READ: The billion-dollar industry behind Singapore’s continued educational excellence

Time and time again, Singapore tops global rankings in educational excellence. Our students are constantly considered one of the best in math and science, while our academic institutions are similarly ranked as one of the most prestigious in the world. Recently, Singapore claimed the title of best education system in the world after topping the global Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings in math, science and reading. 

The culture of achieving the highest grades is one that’s deeply ingrained in Singaporeans from young; so much so that highly competitive schooling is considered the norm. Christopher McGee — a research associate of the National University of Singapore’s Institute of Policy Studies — even went so far as to call it “The Educational Arms Race” in his 2012 working paper.

Macquarie University associate professor Amanda Wise, however, recently published an analysis of what Singapore’s doing right (or wrong, depending on your perspective) to ensure supremacy in all things academic. Basically, it all boils down to the extreme focus on extra education outside of normal school hours. Read on about Wise’s analysis on The Conversation, and check out some highlights from her study below: 


How private tuition plays a major part in Singapore’s success

“Public discussion in Australia around why we are not doing as well as the Singaporeans is largely focused on what goes on in that country’s schools.

Yet there is one thing missing from the reporting on Singapore’s success: the role of private tuition (private tutors and coaching colleges) and the part it plays in the overall success of students in the tiny city-state. Eight out of ten primary school aged students in Singapore receive private tuition, either by way of private tuition or coaching colleges.”

Singapore’s billion-dollar private education industry

“According to Singapore’s household expenditure survey, private tuition in Singapore is a SGD$1.1 billion industry (for a nation with a population of about 5.6 million), almost double the amount households spent in 2005.

Tuition centers and coaching colleges range from more affordable neighborhood- and community-based centers to large national “branded” coaching colleges with outlets in major shopping malls across the island.

The quality of tuition received is very much linked to how much one can afford to pay. It is big business.”

On how the culture of academic excellence starts in pre-school

“Many middle-class parents believe the “race” starts early.

Parents are increasingly expected to have their pre-school aged child reading and writing, and with basic maths skills before they even enter school – and this is frequently achieved through private pre-schools and ‘enrichment’ tuition.” 

On the dark side of Kiasu culture

“Many Singaporean parents I have spoken to bemoan the hyper-competitive environment that forces their children into hours of extra tuition, impacting on family time and relationships and reducing opportunities for childhood free play, developing friendships and simply getting some decent rest. Many feel they have no choice.

Singaporeans have a term for this pathology: ‘Kiasu’, which means ‘fear of falling behind or losing out’. Policymakers, and indeed reporting, needs to be cognisant of exactly what produces these outlying educational success stories.”


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