Globevisa Singapore on local education system with Mind Stretcher

For most families who freshly move to a new country, education paths always comes up as one of the most important choice. There is a range of questions in the parents’ mind, where should we study for the best education, local school or international school? What are the different criteria for school admission? Can my children pass the admission tests for new school? Hannah Ma, Globevisa Singapore General Manager, has interviewed Mr. Lim, Head of Academic Strategy of Mind Stretcher in Singapore, to answer the most popular questions for newly arrived immigrant families. 


Globevisa: It is great honor for Globevisa Singapore headquarter today to have Mr. Lim with us. He is the Head of Academic Strategy of Mind Stretcher. Globevisa helps hundreds of families immigrate to Singapore successfully each year. For our clients, when they think about applying for immigration to Singapore, they mostly think about getting better education for their kids. They really care about the education system, that’s why we have Mr. Lim today to give a better insight of the system. So, Mr. Lim can you introduce Mind Stretcher first ?

Mr. Lim: Thanks very much for having me here today. Mind Stretcher is actually one of the leading educational institutions in Singapore. It caters to a broad range of students of each 4 to 16 years old cross primary, secondary and even junior college level, so we have an excellent track record of more than 20 years in the industry with more than 20 centres spread out across Singapore. And if you look at our program here, we have a very good track record in terms of getting students to the top schools in Singapore. With excellent track record, Mind Stretcher is actually one of the trusted providers for many parents and students in the country.


Globevisa: When Mr Lim was in school, he was also a top student, can you introduce yourself? 

Mr. Lim: I’m Mr Lim here as the Academic Team Lead at Mind Stretcher and I’m also overseeing the AEIS program at Mind Stretcher. Actually I graduated from Columbia University where I studied Economics and thereafter I went on to Cambridge University to do a master’s degree in Economics.


Globevisa: Singapore has both international schools and local schools, so can you introduce to our clients what are the major differences? 

Mr. Lim: Yes certainly. Actually if you look at the local schools in Singapore, these are run by the MOE, the Ministry of Education. Within Singapore, itis based of the syllabus and the curriculum that developed locally by the Mnistry. In this sense, actually you look at it we are preparing students for the national examinations, for example the GCE O-Level examinations, the GCE A-Level examinations. So if you look at the academic grounding, the academic foundation is very solid, very rigorous in that regard as well. So that’s one aspect. If you look at the in terms of the school fees as well actually you can realize that is very much affordable, as well for the locals. That’s one point to take note. The other point to take note is if you are looking at it in terms of the international schools, international schools they tend to cater to a more diversified audience, a more different student population, in terms of their nationalities, different cultures, different places that they come from. That’s one thing. And because of that actually we realize in terms of the languages of instruction, in Singapore itself in the local schools it will tend to be English. English is the primary language of instruction. While in the international schools there could be different languages. Though English could be the primary language, there could be other languages that are used as well. Maybe their own language from their country. Generally, more administratively speaking, if you are looking at the school fees, the school fees will tend to be higher as compared to the local schools. But in terms of the facilities, in terms of the range of amenities and services available, it could be broader in that regard as well. 


Globevisa: If the students choose to learn in the local schools, what is their education path? 

Mr. Lim: That’s a very good question. So if you are looking at the students in the local school, you see that actually our local schools in Singapore have a very good track record of getting students to the top universities in the world. If you look at it, many of our students in schools actually get to move on to the top universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Ivy league universities, And if you’re just looking at just the international examinations, IB, the PISA examinations or other international exams, our students all do very well in that regard. So why is it that really helps in this regard, is really the different pathways that are available within the country itself, in terms of the local education system. You will see that actually as our system continues to evolve, there have been new pathways, new options that are available for our students. For example, for students who are moving on from primary school to secondary school, you can see that they can choose to either go on the 4-year program so they go to 4 years in secondary school and the end of 4 years, they will take the National Examinations which is what we call as the GCE O-Level examinations. After that they can choose to go onto different routes. Maybe in terms of junior colleges where they prepare for universities, or they can go on to polytechnics where they pick up a more practical skill for their work and their career. So that’s one pathway that’s available. Another pathway that’s available actually it was something that came out in Singapore, is what we call as the Integrated Program. The Integrated Program actually allows the students to bypass these 4 years. So they do not need to take the O-Levels at the end of the 4 years, they can skip that. Instead they can go straight on to junior college. 


We can think of it as is this 6 years program combining both secondary and junior college education. And then at the end of the 6 years, they would either take the GCE A-Levels or the International Baccalaureate (IB) which will then grant them entry into university. As you can see from this actually there are many different pathways. If a student comes to Singapore, for him or her to really choose the one that is more suitable based on their interests and their aptitude and their inclinations as well.


Globevisa: What if the students are already studying in international school, they want to transfer to local school, they need to go through a test call AEIS, right? Can you explain more about what the test is like? 

Mr. Lim: Yes, definitely. AEIS actually what does it stand for? It stands for the Admissions Exercise for International Students. So actually it’s the primary pathway by which an international student can gain entry into local schools in Singapore. So you can think of it as, essentially, a test that the students have to take. You will assess their ability in a few areas. Primarily you can think of it in the areas of English and Mathematics. It is for entry into our local schools from Primary 2 to Primary 5, and then from Secondary 1 to Secondary 3. That’s actually how it works. Before this AEIS, actually for primary school students, it’s important to take note that they also have to take an additional test which is what we call it as the CEQ.


So the CEQ actually stands for the Cambridge English Qualifications, so for this test you can think of it is actually an English test. The student has to clear it, they have to pass it before they can go on to take the primary AEIS Mathematics test. Essentially what we are doing here, if you look at the AEIS, it is really a way for us to assess that the students themselves, they have the right academic foundation, they have the right appropriate ability level, so that when they come into our system, they can adapt, they can learn and then they can thrive within the system, so that’s actually what the AEIS is all about.

Globevisa: Based on your experience what is the most difficult part to take this test?

Mr. Lim: Actually based on our engagement with parents and students, there are several challenges that they facc. Number one, because all the tests, they are conducted in English. So you realise if the student’s native language is not English, he or she may find it very difficult to understand the questions. We have cases actually of our students, they are very good in mathematics, but they don’t understand the questions, so they don’t do very well for the test. So that’s one key thing in terms of the language barrier, in terms of their ability to understand the questions. Number two, the other thing is that the students and the parents they may not be very familiar with the syllabus. Just one thing to highlight, if you look at the AEIS Mathematics is actually based off our local syllabus, that’s developed by Ministry of Education. 

Some parents and students who are overseas, they may not understand this, they may not be aware of the requirements, they may not know the format of the examinations, they may not know the content of the syllabus. So with so many unknowns, they may not be able to effectively prepare for the test. And really because of that, they may find very difficult to know what’s going come up and how to prepare. They may not have the chance to sharpen their examination technique, for example, like time management skill, etc. These are really the few key problems that we see when we engage with our students. 

Globevisa: What is the pass criteria for this test? 

Mr. Lim: For AEIS it is important to highlight that MOE does not declare a so-called minimum pass criteria. In fact, if you look at it, MOE they do not actually report the students’ score for the AEIS. Instead all the report is the outcome. That means after you apply for AEIS, do you successfully get into a local school or not? So that’s all that they will tell the student. Actually our Ministry of Education has set for certain minimum grades that you need to obtain. It’s important that you know that you need to get these minimum grades before you can even apply for the AEIS examinations. 

Globevisa: Can you explain more about CEQ? Because we have many clients with children’s mother tongue is not English. So the CEQ test, is it very difficult for them? 

Mr. Lim: The CEQ really tests on the main few components of English, speaking, reading, listening, writing. If your native language is not in English, a lot of the common problems that we see, number one is students do not have a develop grammar, a developed vocabulary, so their vocabulary is not very comprehensive, and they may not know grammar rules. In that case, it becomes very difficult for them to answer some of the questions, specifically on understanding comprehension passages and picking the right answers. If you really want to do well for the CEQ, you would have to practice. Cambridge Assessment English, who administers the CEQ test, is actually very transparent. They actually share a lot of information about the exam format, they even have sample papers as well. They even have a list of vocabulary terms that are good for students to learn. So in this regard we would encourage students to really check out all these resources. 

And in fact here at Mind Stretcher we are also working with students closely to help them to specifically tackle CEQ type questions, so that they are very familiar with all the different components. The second thing is we are really helping them to build up their proficiency in terms of their grammar, in terms of their vocabulary, because we see these as really basic building blocks that they need to do well across all the 4 components of CEQ. 

Globevisa: Great! I think the resources is really helpful and really a good news for our clients. My last question is what do you think is the advantage of Mind Stretcher’s courses? 

Mr. Lim: I briefly mentioned about what we are doing here at Mind Stretcher. There’s actually a few things here because we have talked about how we actually have a track record of more than 20 years in this industry. The AEIS test itself is pretty much modelled after our local MOE syllabus. So actually here at Mind Stretcher, our teachers and our curriculum planners we are all very familiar with the curriculum and the examination requirements. Here at Mind Stretcher we also have ex-Ministry of Education teachers who are very experienced with teaching and with examination requirements at MOE.


To choose a right education path in new countries, Globevisa has collaborated with many leading education institutions like Mind Stretcher to give the full preparation for new immigrants families.


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