The Singapore or US education system?

By George Tabet

Singapore is well known for having a rigorous education system. But how does it compare to world superpowers?

The United States spends the most money on education in the world, $744 billion, compared to Singapore at $11.6 billion. In terms of [1] percentage of GDP, the US spends 7.3% and Singapore spends 4%.[2]

Despite the amount of money the US spends on education, American test scores lag behind Singapore's. Singapore’s education system is ranked 5th in the world compared to 17th for the United States.[3]

It would seem that the American education system could learn a few things from the Singapore model - and it very well could. However, if the education system in the US is so awful, then why do thousands of students dream of the chance of studying in America? This speaks to something greater at work, and something the Singapore education system could take advantage of.

The ultra focus of Singapore schools on examinations prepare students to do well in a controlled environment with test questions they have prepared for months, if not years. There is value in this as there is no substitute for a strong work ethic. But such an extreme focus on examinations render the practical benefit of such examinations questionable. The goal of every educational system in the world is to produce productive and happy members of society and its success should be measured by this yardstick.

An education in the United States goes beyond classroom statistics. It includes a building a civic society that is created by students and monitored by adults. Students are encouraged to participate in activities outside the classroom such as sports where they learn the importance of teamwork, form book clubs or art classes where they develop their creative potential, take part in elections of student leaders where they put democracy into practice, and so on.

These miniature societies allow students to interact with each other like they would in adult life. They also allow students to discover what interests them and pursue their passions so that when they enter the workforce they are more productive workers because they are doing what they genuinely enjoy. Herein lies the main difference between the Singapore education system and the American education system.

In Singapore, everything revolves around excelling at examinations. School children come to believe that the rest of their life is hanging in the balance based on the results of these exams. And for the most part, it is.

At such a young age, this creates an excessive and unhealthy burden on students to succeed and compete against each other. And while Singapore students are inside studying for their exams, American students are outside at football practice or rehearsing their arguments with their debate team, getting first hand experience in problem solving and working as part of a group.

American schools encourage students to discover, from experience, that the sum of the parts are greater than each individual one. This is the same bond that connects millions of people living in 50 unique states spread across a diverse swath of land. It is also the same bond that connects people of many different races and cultures living amicability in close quarters.

What American schools lack inside the classroom, they make up for it outside of it. Perhaps, the two systems can learn and benefit from each other.


[1]. Feldman, Carole. “Education in America”, Huffington Post, 31 August 2013.

[2].“Public Spending on Education”, The World Bank.

[3]. “Best Education in the World.” Huffington Post, 27 November 2012.

George Tabet is a student majoring in Political Science at the University of Cincinnati. He recently completed a three-month internship with the SDP.

This article was first published over at the SDP website on 18 June 2014.It is reproduced with permission. Note that The Domain of Singapore Tutoring Experts is not politically affiliated with any party/organization.


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