Singapore students top global ranking in maths and science

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The study assessed Primary 4 and Secondary 2 pupils in 64 education systems. It found that students in Singapore had a strong mastery in both subjects, and were able to apply their knowledge and conceptual understanding to solve problems. 

(TODAY file photo)

SINGAPORE: Singapore students are the world’s best in mathematics and science, according to an international benchmarking study released on Tuesday (Nov 29). 

Primary 4 and Secondary 2 students here topped both subjects in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which assessed pupils from 63 other education systems around the world.

Not only are Singapore students scoring well in those subjects, they also have more positive attitudes towards learning and are immersed in condusive learning environments, the survey found.

About 6,500 Primary 4 students and 6,100 Secondary 2 students – all randomly selected from across all schools in Singapore – took part in the latest study which has been conducted every four years since 1995.

At the Primary 4 level for instance, for mathematics, students here achieved the highest average score of 618. Hong Kong came in second with 615 followed by South Korea with 608. The same students got the highest average score of 590 for science, ahead of South Korea (589) and Japan (569).


Sample of a Primary 4 Science item at the “high” benchmark. 

The findings also showed improvements by Singapore students over the years, especially in higher-order thinking skills.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said: “This reflects our curricular shifts towards a greater emphasis on such thinking skills over the years.” Going forward, MOE will put greater focus on critical thinking skills in examinations. 

“It’s not about making exams harder, it’s about whether the exams test the skills that we want our students to develop,” said Ms Low Khah Gek, deputy director-general of education (schools).  “So in this case, we do want our students to be able to think critically, and also to be able to explain their thinking.”

MOE credited the students’ positive learning attitudes to the learning environment both at home and in school, adding that more than eight in 10 students in Primary 4 and Secondary 2 said that their math and science teachers are clear in their expectations, are good at explaining concepts, and listen to their views. 

The global study also revealed that the Singapore education system supports students across all achievement levels, MOE said. The proportion of Primary 4 and Secondary 2 students who did not attain the lowest international benchmark remained very small in both subjects, and below the international median. 

One per cent of Primary 4 students in Singapore who took part in the study did not attain the “low” international benchmark in mathematics, while 3 per cent did not attain that benchmark in science. This is compared to the international median of 7 per cent and 5 per cent respectively. 


Sample of a Primary 4 Maths item at the “low” benchmark. 

For the Secondary 2 level, 1 percent did not attain the “low” international benchmark in mathematics and 3 per cent did not attain the benchmark in science. This is compared to the international median of 16 per cent for both subjects. 

“We are proud of our students,” said Ms Low. “Our teachers have provided quality learning experiences for them, and we are heartened that our teaching and learning systems are strong.”

She added that schools will continue to work closely with parents and the larger community “to further build on our students’ strong foundation and prepare them well for their next stage of education and for a fulfilling career ahead.”