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Singapore Education System: From Preschool to University

This article would summarize the Singapore formal education system and the multiple pathways students in Singapore may take throughout their education journey up to the pre-university level.


The education system in Singapore could be generally classified into a few stages:

- Preschool

- Primary School (6 years)

- Secondary School (4-5 years)

- Post-Secondary/Pre-university

- University

Below is a brief overview of the various pathways students may take in their education journey in Singapore.


Preschool in Singapore is for children under the age of 7 years old. Kindergartens provide up to 3 years of preschool which consist of Nursery, Kindergarten 1 (K1), and Kindergarten 2 (K2). Preschool is not compulsory in Singapore; however, parents are sending their children to preschool to build a foundation before going to primary school.

Primary Education is compulsory under the Compulsory Education Act since 2003. Usually, students start their primary education at the age of 7 years up to 12 years.

Primary education consists of 4 years of foundation stage (Primary 1 to 4) and 2 years of orientation stage (Primary 5 and 6). English is taught as a first language in primary school. Students would also be required to take a mother tongue language: Chinese, Malay or Tamil.

primary student

In Primary 1 and 2, students would be taught 3 subjects: English, Mathematics and Mother Tounge Language. From Primary 3, Science is also included in their curriculum. And after completing the 6 years of education, students must sit for the Primary School Leaving Education (PSLE) which includes all the 4 core subjects.

Gifted Education Programme (GEP)

The Gifted Education Programme (GEP) was designed to cater to more academically gifted students. Students are identified for the programme through a 2-stage exercise in Primary 3. The programme is designed to cater to the top 1% of the students from each academic year.

After PSLE, students would continue to secondary school and they are placed to three streams “Express”, “Normal (Academic)” and “Normal (Technical)” based on their PSLE results. From 2024, secondary schools would implement a Subject-Based Banding scheme to place students into G1, G2, and G3.

Other than through PSLE result, students may also apply to a secondary through Direct School Admission for secondary school (DSA-Sec). This scheme allows students to seek admission to certain secondary schools based on their talents and achievement in certain areas.

secondary student studying

The level of difficulty of the subjects taken by the students differs based on the streams they are placed in.

  • Express track is a 4-year programme leading up to the Singapore-Cambridge GCE O level Examination.

  • Normal (Academic) track is a 4-year or 5-year program where students take the Normal (Academic) Level Examination in their 4th year. Students may proceed to take the O-level examination in their 5th year.

  • Normal (Technical) track is a 4-year programme leading up to the Normal (Technical Level Exam in their 4th year. Usually, students will continue their education to ITE after their N(T)-level exam.

At the end of secondary 2, students would have to choose their subject combination for upper secondary. This Secondary 2 Streaming Exercise occurs after students receive their year-end result and would determine which subjects students would be taking in their O-level and N-level examinations. Click here to read more on tips to decide the ideal subject combination!

Integrated Programme

Integrated Programme is a 6-year programme leading up to the Singapore-Cambridge GCE A-Level Examination, International Baccalaureate Diploma or NUS High School Diploma. This programme allows students to not take their O-level Examination. Thus, students would have more flexibility in the combination subjects they take during their year 1- year 4 as compared to those taking the traditional secondary pathway.

Co-Curricular Activity

Co-curricular activity is highly encouraged at the primary and post-secondary levels. But it is compulsory for secondary students to take CCAs. Participation in CCAs would be graded and students may get bonus points for admission into Junior College.

Post-Secondary (Pre-University) Education

After completing 4 or 5-year of education in Secondary Schools, students would sit for the N-level or O-level examination. Their exam results would determine which path they would be able to take further in their education journey.

Junior Colleges in Singapore typically offers a 2-year program leading up to the GCE A-level Examination or the International Baccalaureate Diploma. Students would be able to choose either Arts or Science Stream based on their subject combination.

students doing group work

Subjects in A level are offered in different levels of difficulty, H1, H2 and H3. Students must take a certain number of H1 subjects and H2 subjects. While H3 subjects are offered to students that are academically capable to cope with the additional subject on top of their H1 and H2 requirements.

Other than the 2-year program offered by JCs, students may also opt to go to Centralized Institutions which offer a 3-year programme leading up to the A level examination. Currently, there is only one centralized institution in Singapore, the Millenia Institute.


As an alternative to Junior College, students may also opt to go to Polytechnics after their O-level examination or ITE results. Polytechnics offer a three-year diploma course. Currently, there are 5 Polytechnics in Singapore: Singapore Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Nanyang Polytechnic, Temasek Polytechnic, and Republic Polytechnic.

jc students doing group discussion

The modules offered in Polytechnics are meant to equip students with more practical skills to prepare them for the workforce. After completing their Diploma, students may also choose to continue to university, where they may be exempted from taking courses that are similar to what they already took in Polytechnic.

Institute of Technical Education (ITE)

The Institute of Technical Education (ITE) offers vocational education to students based on their O-level or N-level results. Currently, there are 3 ITE colleges in Singapore. They offer the National ITE Certificate (NITEC), Higher NITEC, Technical Diploma and Work-Study Diploma.

After ITE, some students may be eligible to continue to Polytechnic and eventually University based on their results.

student studying

Singapore Education offers multiple pathways for students to learn. Every child is unique and deserves to learn the way that works best for them.

If you need more educational tips do subscribe to the Mindworks blog and do reach out to us if you need help to find a suitable tutor!

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