MORE students across all races are pursuing studies beyond secondary school, according to data released by the Ministry of Education (MOE) yesterday.

Of the cohort that entered Primary 1 in 2001, about 94 per cent were admitted to post-secondary institutions, compared to about 88 per cent for the 1992 cohort.

The increase was the greatest - at 12 percentage points - for Malay students, compared to those of other races. The corresponding figures for Indian and Chinese students are 11 and 5 percentage points, respectively.

The figures are part of annual data detailing the performances of the major ethnic groups in the national examinations over the past decade.

MPs sitting on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education said the rise in post-secondary enrolment was due to the MOE giving weaker students more options and greater support for teens at risk of dropping out of school.

"Compared to 10 years ago, students now have a wider choice of different learning pathways to develop their potential and areas of interest," said Ms Low Yen Ling, an MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC.

By setting up schools like Northlight to cater to students who otherwise would not even have gone to secondary school, more will end up studying past secondary level, said Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng.

He added that in recent years, he noticed that more grassroots and voluntary organisations are providing support for those at risk of dropping out.

Overall performance in national exams also improved over the past decade, with Malay and Indian students making the greatest strides.

In terms of pass rates, Indian pupils made the most improvement at the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), while Malay students made the greatest improvements at O level.

More Malay and Indian students also did better in mathematics, a subject which they traditionally struggled with.

Last year, about 77 per cent of Indian pupils passed PSLE maths, compared to about 69 per cent in 2002. The corresponding figures for Malay pupils were 60 per cent last year and 57 per cent in 2002.

The two groups also made significant strides at secondary and post-secondary levels.

The percentage of Malay A-level students with at least three H2 passes and a pass in General Paper or Knowledge and Inquiry rose by 12 percentage points over the past decade. For Indians, the corresponding figure was 6 percentage points.

Indian and Malay MPs cheered the news, crediting support offered by self-help groups like Mendaki and the Singapore Indian Development Association in the form of tuition and mentoring for the rising pass rates.

Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Janil Puthucheary said: "It shows that we're moving in the right direction."

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamed said more Malay parents today are placing greater emphasis on education as a means of social mobility.

But with about 38 per cent of Malay O-level students not attaining at least five passes, Mendaki chief executive Moliah Hashim said that her group will "continue and intensify efforts" to bring Malay performance closer to the national average.

The performance of Chinese students across all national exams remained steady over the past decade. On every indicator except Mother Tongue passes at O level, they continued to equal or better the national average.

But while more Chinese students struggled with Mother Tongue, those not belonging to any of the three major ethnic groups did better in the subject.

Pass rates for those in ethnic groups classed as "Others", including Eurasians, went up 4 and 11 percentage points over the decade, for PSLE and O level, respectively.