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How Does The Schooling System Work In Singapore?

If you’re moving to Singapore with a young family in tow, one of the most important, and probably the most difficult, decisions you will need to make is with regard to the education of your children.As any parent knows, choosing the right school for your child can be a stressful process even without the addition of a whole new system to navigate. Here, we explain how the system works in Singapore and delve into the options available to expat families.

The Education System

Singapore’s education system begins with preschool places offered from age three, through primary from ages six to 12 and then on to secondary, which runs until the age of 17. In order to progress to university, students must attend a two- or three-year course in preparation, with places awarded on merit.

Early Years Education

The preschool stage is in Singapore is currently non-compulsory and comprises one year of nursery and two of kindergarten. During these years, children will learn basic reading and writing skills while developing their creativity and social skills, as well as practising physical education. They will also be learning two languages, with English usually being one of them.

Preschool terms follow the same school year as the rest of Singaporean schools, which runs from January to November, with a four-week holiday in June. Preschools generally offer three or four hours of schooling per day and their prices vary considerably, but most require some sort of fee. To guarantee a preschool place for your child, be sure to register early; admissions are usually dealt with in the March or April for enrolment the following January.

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Primary Education

From the age of six, it is compulsory that all children attend primary school, where they will spend the next six years primarily developing their maths and English skills. Even at this early stage, it is wise to take your child’s interests into account when choosing a school, as primary schools offer different things, particularly on an extra-curricular level – some focus on sports whilst others specialise in creative arts or social activities. As primary education is mandatory, parents can be penalised for non-compliance; even those who wish to home school their children must apply for permission to do so.

Primary schools are split into six grades which span two clear stages: four years of foundation stage and a two year ‘orientation’ phase which is designed to help children prepare for secondary school.

Secondary Education

Compulsory secondary education runs for four or five years, taking pupils up to the age of 17. At the end of this period, students will take an exam and can then opt to continue on to pre-university education, the academic route, or post-secondary education, which is the more vocational path.

Options For Pupils With Special Needs

While the education system in Singapore is of a generally high standard, their mainstream schools may not be a viable option for all children. There are special needs schools which can cater to a number of children with various physical and mental disabilities, but these also may not be the best option for some children, for example, those living with autism spectrum disorders. There are other choices available for children such as these.

These options are as follows:

Mainstream school with a shadow teacher in the classroom: under this option, the parents pay for a teacher to shadow the child in the classroom, attending to their individual needs whilst minimising disruption for the rest of the class and for the main teacher. Whilst potentially an ideal solution for many families, this can be a costly exercise and also may not be permitted by the school, even if the parents are willing to fund the shadow teacher.

Mainstream with in-house learning support: this option allows the pupil to stay in mainstream education whilst still accessing the support they need. This is a highly sought-after option as it is cheaper than hiring a shadow teacher. However, there are few schools who are able to offer this option with immediate effect.

Home-schooling: an ever-increasing number of expat families are choosing this option over any school at all. These families follow a set curriculum with a parent acting as more of a learning mentor than an all-out teacher.

Regardless of which option you choose, it may be useful to seek out a support network of other families who are facing similar challenges with whom you can exchange valuable advice.

International Schools

International schools are an excellent option for many expat families, particularly those who are not planning to stay in Singapore indefinitely. An international school will provide continuity in your child’s education – if you are relocating from the UK, USA, Australia, or any large European country, you will be able to find a school in Singapore which teaches the same national curriculum as at home, in your home language, usually delivered by teachers from your home country. The benefit of this familiarity is that it will make it easier for your child to transition both into their new school in Singapore and, if the need were to arise, on return to school in their native country. Additionally, any qualifications gained from an international school, as opposed to local schools, are recognised internationally.

Most international schools in Singapore run from pre-school to the end of secondary (two to 18 years) and are mixed sex, which is another bonus for expat families as there is no need for multiple drop-offs or pick-ups. This also gives migrant siblings the extra security of attending school together. The majority of these schools do not select pupils on their academic abilities, although some still have entry examinations to get a better idea of which set to place the pupil in.
One major downside to international schools is the cost, which can run into thousands per child per year. Upon visiting such schools, it is evident where the fees are spent, as you will find quality teaching, small class sizes and excellent facilities. However, the costs can prove prohibitive for some families.

Some international schools are oversubscribed and have waiting lists, so it is important to have two or three in mind when thinking about admissions. You will need to apply to the school directly if you are interested in registering your child; they will inform you of their specific entry requirements.

Whichever path you choose when selecting a school for your child, be assured that thousands of expat families have gone before you and many will still be on hand to offer advice and support, you just need to reach out and find them.

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