Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


School of Education


Singapore is a late adopter of compulsory education (CE). Six years of schooling for all children became compulsory in Singapore in 2003 (Ministry of Education, 2009). Surrounding Southeast Asian countries passed compulsory education legislation in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Countries such as the Philippines adopted compulsory education in 1899, and Thailand in 1921. However, Malaysia, similar to Singapore, adopted CE legislation in the early-twenty-first century. In order to explain Singapore's adoption of CE legislation, we must look further into each country's reasons for implementing it.

Singapore reported in 2000 that its dropout rate was 0.4 percent at the primary level and 3.5 percent at the secondary level (Committee on Compulsory Education, 2000). These findings indicate that school attendance was virtually universal even before the time CE legislation was implemented. By one measure, then, CE may be considered unnecessary; however, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong stressed the importance of every child attending school and being granted the "same head start to developing her or his potential to the fullest" (Committee on Compulsory Education, 2000). His concerns were dealing with two emerging trends during 1999, which would undermine Singapore's efforts to become a world-class economy and home to its citizens (Committee on Compulsory Education, 2000). One trend reported the population rate was declining. A second trend reported an increase in Singaporeans living overseas. The prime minister believed that enacting CE legislation would reverse the aforementioned trends by requiring children to attend school.

The research question of this thesis is "How do we explain Singapore's adoption of CE legislation in 2003?" In order to answer my question, I will provide some background and context to the Singaporean case by first discussing the passage of CE legislation in four other Southeast Asian countries. I will compare and contrast each case by examining the different roles that CE legislation has played in each country for the purpose of better understanding Singapore's implementation of CE legislation. Another way to further my comprehension of Singapore's adoption of CE legislation is to examine general reasons for the adoption of CE legislation through analyzing theoretical perspectives based on Western ideologies. The thesis will also include a literature review, which will provide background information on the past two decades of the educational systems in Singapore to reveal further details on Singapore's education and how CE legislation is related. I will analyze policy statements, speeches, and popular press releases to illuminate the implications of CE legislation in Singapore.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.