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02_Efficiency-Driven Education

In the 1980s, Singapore was transiting from a labour-intensive to a capital-based economy. The emphasis shifted from technical education to science, technology, research and development. To keep up with an increasingly globalised world, the education system had to be reviewed to prepare students for the workforce.

Teacher and students conducting a science experiment in the laboratory (c. 1980).
Bedok North Secondary School Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

The Goh Report

In 1978, a committee led by then Deputy Prime Minister Dr Goh Keng Swee was tasked to study and make recommendations to improve the education system. The Goh Report highlighted shortcomings like high education wastage and a lack of diversity to cater to the different learning needs of children.

A significant outcome of The Goh Report was the development of a New Education System, fundamentally changing Singapore’s education landscape. Streaming was introduced, and there was an emphasis on moral education.

A New Curriculum

Following the recommendations from the Goh Report in 1979, MOE set up the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore (CDIS) in 1980 to develop Singapore textbooks for Singaporeans. New local textbooks were written to replace imported teaching materials and a national curriculum was developed. 

Local and foreign advisors were recruited by CDIS to produce quality teaching and learning materials for the Singapore curriculum. Project teams were assembled to develop local curriculum resources on English, Chinese, Mathematics and Science. More subjects were included over the years.


CDIS 10th anniversary newsletter showcasing their process for developing educational materials.


CDIS helped schools acquire the infrastructure for computer-based learning. Teachers were trained to integrate these lessons in class. Every school was equipped with audio-visual facilities, making learning more varied and enriching for students.

Students watching an educational video using headsets (1985).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

Students undergo lessons in a computer lab (1997).
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

 

The establishment of CDIS saw the creation of high-quality textbooks and teaching materials tailored to the needs of Singaporean students. Other local commercial publishers continued to publish materials until the late 1970s.

 

Report on Moral Education 1979.

 

A Report on Moral Education was released in 1979. A single moral education programme was proposed across primary and secondary schools.  More emphasis would be given to instil moral values and civic responsibility, with Mother Tongue as the medium of instruction.

CDIS Developed Education Materials

好公民  Good Citizen (Civic and Moral Education)

PETS 5B

Primary English Programme

Primary Mathematics

Rakyat yang Baik (Civic and Moral Education)

Sang Nila Utama

Science 3

Social Studies for Primary Schools

வளர் தமிழ் பாடநூல் (Tamil Language Textbook 3A)

Tamil Language Civic and Moral Education 3A

Greater Autonomy for Schools

In the 1980s and 1990s, independent and autonomous schools were set up.  Independent schools were free to design their own curriculum, while autonomous schools can have more flexibility over curriculum innovation and school management. These schools can introduce niche programmes to develop students holistically.
Anderson Secondary School’s ‘Science Research and Innovation’ programme (2000)
Anderson Secondary School’s ‘Science Research and Innovation’ programme (2000).

 

Art Programme at Victoria School (c. 1996).

 

Rock climbing wall at Cedar Girls’ School to provide students with more opportunities for outdoor activities (1990s).

 

Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) students on the Work Experience Scheme (c. 1989).

 

Chinese Culture Appreciation was included in the curriculum at Nanyang Girls’ High School (1990s).

 

Music, Art and Language Elective Programmes were introduced to secondary schools during this period. Schools were also free to offer enrichment programmes such as science research, outdoor and adventure learning and work attachments. These programmes allowed students to broaden their education experience and pursue their interests.