Press Releases

December 7, 2010

International OECD Study Affirms The High Quality Of Singapore’s Education System

Singapore students have fared very well in an international study conducted under the auspices of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Out of 65 countries and economies that took part in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009, Singapore students ranked fifth in Reading, second in Mathematics and fourth in Science. Singapore also had the second highest proportion (12.3%) of students who are top performers1 in all three domains.

PISA assesses the extent to which 15-year-old students near the end of secondary education are able to analyse, reason and apply their knowledge and skills in unfamiliar settings so as to meet real-life challenges. Singapore’s good performance at PISA 2009 shows that beyond a strong grasp of knowledge, our students have the ability to think critically and solve real-life problems – skills that are valued in the society and at the workplace. The findings affirm that changes in teaching and learning approaches in our schools are in the right direction, and schools are preparing our students well for their future work and life.

Noting the results of the study, the OECD highlighted Singapore as a high performing education system with features that other systems could learn from. These include high-quality principals and teachers, as well as strong leaders with bold long-term visions. OECD also noted that there is a strong link between education and economic development, as well as between policy and implementation in Singapore. Our curriculum is well-developed with rigorous standards aligned to instruction and assessment. OECD also recognised the importance of accountability and meritocratic values that underpin Singapore’s strongly global-oriented and future-oriented education system.


Student Performance

When top performers in all three domains of Reading, Mathematics and Science were considered as an estimate of each participating country’s future talent pool, Singapore had the second highest proportion (12.3%) of such top performers, after only Shanghai (14.6%). The average percentage of top performers among OECD countries was 4.1%.

As a testament to the meritocratic values upheld by our education system, about half of our students from the bottom quarter in terms of socio-economic background (or 11.9% of all Singapore students) scored better in Reading than what their circumstances would otherwise predict. This proportion was higher than the OECD average of around 30% (or 7.7% of all students from OECD countries) and was the fifth highest among participating countries.

The details of the findings from each domain are below:

  • Reading. In Reading, Singapore students performed better than those from native English-speaking countries like Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. In addition, Singapore had the third highest proportion (15.7%) of top performers in Reading, after Shanghai and New Zealand. This proportion is twice that of the OECD average (7.6%). Our top performers in Reading could locate and organise several pieces of deeply embedded information and infer which information in the text is relevant. They could also critically evaluate texts.

  • Mathematics. The mean score of Singapore students in Mathematics was significantly higher than most other participants. Singapore also had the second highest proportion (35.6%) of top performers in Mathematics, after Shanghai. Our top performers could develop and work with mathematical models for complex situations and have well-developed thinking and reasoning skills. They could also communicate their interpretations and reasoning.

  • Science. Singapore had the second highest proportion (19.9%) of top performers in Science, after Shanghai. Our top performers in Science could identify the scientific components of many complex life situations and apply scientific concepts to these situations. They could use well-developed inquiry abilities and construct arguments based on their critical analysis.

Reading Habits and Approaches to Learning

Singapore had the second highest proportion (39.3%) of deep and wide2 readers, after Shanghai. Students who enjoyed reading, read regularly, read a broad array of materials, and knew what to do to understand, remember and summarise complex information, scored highest in the PISA Reading assessment.

PISA 2009 found that in more than two-thirds of participating countries, including Singapore, doing at least some daily reading for enjoyment improved reading performance. Across countries, students who read fiction tended to achieve higher performance, compared to other types of reading material. In Singapore, students who read fiction and newspapers regularly had higher Reading scores than students who did not.

On Singapore’s performance in PISA, Ms Ho Peng, MOE’s Director-General of Education, said, “We are pleased that our students are among the top performers. PISA is an assessment on students’ thinking and application of what they know. The outcomes affirm that we are in the right direction in education. It is a system pulling well together – clear directions, adequate resourcing, strong school leadership, high level of professionalism of teachers, good partnerships with parents. It is a system that is strong in the fundamentals. In this regard, reading is crucial, for a good headstart to learning in other areas. I would urge all parents to support us in this effort by nurturing the reading habit in their children.”


A triennial study, PISA 2009 is the fourth cycle after PISA 2000, 2003 and 2006. The cycles provide information on performance in the three domains of Reading, Mathematics and Science literacy, but each cycle has a focus on one major domain. The major domain in PISA 2009 is Reading.

This was the first time that Singapore had participated in the study. A total of 5,152 randomly-sampled 15-year-old students (mainly Secondary 3 and 4 students) from 167 secondary schools and 131 students from 4 private schools participated in PISA 2009 in Singapore.



  1. PISA defines top performers in a domain as students who have attained the top two proficiency levels (5 and 6).
  2. PISA classified ‘deep’ readers as those who had high awareness of effective learning strategies, and ‘wide’ readers as those who read all types of materials regularly.