School & Education

Expats moving to Singapore with school-aged children will certainly be concerned about making appropriate arrangements for their kids’ education. Opportunities in public, private and international school settings exist in the city-state, but parents should carefully weigh the pros and cons of each before making a final enrolment decision. It’s important to note that a high premium is placed on education in Singapore, and expectations for achievement can be grandiose.

Public and private schools in Singapore

Local institutions do allow expat children to enrol, but in most cases, availability is extremely limited. The best schools have incredibly long waiting lists and preference is given to citizens. Even expats who have their permanent residency status will find that spots are given to Singaporeans before they are granted to foreigners. On the upside, annual fees for local schools are far less than that of the highly expensive international schools.

Parents who anticipate living in Singapore for the long-term may prefer this option, but they should prepare themselves and their children for the nuances of the local curriculum and the teaching styles.

Local students are highly competitive and shoulder their fair share of external pressure to succeed. Top schools regularly dismiss underperforming scholars and even those who show only average achievement. Foreign children often feel isolated, as they struggle to assimilate culturally, and even those teachers who use English as the primary teaching language are, in some cases, far from fluent.

Corporal punishment is used on a weekly basis, and many western children have trouble adapting to this system.

International schools in Singapore

A large expat population has come to settle in Singapore, and it follows that plenty of international schools have sprung up to service the foreign community. Due to the intensive curriculum, cultural disparity and limited availability of the local schools most expat parents opt to send their kids to these institutions. Overall, the international schools in Singapore have a good reputation, with some generally accepted as having an elevated standard and a more difficult curriculum than others. All of the schools try their best to emphasize and explore the experience of being an international student abroad.

Most international schools in Singapore follow an International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, but there are few that uphold the system used in their country of origin. Some expats choose to enrol their kids in the latter simply because it means that the school holidays align with home-country holidays.

Another factor that greatly affects school choice is availability. The United World College of South-East Asia (UWCSEA) is a particular favourite, well-known for its emphasis on charity work and academics, but it also claims a three to a four-year waiting list. The same is true of the Tanglin School, a British institution that follows a UK curriculum. On the other hand, the International School Singapore (ISS), the Canadian School and the Overseas Family School (OFS) generally have no waiting lists, making them good options for enrolment while waiting for a spot to open up in a more prestigious institution. These are accepted as good schools, but the high-turnover can unsettle students and disrupt the learning environment.

Expats moving their school-aged children to Singapore should bring report cards from the home-country school as well as letters of recommendation; these documents can facilitate the admissions process.

Tuition and fees
International schools in Singapore are expensive, but most expat employers pay nearly 50 percent of school fees. Those moving to pursue an assignment abroad should stipulate an allowance of some sort as part of their contract if one doesn’t seem to be initially included.

Tuition generally ranges between 20,000 SGD and 30,000 SGD per year but is subject to annual increase as well as a number of supplementary hidden fees. Some schools organise special field trips which parents are expected to pay for out of pocket. These trips are optional, but parents should still anticipate spending some extra money to allow students to take advantage of the experience.