Criticisms of Education in Singapore

Critics of the education system, including some parents, state that education in Singapore is too specialized, rigid, and elitist. Often, these criticisms state that there is little emphasis on creative thinking. Those defending the current education system point out that Singaporean students have regularly ranked near the top when competing in international science and mathematics competitions and assessments. Detractors, however, argue this is more an indication of the institution's use of rote learning to prepare for competition or examination than of students' critical thinking skills.

In response to such concerns the Ministry of Education has recently discussed a greater focus on creative and critical thinking, and on learning for lifelong skills rather than simply teaching students to excel in examinations. Although some efforts of these sorts have been made, many Singaporean children continue to face high pressure by parents and teachers to do well in studies.

Supporters of the system assert that the provision of differentiated curricula according to streams since the late 1970s has allowed students with different abilities and learning styles to develop and sustain an interest in their studies. This ability-driven education has since been a key feature behind Singapore's success in education, and was responsible for bringing drop-out rates down sharply.

In recent years, while streaming still exists, various refinements to the policy have been made. There is now greater flexibility for students to cross over different streams or take subjects in other streams, which alleviates somewhat the stigma attached to being in any single stream. Furthermore, the government is now starting to experiment with ability-banding in other ways - such as subject-based banding in Primary Schools instead of banding by overall academic performance.

Special education
Singapore was one of only two countries in ASEAN that was not a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which mandates that persons with disabilities should be guaranteed the right to inclusive education. Instead, 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 organisations. These schools receive more than 80% of their funding from the Ministry of Education, but have long waiting lists, according to Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim. The Singapore government has asserted that only "a very small number of children do not attend school each year", giving a figure of 8 students as compared to a primary school intake of roughly 43000, and that requiring all special needs children to attend school would "impose unduly harsh requirements on their parents." This practice has been described as a "form of discrimination" by Sylvia Lim. The Convention was ratified in July 2013, and made effective on 18 August the same year.