50 Years of SG Education

Our Story

It is 1957. A hungry people still reeling from the destruction wrought by World War II, is keen to find work, food, a roof over their heads and a place in school for at least their sons if not their daughters. But schools are far from innocent spaces. The Chief Minister's government has had to cope with a string of outbreaks of violence, and is convinced that Chinese Middle schools are fertile grounds for Communist-backed activity as their students were routinely excited about causes as diverse as the National Service Ordinance of 1954 and the Hock Lee Bus Riots of 1955.

It is 1965. A hopeful people reels from the shock of separation from Malaysia barely two years after a much-hoped-for merger. Outbreaks of violence along communal lines still worry the infant government which works tirelessly to house families, feed workers, and school children. Young school-leavers, in large numbers, take up the challenge of nurturing citizens for the new nation. Schools have started to look more uniform, not only in their physical infrastructure but also in curriculum, staff profile, and administration. Earnestly assembled, they hold out the promise of enabling this newly-independent nation to stand strong on its own.

It is 1975. A people now gainfully employed is adapting surprisingly well to urban high-rise living. The World Bank classifies Singapore as an intermediate nation rather than a developing one. Only the ramifications of the 1973 oil crisis and the growing communist stronghold in neighbouring Indo-China can shake the confidence of Singapore’s economic planners. Fearing that good times have made parents spoil their children, the Prime Minister makes an impassioned appeal for parents to imbue their children with "the right attitudes to life, to work and the necessary self-discipline." Increasingly, it is evident that parents want an English stream education for their children.

It is 1986. A Singapore hit hard by recession is forced to make painful decisions. Some lost their jobs, others their fortune. Some thought they have lost their future. Hard questions are asked about what we want students to graduate with in order that they may secure a more certain future. The government is unapologetic in insisting that school must prepare students for employment. The schools in turn have felt the impact of education reform and consolidation starting in 1979. The curriculum is given due attention, different streams of education have been designed for different ability groups, and the idea that a more diversified education landscape is a desired state slowly creeps into public consciousness.

It is 1997. A decade of strong economic growth that has earned Singapore the title of "one of Asia's four little dragons", and international praise for its success in public housing and schooling has made the people more confident of themselves. The school curriculum gives new emphasis to citizenship education, and the learning of values, skills and knowledge projected to equip our children for life in the 21st century. Teachers, the bulwark of the education enterprise, see significant improvements in career prospects, remuneration and recognition. More teachers are recruited, to enhance the quality of education.

It is 2007. An increasingly mobile people connected to the globalised world sees opportunities aplenty. The government wonders how best to retain local talent and to attract more foreign ones. The education system pushes boundaries to offer more choice and flexibility, so as to match the yearning for more ways to fulfil different aspirations. The government’s commitment to education is firm. It is determined that education shall remain the way for all Singaporeans, regardless of background, to pull themselves up and fulfil their potential, a task made the more challenging as the income gap widens in the wake of globalisation.