Expats moving with family will understandably be concerned about making arrangements for their children's education and schooling in Singapore. There are options for public, private and international schools in the city-state.
Parents should carefully weigh the pros and cons of each before deciding on where to enrol their children. It's important to note that locals place a high premium on education, and expectations for achievement can be high.
Public and private schools in Singapore
The primary language of instruction in Singapore is English. This applies throughout the city-state's public and private schools. That said, most schools are oversubscribed. The best schools have long waiting lists, and preference is given to citizens – even permanent residents will find that spots are given to Singaporeans before they are granted to foreigners.
On the upside, local schools are far more affordable than international schools. Parents who anticipate living in Singapore for the long term may prefer immersion into the local culture that will come with this option but should prepare themselves and their children for the nuances of the local curriculum.
Education in Singapore is compulsory and is divided into three stages:
- Primary school for six years (ages 7 to 12)
- Secondary school for five years (ages 12 to 17)
- Post-secondary school (typically for three to four years)
Local students are highly competitive and shoulder immense pressure to succeed. Some parents also feel that the local curriculum places too much emphasis on rote learning and does not teach students to think critically. Foreign children can end up feeling isolated as they struggle to assimilate culturally.
Corporal punishment in the form of caning is legal for disciplinary purposes, though it may only be used on boys. Nevertheless, many Westerners have trouble adapting to this system of discipline.
- The Singaporean Ministry of Education's school finder tool is fantastic for assisting parents with finding a government school close to their home address.
International schools in Singapore
There is a large expat population in Singapore. Plenty of international schools have sprung up to serve the foreign community. Overall, international schools in Singapore have a good reputation, though some are generally regarded as having higher standards and more challenging curricula than others.
Many of Singapore's international schools follow the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, while others offer the curriculum of their country of origin. Some expats choose to enrol their children in the latter simply because it means that the school holidays align with home-country holidays.
Another factor that significantly affects school choice is availability, as popular schools often have extensive waiting lists. Others might not have waiting lists at all and are a viable option for enrolment while waiting for a spot to open up at a more prestigious institution. Although these intermediary schools are accepted as offering a good standard of education, the high turnover can unsettle students and disrupt the learning environment.
International schools in Singapore are expensive, but many expats are lucky enough to have their employers supplement their school fees. Those moving to pursue an assignment abroad should try to negotiate an allowance into their contract if one isn't initially included.
Special-needs education in Singapore
The Singaporean Ministry of Education (MOE) has programmes in place that make provision for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN). Children with milder conditions and who have adequate cognitive and adaptive abilities are typically put into mainstream schools with additional support, while those whose conditions require more individualised attention are placed in Special Education (SPED) schools.
Parents can make their own choice regarding which of these would be the best option for their child, though it is recommended that children with moderate to severe SEN enrol in a SPED school. Families opting for SPED schools will be assisted by the Multi-Agency Advisory Panel. This panel is made up of education and healthcare professionals who can advise on which specific school can best meet the needs of the child.
In international and private schools, there may or may not be provisions for SEN children. Some schools don't offer any support for these kinds of needs, while others only offer support for mild SEN. Each school has its own policy, and individual schools should be consulted about their ability to cater to any particular needs.
- The Singaporean Ministry of Education (MOE)'s special educational needs division has more information on managing children's needs while living in Singapore.
Nurseries in Singapore
Expat parents with young children have a diverse array of nursery school options in Singapore. While some popular nurseries can be as expensive as regular schools and often have long waitlists, parents should start their enquiries early. These schools generally offer flexible attendance schedules, early drop-offs, lunch provisions and optional afternoon programmes for working parents, although verifying these details with each school is essential.
Read more about the Best Nurseries and Kindergartens in Singapore.
Tutors in Singapore
With high academic achievement being prized in Singapore, it makes sense that the use of tutors is widespread. Local parents frequently use tutors to ensure their children are among the top in their class. Expat parents may find tutors helpful with issues such as filling the gaps between children's old and new curricula. Tutors can also help children learn the local language faster or maintain fluency in their mother tongue.
Tutoring is a flourishing industry in Singapore and can be pricey due to high demand. Expats can either go through a tutoring company or work directly with a private tutor.
What do expats think of Singapore's education system?
"Schools are of an international standard with a good mix of academia and extra-curricular activities. There are choices depending on curriculum such as IB, proximity to home and even special needs." Jasjit, an Australian expat, tells us about her experience living in Singapore in her interview.
Are you an expat living in Singapore?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Singapore. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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