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Singapore’s International Schools: A Guide For Expat Parents

Singapore, known worldwide for its high educational standards, is home to an extensive range of international schools that cater specifically to the needs of the expat community. This vibrant city-state boasts a multicultural environment, making it a compelling destination for families looking to offer their children a globally-oriented education. In this guide, we aim to provide a comprehensive overview of the international school system in Singapore, assisting expat parents in making informed decisions about their child’s education.

Understanding the Difference: International Schools Vs. Local Schools

To make an informed choice, it’s essential to understand the differences between local and international schools in Singapore. Both uphold high educational standards, but they cater to different needs and follow different educational systems.

Singapore’s local schools, governed by the Singapore Ministry of Education, follow a standard curriculum that focuses on the student’s progress to prepare for national examinations like the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), the GCE ‘O’ Levels, and the GCE ‘A’ Levels. These examinations are integral to a student’s progression to the next educational stage. Moreover, local schools place a strong emphasis on bilingual education, with English as the main language of instruction and Mother Tongue (Mandarin, Malay, or Tamil) as a compulsory subject.

On the other hand, international schools in Singapore offer a broader range of curricula, with many following internationally recognized educational systems from countries like the U.S., U.K., Australia, France, and Germany. They offer a more diverse environment, attracting students of different nationalities, and thus provide an educational experience that is both globally conscious and culturally rich.

The Variety of International Curricula Available in Singapore

Singapore’s international schools offer a wide array of curricula, allowing expat families to choose a system that best aligns with their home country’s education system or their long-term educational and career plans for their children. Below, we look into the main curricula on offer in Singapore:

International Baccalaureate (IB)


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The International Baccalaureate, often known as the IB, is a globally recognized curriculum known for its rigorous, inquiry-based approach to learning. It places a strong emphasis on critical thinking and the development of an international mindset. The IB program is typically divided into the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP), and the Diploma Programme (DP). A number of Singapore’s international schools, including the United World College of South East Asia (UWCSEA) and the Stamford American International School, follow the IB curriculum.

British Curriculum

The British curriculum is widely used around the world and culminates in the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams followed by the A-Level examinations. This curriculum is known for its depth and specialization, particularly at the A-Level stage. Schools like the Tanglin Trust School and the Dover Court International School offer the British curriculum.

American Curriculum

International schools offering the American curriculum usually follow a broad-based education approach, similar to that in the U.S. They cover a diverse range of subjects, and older students have the opportunity to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams, offering college-level curricula and exams to high school students. The Singapore American School is a prime example of an institution following the American curriculum.

Others

There are several other national curricula offered by international schools in Singapore. For example, the Lycee Francais de Singapour offers the French national curriculum, the German European School Singaporefollows the German curriculum, and the Australian International School adopts the Australian curriculum.

Top International Schools in Singapore: An Overview

Singapore is home to a significant number of top-tier international schools. Here, we provide a brief overview of some of the leading institutions:

United World College of South East Asia (UWCSEA)

UWCSEA is an independent international school offering a mission-driven, values-based international education to students from more than 75 nationalities. It provides a challenging, holistic program comprising academics, activities, outdoor education, personal and social education, and service.

Tanglin Trust School

The Tanglin Trust School is a British international school that provides the English National Curriculum and IGCSE, followed by the IB Diploma Programme. It offers an inspiring educational journey for students from Nursery through to Sixth Form (3-18 years) and celebrates both academic excellence and individual talents.

Singapore American School

The Singapore American School is the largest single-campus international school in the world. With over 60 years of history, SAS offers an American-based curriculum for preschool through high school graduation. Its academic program emphasizes the core subjects of English, Math, Social Studies, and Science.

Stamford American International School

The Stamford American International School offers students both the IB and American curriculum. The school is recognized for its rigorous academic program, strong sports teams, and an extensive variety of performing arts and other extracurricular opportunities.

While the choice of school should align with your child’s educational needs and future aspirations, it’s also important to consider factors like the school’s ethos, extracurricular offerings, facilities, and community.

School Facilities: What to Expect

Singapore’s international schools are renowned for their impressive facilities, offering students access to a wide range of resources that enhance learning. These facilities often include spacious, technologically advanced classrooms, science laboratories, libraries brimming with resources, visual art and music studios, auditoriums and performing arts centers, indoor and outdoor sporting facilities, swimming pools, and cafeterias. Schools such as Dulwich College Singapore also provide unique specialist facilities, like a dedicated Learn to Swim Pool for younger students and a planetarium.

Admission Process: Steps and Tips for Parents

The admission process into Singapore’s international schools typically involves several steps, but procedures can vary across schools. The process usually begins with an application form, which can often be completed online, followed by submission of necessary documents like past school reports, health checks, and possible standardized test scores, depending on the age of the student. Most schools also require an interview and/or an assessment. Parents and students may also be invited to visit the school for a tour.

Due to the high demand for international school places in Singapore, it’s advisable to start the application process as early as possible, bearing in mind that some popular schools may have waiting lists.

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees at Singapore’s international schools can vary significantly, depending on factors such as the grade level, curriculum, and the school’s resources and facilities. In addition to tuition fees, parents should also account for additional costs that could include application and registration fees, security deposits, uniforms, books and resources, transportation, school trips, and extracurricular activities. Each school’s website typically provides a comprehensive breakdown of fees, but it can be useful to contact the school’s admissions department for detailed information.

Scholarships and Financial Aid: Available Options

While international school tuition can be a significant investment, some schools in Singapore offer scholarships and financial aid to help offset the cost. Scholarships are usually merit-based, awarded to students who demonstrate outstanding academic, artistic, or athletic ability. Financial aid, on the other hand, is typically need-based.

Schools such as St. Joseph’s Institution (SJI) International and UWCSEA offer a range of scholarships. It’s essential to research each school’s offerings and understand the application process and criteria for these financial aid options.

School Culture and Community Involvement

One of the significant advantages of international schools in Singapore is their diverse and multicultural student bodies, fostering an environment of global awareness and mutual respect. Many of these schools emphasize not just academic achievement but also character education, service learning, and community involvement.

Schools like Global Indian International School provide numerous opportunities for students to engage in community service initiatives and develop leadership skills. These experiences contribute to students’ holistic development, preparing them to be global citizens who can contribute positively to society.

A Closer Look at Language Support in International Schools

International schools in Singapore recognize the importance of language learning in a globalized world. Many offer strong support for English as an Additional Language (EAL) and provide students with opportunities to learn second and even third languages. Commonly offered languages include Mandarin, French, Spanish, and German.

Some schools, such as the Canadian International School, also offer bilingual programs where students can study two languages at an equal intensity. Such programs can provide students with a significant advantage in an increasingly interconnected world.

Trends in International Education in Singapore

The international school landscape in Singapore continues to evolve to meet the demands of a changing world. Trends in international education include a greater emphasis on technology integration, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) education, project-based learning, and the development of soft skills like communication, collaboration, and critical thinking.

Schools are also focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion, fostering a culture where every student feels seen, valued, and heard. Mindfulness and student well-being have also become central, with schools taking measures to ensure the mental and emotional health of their students.

Useful Resources for Expat Parents

There are numerous online resources available that can assist expat parents in navigating the educational landscape in Singapore. Some of these include:

There are numerous online resources available that can assist expat parents in navigating the educational landscape in Singapore. Some of these include:

  • Ministry of Education Singapore: For updates on the educational landscape in Singapore.
  • HoneyKids Asia: Features news, reviews, and events related to kids and education.
  • The Finder: Offers a wide range of lifestyle advice for expats, including a section on international schools.

Conclusion: Choosing the Right School for Your Child

Choosing the right international school is a crucial decision that can significantly impact your child’s educational journey. It involves careful consideration of various factors, including the curriculum, school culture, school facilities, location, and the specific needs and aspirations of your child. Understandably, this decision may feel overwhelming, given the array of high-quality international schools in Singapore.

Begin by reflecting on your child’s learning style, interests, and future goals. Consider the school’s mission and ethos and how these align with your family’s values and aspirations. It may be helpful to visit the school or engage in virtual tours to get a feel for the school’s atmosphere, teaching methods, and community.

If your child has specific learning needs, look into how well these are supported. If they are keen on particular sports, arts, or other extracurricular activities, explore schools with strong programs in these areas. Also, consider practical aspects like school location, transportation, school hours, and the availability of after-school care if needed.

In terms of academics, reflect on which curriculum will best suit your child and align with their potential future educational pathway. Is the curriculum rigorous enough? Does it offer a balanced approach to learning, combining academics with personal development?
A closer look at school culture and community involvement can provide insight into how well your child will fit in. A school that values diversity and fosters a sense of belonging can make the transition easier for your child.

Tuition fees and other costs are significant considerations. While you may wish to provide the best possible education for your child, it’s crucial to think about what is financially feasible for your family.

While this process involves many factors and may seem complex, remember that you are not alone. Reach out to school representatives, engage with parent communities, and leverage available resources to make an informed decision. The ultimate goal is to find a school where your child feels comfortable, happy, and challenged, a place where they can thrive both academically and personally. After all, a happy child is a successful learner. With the rich diversity of excellent international schools in Singapore, you can indeed find that ideal match for your child’s education.


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