Kindergartens in Singapore provide up to three years of pre-school for children ages three to six. The three years are commonly called Nursery, Kindergarten 1 (K1) and Kindergarten 2 (K2), respectively.
Kindergartens provide an environment for children to learn how to interact with others, and to prepare them for formal education at primary school. Activities include learning language and numbers, development of personal and social skills, games, music, and outdoor play. Children learn two languages, English and their official mother tongue (Chinese, Malay, or Tamil). Many private or church-based kindergartens might not offer Malay or Tamil, so non-Chinese pupils might also learn some Chinese in these kindergartens.
The kindergartens are run by the private sector, including community foundations, religious bodies, and civic or business groups. There are more than 200 kindergartens registered with the Ministry of Education. Kindergartens are also run by child care centres as well as international schools.
Primary education, normally starting at age six, is a four-year foundation stage (Primary 1 to 4) and a two-year orientation stage (Primary 5 to 6). Primary education is compulsory and free, though there is a fee of up to S$13 monthly per student to help cover miscellaneous costs.
The foundation stage is the first stage of formal schooling. The four years, from primary 1 to 4, provide a foundation in English, mother tongue (which includes Chinese, Malay, Tamil or a Non-Tamil Indian Language (NTIL)) and Mathematics. Other subjects include Civics and Moral Education, arts and crafts, music, health education, social studies, and physical education, which are taught throughout Primary 1 to 6. Science is taught from Primary 3 onwards.
All pupils advance to the orientation stage after Primary 4, where English Language, Mother Tongue and Mathematics are taught at the appropriate level according to the pupil’s ability. Schools are given the flexibility to develop their own examinations to match pupils with the levels that suit them. The streaming system has been adjusted: previously, pupils were divided at Primary 5 to the EM1, EM2 and EM3 (English and Mother Tongue at 1st, 2nd and 3rd language respectively) streams, but since 2008 they are streamed according to subject. They can take their Mother Tongue at the higher, standard or foundation levels; Science and Maths can be taken at the standard or foundation levels.
At the end of Primary 6, the national Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is held. The examination determines whether the student is ready to leave primary school by passing; places in secondary schools are allocated according to students’ performance in the examination.