History of Education in Singapore

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles founded the Singapore Institution (now known as Raffles Institution) in 1823, thereby starting education in Singapore under the British rule. Later, there were three main types of schools appeared in Singapore: Malay schools, Chinese and Tamil (together) schools and English schools. Malay schools were provided free for all students by the British, while English schools, which used English as the main medium of instruction, were set up by missionaries and charged school fees. Chinese and Tamil schools largely taught their respective mother tongues. Students from Chinese schools in particular were extremely attuned to developments in China, especially in the rise of Chinese nationalism.

During World War Two, many students in Singapore dropped out of school, causing a huge backlog of students after the war. In 1947, the Ten Years Programme for Education Policy in the Colony of Singapore was formulated. This called for a universal education system that would prepare for self-governance. During the 1950s and 1960s, when Singapore started to develop its own economy, Singapore adapted a "survival-driven education" system to provide a skilled workforce for Singapore's industrialisation programme as well to as to lower unemployment. Apart from being an economic necessity, education also helped to integrate the new nation together. The bilingualism policy in schools was officially introduced in 1960, making English the official language for both national integration and utilitarian purposes. Universal education for children of all races and background started to take shape, and more children started to attend schools. However, the quality of schools set up during this time varied considerably. The first Junior College was opened in 1969.

In the 1980s, Singapore's economy started to prosper, and the focus of Singapore's education system shifted from quantity to quality. More differentiation for pupils with different academic abilities were implemented, such as revamping vocational education under the new Institute of Technology and splitting of the Normal stream in secondary schools into Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) streams. The Gifted Education Programme was also set up to cater to more academically inclined students.

In 1997, the Singapore education system started to change into an ability-driven one after then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong outlined his "Thinking Schools, Learning Nations" vision. Under this policy, more emphasis was given to national education, creative thinking, collaborative learning as well as ICT literacy. Schools became more diverse and were given greater autonomy in deciding their own curriculum and developing their own niche areas. Differences between the various academic streams became blurred. The Ministry of Education also officially acknowledged that "excellence" will not be measured solely in terms of academics; a mountain range of excellence - with many peaks".