Education Policies

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 programmes 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 examinable 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. A non-Tamil Indian may choose to offer Tamil or a non-official language such as Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi or Urdu. However, Chinese students from a non-Mandarin background, such as Cantonese speakers, must learn Mandarin, and students with Indonesian background must learn Malay. Non-Chinese, Malay or Indian students may choose to learn either one of these languages (Usually the Japanese, Koreans and Southeast Asians who are not from Malay or Indonesian origin will choose Chinese). Mother Tongue is a compulsory examinable subject at the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) and the GCE "N", "O" and "A" level examinations. Students are required to achieve a certain level of proficiency in what the government considers their mother tongue as a pre-requisite for admission to local universities. Students returning from overseas may be exempted from this policy.

The bilingual policy was first adopted in 1966. One of its primary objectives is to promote English as the common (and neutral) language among the diverse ethnic groups in Singapore. The designation of English as the first language is also intended to facilitate Singapore's integration into the world economy.

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. Within the Chinese population, Mandarin is promoted as a common language and other Chinese dialects are discouraged, to better integrate the community. In 1979, the Speak Mandarin Campaign was launched to further advance this goal.

Financial assistance
Education policy in Singapore is designed to ensure that no child is disadvantaged because of his or her financial background. Therefore, school fees in public schools are heavily subsidised. There is no school fee for 6 years of compulsory education in primary school although students still need to pay standard miscellaneous fees of $6.50 per month. Moreover, schools may optionally charge second-tier miscellaneous fees of up to the maximum of $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 SGD$2,500 or a per capita income of less than SGD$625.00. 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 organisations to help students cope with finances during their studies.