Education for primary, secondary, and tertiary levels is mostly supported by the state. All institutions, private and public, must be registered with the Ministry of Education. English is the language of instruction in all public schools and all subjects are taught and examined in English except for the "Mother Tongue" language paper. While "Mother Tongue" in general refers to the first language internationally; in Singapore's education system, it is used to refer to the second language, as English is the first language. Students who have been abroad for a while or who struggle with their "Mother Tongue" language are allowed to take a simpler syllabus or drop the subject.
Education takes place in three stages: "Primary education", "Secondary education", and "Pre-university education", of which only the Primary level is compulsory. Students begin with six years of primary school, which is made up of a four-year foundation course and a two-year orientation stage. The curriculum is focused on the development of English, the mother tongue, and maths. There are four standard subjects taught to all students: English, the mother tongue, mathematics, and science. Secondary school lasts from four to five years, and is divided between "Special", "Express", "Normal (Academic)", and "Normal (Technical)" streams within each school, depending on a student's ability level. The basic coursework breakdown is the same as in the primary level, although classes are much more specialised. Pre-university education takes place over two to three years at senior schools mostly called Junior Colleges. Some schools have a degree of freedom in their curriculum, and are known as autonomous schools. These exist from the secondary education level.
National examinations are standardised across all schools, with a test taken after each stage of school. After the first six years of education, students take the Primary School Leaving Examination, which determines their placement at