To SAP or Not To SAP - The Dilemma of Attending a Special Assistance Plan (SAP) School

I find the education system in Singapore complicated.  It has Gifted Education Programme (GEP), Special Assistance Plan (SAP) and Bi-Cultural Education Programme (BiCEP), on top of the normal mainstream offerings in Primary Schools (currently, only the schools founded by the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan offer BiCEP).  The system in Secondary Schools is even more complicated, which I will not discuss here.

The concept of SAP schools, I heard, was crystallised by our late founder Mr Lee who believed that China will be the next giant economy of this world.  Trust that man for the far foresight.  SAP schools were established in 1979 (so it is not something very new), with the purpose to preserve the ethos of the Chinese medium schools and to promote the learning of Chinese Language and culture.

Before AJ got into formal education, I had great admiration for SAP schools.  All SAP schools offer Higher Chinese right from Primary 1.  It means even if a non-Chinese chooses to study in a SAP school, he/she has to do Higher Chinese, not Malay or Tamil.  So one would expect the Chinese population in a SAP school to be 99.99%. SAP schools offer great opportunities for the students to deepen their learning of Chinese language and culture.  There are currently 15 SAP Primary Schools in Singapore:

  1. Ai Tong School
  2. Catholic High School (Primary)
  3. CHIJ St. Nicholas Girls’ School (Primary)
  4. Holy Innocents’ Primary School
  5. Hong Wen School
  6. Kong Hwa School
  7. Maha Bodhi School
  8. Maris Stella High School (Primary)
  9. Nan Hua Primary School
  10. Nanyang Primary School
  11. Pei Chun Public School
  12. Pei Hwa Presbyterian Primary School
  13. Poi Ching School
  14. Red Swastika School
  15. Tao Nan School

So AJ went to a SAP school since Primary 1.  Honestly, I did not see much enhancement to the Chinese language in terms of academic progress in his first two years of school.  But, in terms of cultural aspect, the school did do more than non-SAP schools.

I only started to see the huge difference in the Chinese language enhancement when AJ started Primary 3 this year.  Honestly, the leap was so great that I started doubting whether I had made the right choice sending AJ to a SAP school. I was quite taken a back when I received this on the first week of school.

Term 1 and 2 Chinese Dictation List

I don't think my Chinese is poor, but looking at this list, I thought my son is in Primary 4 or 5, do you think so?  In the first two years of his Primary School, the Chinese standard was not like that.  It followed very much, in accordance to the textbook.  But this one is out of the textbook syllabus, I am very sure, because the Chinese spelling list (separate from this) is according to the textbook.

As weeks progressed, the pressure for Chinese to be polished got greater.  Parents are expected to prepare (预习) the lessons, and revise (复习) the lessons after the teacher has taught them.  Frankly, it is taking a toll on me.  And, the irony is, the rest of the three subjects are quite in a relax mode.  So I feel the imbalance here, greatly.

I was also curious why there is such high expectation in the Chinese language as compared to other subjects, so I started enquiring other classes of the same level.  Surely those students weaker in Chinese who might be in other classes (same level) will struggle with this dictation list.  True to my suspicion, every class has a different Chinese Dictation list.  Ah, I see now that the Chinese teachers are actually given autonomy to come out with their own list for their respective classes.  Even the way the dictation is carried out varies classes from classes (eg. in some classes, the teachers will read out, in some classes, the teachers will not). What puzzled me most is: while the Chinese teachers have such flexibility in conducting their lessons, I do not see this in other subjects.  The English spelling and dictation lists are the same throughout the different classes of the same level.  If languages could speak, they will say they are being unfairly treated.

So how is AJ coping with his Chinese?  Well, not in accordance to the expectation set by this Chinese teacher, of course.  While AJ can recognise words well, he is weak in their application.  So in terms of oral and composition, he will be weaker.  He will do better in Paper 2 than Paper 1.  It is something I will have to work on with him and I suspect that I may have to engage external help probably 2 years down the road (PSLE).   :(

Is your child in a SAP (primary) school?  Are you experiencing this as well?
After reading what I have shared here, will you still consider sending your child to a SAP (primary) school?
Do share your thoughts.


  1. Oh, I realise that the students will endure the same thing if you are in the first class for Chinese in a non-SAP schools. :-(

    1. I would think so, Agatha. Especially if they are taking Higher MT and are in the top class. Scary lah, our education system.

  2. My son was not in a SAP school. I believe it's not just solely a SAP "problem".
    He had it very tough when he was in P3 as well as it was his first year doing HMT. I too cringed when I found out he was spending more than half his time doing chinese work, including revising 10 默写 consisting of 好词好句. He even lied to hide the fact that he didn't do well in 默写; they had to do re-spelling and he wasn't coping well. I found that most of his classmates cope well with some still exceling in the subject today (My child is in Pri 6 this year).

    Now thinking back, I felt it did do my son well. He is still doing HMT, choosing this path on his own. He's manages well as the subsequent years did not push him as hard as before. However, by building that strong foundation, I do see that he has a strong language base (not the tops but good enough). And yes, I did send him to compo-writing class all these years.

    There's so much to say about if this is the right way or not, but seeing that kids will automatically dig out an english book and devour for hours but simply refuses to read anything on chinese... it does present the situation and why teachers take this approach

    1. Hi Kheng Yan! Thanks for yr valuable input. I see merits in HMT, especially if the child is going into a SAP Sec Sch. Imagine the bonus points that he/she will get.

      I also see China as the next economy giant. Just as their people are working hard in mastering English, we should work hard in mastering Chinese too.

      I was from a SAP school too. I remember having force to memorise those Chinese idioms. But on hindsight, I was glad that I was made to do so.

      I felt that the leap from P2 to P3 in terms of HCL could be better managed though. The jump is just too great for a child, though my son's Chinese isnt too bad.

  3. Hi, i'm also in a dilemma because i was from SAP school, n my memory was i didnt like chinese at all... :( now that i had to choose the right primary school for my boy, i'm caught in between.

    If the child is not good in chinese, how will he survive in a sap school? Can you share your experience? thks!

  4. "... was crystallised by our late founder Mr Lee who believed that China will be the next giant economy of this world. Trust that man for the far foresight. "

    It was true LKY conceptualized and implemented the SAP schools but it wasn't for the belief that China will be the "next giant". He had admired the values instilled by the Chinese-medium schools in his adulthood. He reasoned it in his book, "My lifelong challenge".


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