term contracts which are usually of 1 – 3 years in the first instance.
Practice Track
Staff members are scholar-practitioners with professional skills and expertise in industry to complement the teaching and research enterprise of the University. They also contribute significantly to the outreach activities of the School. Appointments are to Associate Professor (Practice) and Professor (Practice).  They are on term contracts of 1 – 3 years in the first instance.
Visiting Scheme
Academic staff from other international institutions invited to share their professional expertise. They may be engaged in the teaching, research or review of specific programs of strategic importance. They are on term contracts, with duration to be mutually agreed upon before the visit.
Part-Time Appointments at National University of Singapore
Adjunct/ Extra Scheme
Staff members are qualified and experienced individuals from industry or the professions to undertake teaching as well as collaborative and supervisory work related to research and development in the University. The appointments may be on a semester basis or up to 2 years at a time, with a normal workload of 8 hours per week.
Part-Time Teaching
Staff members appointed to meet short-term needs for teaching staff. Appointments may be up to 1 academic year at a time.
Criticisms over Singapore Education
Critics of the Singapore education system, including some parents, state that the education system is too specialized, rigid, and elitist. Often, these criticisms state that there is little emphasis on creative thinking, unlike education systems in other societies, such as those in the United States.
Those defending the current education system point out that Singaporean student have regularly ranked top when competing in international science and mathematics competitions and assessments. Detractors believe this is more an indication of students’ “skills in using rote” to prepare for a certain style of competition or examination than of their ability to think critically.
[Note: “Rote learning” is a memorization technique based on repetition. The idea is that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more one repeats it.]
In response to such concerns the Ministry of Education has recently introduced a greater focus on creative and critical thinking, and on learning for lifelong skills rather than simply learning to excel in examinations. However, this is still not the case and many Singaporean children are pressured on by their parents and teachers to do well in studies.
At a time when people in Myanmar, especially those in the educational sphere have great expectation for better educational reform, the writer of this article has the pleasure and honor to present in plain and simple term entitled “Education in Singapore: Universities and International Schools” for the esteemed and valued readers of the Global New Light of Myanmar and also for the interested persons in the field of education in Myanmar.

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