Preschools in Singapore

by Lucy

My son was in a preschool in Singapore. So here are my observations:

As compared to the preschools in the West, the school hours are long for preschoolers in Singapore.

In Singapore, kindergartens are "schools" that provide a structured 3-year pre-school education programme for children aged 4 to 6.

As school year begins in January, my son was barely three years old when he entered preschool because he was born in the last quarter of the year. He had to put on school uniform, go to school five days a week, with schooling hours ranging from 3 hours to 4 hours each day.

We had 4 weeks of vacation during "Summer" and 6 weeks at year end to celebrate Christmas with a one week break after the 1st and 3rd term. There were no holidays on PD Day (Professional Development) or Parent/Teachers' Day as these events were conducted in addition to school hours.

When my son was sick, we had to send him to a doctor to request for a medical certificate so he could be excused from classes. We were advised not to take him off school for dental, sports or vacation during school hours.

Kids learn 2 languages in preschool - English being their first language. In my experience, the expectation of mastering a second language was so highly emphasized that we are stretched with never ending homework and writing practices.
His second language was Mandarin, and one would not imagine the number of strokes a chinese word requires; and each stroke has a name and sequence before a word is complete. Sometimes I wondered if the second language was the first.

I spent a great deal of time helping my son with homework and preparing him for test and exams which begins at K1. I was reminded by the teachers that my son is expected to read, write, spell and know his four basic operations of Math before entering Primary 1 / Grade 1.

I remember his first mid term exam when he was only 4 years old - just wondering if he could sit still for an hour to answer all those pages of questions, without interactions.

When he graduated from preschool, a diagnostic test was given during the first week of his Elementary School. For those who failed the test, they were sent out of class to be helped by learning support groups assisted by volunteer parents of which I was privileged to be one.

In my voluntary hours, I realized that many of those kids who did not attend preschool could not read and write and it was very difficult to help them get back to the mainstream because the other kids were progressing so quickly.

My neighbors' and friends' kids with good achievements would still send their kids for extra enrichment classes outside of school hours, not as to help their kids cope in class, but to ensure they get on top and beyond their standard. Enrichment classes and private tutors for preschoolers (commonly language and Math) was a very common feature in Singapore.

In my interactions, travels and relocation, I found that the highly achieved kids in Singapore are two years ahead and the normal kids are struggling to keep up to the pace. Those with a slower start are almost condemned, as depicted in a movie entitled: "I not Stupid".

A common educational philosophy that has crept into the minds of many kids in Singapore is expressed in this colloquial term: "everything must be Number One"

I am not downplaying the effectiveness of Singapore preschool system. In every system, there are good and the not so good. While parents stress over the amount of homework and high expectations from the schools, I must say that kids can be stretched and can adapt to situations accordingly.

Now that my family has moved out of Singapore, I appreciate the strictness of the system. As a result, my son does not see homework and exams as burdensome. Though expectations here are flexible, the high goal of achievements had been ingrained in him, and is now brought to a good balance.

For more official införmation, check out the Singapore preschool website:

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