A SIMILAR number of Singapore's teenagers achieves two A-level passes compared with the UK, but nearly four out of five of those pass mathematics and nearly one in five passes further maths.
A-level entry is restricted to about 21 per cent who already have six high grade O-levels. But a 1994 study showed that through this and other routes, such as polytechnic diplomas taken straight from O-level, 50 per cent of Singaporeans achieve the equivalent of two A-levelsadvanced GNVQNVQ level 3 by the age of 19 compared with 40 per cent in the UK.
A-level grades are high - last year almost 60 per cent were grades A or B compared with 40 per cent in the UK.
At the top junior (sixth form) colleges, the percentage of A and B grades reached 85 per cent.
The A-levels are broadly the same as the English UCLES exams, but with more restrictions on continuous assessment.
Raffles junior college is ranked one of the highest. Its principal, Lee Fong Seng, has been in post for 11 years and has watched the steady rise. He dismisses the idea that the standard of the A-level exams has dropped and attributes the success rate to the greater efficiency of the teaching and exam preparation.
Any suggestion that Singaporean students are simply examination fodder is quickly ruled out. In addition to three or more A-levels, students sit the General Paper and an AO level in their mother tongue. But Raffles students still find time to make it a top sporting college and to run an arts festival. They are also involved in drama and work in the community.
There is also a strong desire to teach students how to think for themselves. Hwa Chong, another top junior college, runs courses on thinking and other similar programmes. Its principal, Leong Fan Chin, says teaching styles have changed. The days of chalk and talk are gone, although instruction still has its place.
The opening of Singapore's Centre for Teaching Thinking signals its determination to move away from rote learning.
Teachers are constantly retrained and a lot of time is spent on in-service training.
There is a high level of competition between the junior colleges to succeed. League tables of results are published and cash prizes are awarded to those whose value-added success is highest.