How a website revamp led to sustainable digital transformation at the Education Ministry

Published on
January 24, 2022
A mother helps her son get ready for school.


  • The Ministry of Education was experiencing high query volume whenever there was a major admissions exercise or announcement.
  • It wanted a new website to give users a frictionless experience when looking for information or performing transactions.
  • Using a user-centred design approach, PebbleRoad worked with the client to launch the new website, in sections, to great success.
  • Beyond the drop in contact volume, other significant changes include the formation of a specialised MOE team that continues to enhance the website and its digital self-help tools for better user experience.

The Challenge

In the past, the Ministry of Education (MOE) of Singapore used to experience high volume of queries in the periods leading up to major admissions exercises or announcements. This included the annual Primary One registration, Direct School Admissions for Secondary Schools and Junior Colleges, Secondary One posting exercise and the Joint Admissions Exercise for O-Level certificate holders.

MOE wanted to reduce simple queries, such as “When is the registration period?”, by helping users find the information they needed easily. This would then enable the manned channels (e.g., the call centre, email and service centre) to handle more complex enquiries, especially during peak periods.

In late 2017, it engaged PebbleRoad to evaluate its website and to propose an improved design considering the gaps and opportunities identified. It wanted a website that would provide a seamless service experience in terms of information retrieval and transactional services.

A usability test participant said: “The website does not give me direct answers, which is why I prefer calling the schools.”

The Approach

PebbleRoad proposed a lean approach, which was to work on one section of the website first instead of overhauling the entire website at once. This would reduce risk of failure as each beta launch would inform the next with new learnings.

By going into the end-to-end user journey for one section, we would also uncover patterns and ideas that could be used in the other sections.

We proposed to start on the Secondary Education and Admissions section first as it was one of the top tasks of MOE website’s users and the Secondary One (S1) posting season had just begun. This enabled us to visit the call centre, listen in to “live” calls and interview call centre representatives as part of the research. We also conducted website data analysis, stakeholder interviews, as well as usability tests and interviews with parents.

Some insights included:

  • The primary users were parents.
  • Users experienced a range of emotions, particularly anxiety, stress and worry, when making key decisions on their child’seducational journey such as selection of school choices.
  • The S1 user journey began well ahead of the Primary 6year, starting as early as Primary 4.
  • The organisation of the website content confused users as there was no single pathway for them to complete their tasks.

A usability test participant said: “The website does not give me direct answers, which is why I prefer calling the schools.”

The findings reflected a “content production” mindset, which focused on putting out organisation-centric information. This is opposed to a “content consumption” mindset that prioritises user understanding of the content.

Design principles

Following the research, PebbleRoad proposed some principles to guide decision-making on the project, especially how the content could be re-written and re-organised in a user-centric way.

They included:

  • Aligning with the parent’s S1 journey
  • Starting with what users know
  • Disclosing information progressively (instead of overwhelming them)
  • Helping users get their “jobs” done
  • Explaining with clarity and using simple language

The last point was especially important. During the usability test of the new beta section, many participants failed their tasks when confronted with abstract terms such as “Posting Results Release Phases”. However, the test results improved dramatically when we used everyday words like “Receive results”.

Participants also liked the new guided interactions, such as the Fees Checker and Financial Assistance Eligibility Checker, as well as being brought from one section to the next in a guided fashion. They found the new SchoolFinder tool to be very useful and asked for it to be made available as soon as possible.

New features such as the Financial Assistance Eligibility Checker made it easy for users to find information independently by using the guided interactions.

The Outcome

The beta Secondary School section was launched in April 2018 to great success. The team received very positive feedback from the public.

Using the volume of queries and feedback as a proxy indicator of the website’s effectiveness in meeting users’ needs for relevant information, MOE observed that the volume continued to fall after the launch in April 2018. This gave MOE the confidence to replicate the approach for the rest of the website.

Together with MOE, PebbleRoad repeated the cycle of “research, ideate, design, test and iterate”. The preschool, primary, post-secondary and careers sections were rolled out between 2019 and 2020.  

These subsequent beta launches also saw similar drops in contact volume ranging from 15% to 30% declines within the first year for the Joint Admissions Exercise, Primary One Registration and MOE Kindergarten Registration.

The CED team continues to look for ways to enhance the website ... demonstrating the internal change that has taken place in the ministry, enabling it to scale and sustain its digital transformation independently.

Mindset shift

Beyond the decline in contact volume, there were some significant changes that took place in the organisation.

Growing internal capabilities

After the first beta launch, MOE recognised the need for a more specialised team to roll out the rest of the changes for the MOE website and to carry on with future enhancements.

This team, known as the Customer Experience Design (CED) team, picked up design thinking, interaction design and content design through the two-year co-sourcing experience with PebbleRoad. The team also proactively attended sharing sessions, seminars, workshops and did self-reading to get up to speed with the skills and knowledge required for the project.

Working across silos

Previously each department (e.g., finance or curriculum) would publish their own content on separate pages. This production mindset led to users having to search for information in different parts of the website.

To present information for the benefit of users, the CED team brought departments together, for the first time, to organise content according to the user’s journey.  

Working together with the content owners and the teams managing other public-facing channels such as call, email, chatbot and FAQs, MOE was able to ensure that the content across these channels were in sync and the information communicated to users was consistent.

Communicating clearly

The CED team, together with PebbleRoad, developed a Content Design Workshop to train MOE’s content owners in writing for the web. This included writing with everyday language and in the active voice, as well as distilling information into digestible chunks and turning complicated processes into step-by-step journeys.

After a pilot workshop by PebbleRoad, the CED team undertook the facilitator role and continued with the roll out of the workshop to all content owners in MOE.

Advocating for users

Previously, content owners tended to use technical jargon, such as “S1 posting exercise”, “S1 option phase”, and “posting results release phase”, in their content which was not intuitive for users.

For the benefit of users, the content owners reviewed the terminologies used and changed them to more action-oriented, everyday terms familiar to laypersons, making the website a relevant and valuable resource for parents.


Even though the website is now in steady state, the CED team continues to look for ways to enhance the website and its digital self-help tools for better user experience, demonstrating the internal change that has taken place in the ministry, enabling it to scale and sustain its digital transformation independently.

Maish Nichani, co-founder, PebbleRoad
Maish Nichani

I enjoy helping organisations achieve their potential in an ever-changing and complex world. I lead product and transformation conversations.

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