Updated: Aug 16
Singapore’s education system places significant emphasis on the holistic development of students. Not only should students excel academically, but they should also build skill sets that cohere with their strengths. At the same time, they ought to develop good character and sound values to guide their journey through life.
The Co-Curricular Activities (CCA) system is one of the key pillars administered by the Ministry of Education (MOE) which facilitates this, by giving students the space to discover new areas of interest. An expansion to the CCA system, Strategic Partnership CCAs (SP-CCAs), which builds on the former’s strengths by improving access to CCA options, will be discussed in detail in this Policy Explainer.
Co-Curricular Activities in Singapore
Today, CCA participation is mandatory in all secondary schools. To emphasise their role in a students’ holistic development, MOE had also renamed Extra- Curricular Activities (ECAs) to CCAs in 1999 sending a clear message that “CCAs are an integral part of education”.¹
Mandatory CCA participation is in the best interest of students for various reasons:
Holistic Student Development
CCAs allow students to discover their interests, build their character and develop socio-emotional competencies. Besides being correlated to higher-than-expected academic achievement, CCA participation has been associated with improvements in self-esteem and resilience.²
CCAs also provide a platform for students from diverse backgrounds to learn together in an informal setting. Preliminary research suggests that the interpersonal skills acquired through CCAs might even drive social mobility, by boosting employment prospects.³
Identifying Sporting and Artistic Talent
CCAs are crucial to our High Performance Sports ecosystem as they build a base of participation from which talent can be identified and nurtured.
One example is Micky Lin, who joined a netball CCA due to its similarities with captain’s ball, her sport of interest. She later matured into the national team captain and led Singapore to her first SEA Games ‘Gold’ for netball. This similarly applies to talent in the arts.
Despite the merits of participating in a CCA that aligns with one’s interests and aptitude, certain challenges exist which prevent them from being fully realised.
Since CCAs incur coaching and equipment costs, the school cannot open new CCAs to cater to each student without incurring prohibitive costs. Rather, schools on average offer around 20 CCAs that adequately meet the students’ interests.⁴
With fewer CCAs, each CCA has more members, allowing the school to reap economies of scale on equipment and coaching costs. This strikes a balance between meeting students’ needs and managing costs.
There are non-monetary considerations as well, such as teacher workload and deployment. On top of teaching, teachers undertake many responsibilities in CCAs, including mentoring students, updating CCA records, bidding for coaches, clearing RAMS, etc. Schools need to offer a quantity of CCAs commensurate with what their teachers can handle.
Availability of Facilities
Furthermore, schools are more likely to offer CCAs for which they have the facilities. A school lacking a football field could still rent an external venue - but that means additional rental costs, and additional work in arranging transport. It is much more feasible for schools to offer CCAs for which they have facilities.
Lack of Student Interest
Besides the three supply-side factors, there is a demand-side factor of student interest. If a school anticipates, based on past cohorts, that there will not be enough students interested to form a full football team, it may not be feasible to offer football as a CCA. Instead, the school may opt to offer other CCAs with sufficient interest.
To address the plethora of challenges that students face when selecting a CCA that best suits them, MOE has developed an innovative solution to place desirable CCAs within students’ reach.
Strategic Partnership CCAs
SP-CCAs were piloted by MOE in 2019 to provide secondary school students with an opportunity to pursue CCAs that their schools did not offer. Then-Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung said the pilot would help “cater to the diverse CCA interests and talents of students”.⁵
Through the SP-CCA pilot, students who wish to join a CCA that is not being offered by their school may choose to join them at a centralised, non-school location instead. Students may also participate without prior experience.⁶
As of June 2023, MOE offers SP-CCAs for two sports, Athletics and Water Polo, and one performing art, Ethnic Dance.⁷ This has been done in partnership with SportSG and the National Arts Council (NAC), so as to allow students to pursue their interests in sports or performing arts respectively.⁸
For both Athletics and Water Polo, students will gain access to curated programmes to maximise the benefits of each training, professional coaches who will develop the students’ character and life skills, as well as opportunities to compete in National School Games.⁹
For Ethnic Dance, students will get to learn Chinese, Malay and Indian dance, as well as other dances, from professional dancers. They will also have opportunities to perform in a variety of dance venues and events.¹⁰
Despite being run at external, centralised locations, SP-CCAs functioned similarly to school-based CCAs. CCA sessions are run by qualified, MOE-registered coaches; students were encouraged to remain in the SP-CCA throughout secondary school; students could take part in competitions; and MOE personnel were provided to conduct attendance taking etc.¹¹
Exposure Creates Interest
At the heart of the SP-CCA pilot is the need for students to get access to a variety of CCAs that will empower them to explore and find their passion.
A variety of options can open students to a whole new world of activities, allowing them to delve deeper into each of them. For students who have not yet figured out what they want to select as their CCA, they might even be able to discover a new passion that they were unaware of previously.
However, there have been several concerns raised regarding the SP-CCA pilot.
Long Travelling Times
Despite their centralised locations, existing SP-CCA venues may still be located some distance away from students, especially those in the West of Singapore. This extends the travel time to-and-fro SP-CCA sessions, which could have been spent on studies, other activities, or rest.
Given the external nature of SP-CCAs, it may be challenging to identify a common SP-CCA time which accommodates the schedule of all students hailing from a plethora of schools.
At minimum, this may cause students to miss a session weekly due to timetabling conflicts with their school activities. At worst, however, students may choose not to take up SP-CCAs entirely, since they are not able to make it for the majority of the sessions held.
Loss of Shared Identity
There may also be concerns regarding loss of shared identity, since students miss out on potential friendships with schoolmates which they would have fostered had they joined a school-based CCA. This, by extension, may lead to a loss of shared identity with the school, and is highly plausible as CCAs make up a significant aspect of student life.
While the above concerns may deter some from participating in SP-CCAs, it stands that SP-CCAs have opened up opportunities for students to explore their passion and discover new talent in areas which they otherwise would not have had the chance to. In addition, not only do SP-CCAs continue to champion the holistic education that every student should receive, it also allows students to discover new talents, as well as gain interpersonal skills and confidence. Thus, despite being in its infancy, SP-CCAs are without doubt a welcome addition for MOE and students alike.