The International schools system in Singapore

When it comes to schools in Singapore, relocating families will find plenty of choice, and places in most of the country’s international schools. We assess the current state of provision.

Tanglin Trust School

Tanglin Trust School, Singapore

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With very few exceptions, local children are not allowed to attend international schools at primary level in Singapore – unless they have an international passport or their parents have returned after working overseas for two years or more.Therefore, demand for places at international schools is essentially from expatriates, and it is directly affected by the size of the expatriate community.

International schools provision in Singapore

The Singapore government, which maintains tight control of international-school provision, releases land for school development when it foresees sufficient need for more places.At present, there is a demand for more expats in the country. The government has a goal of 6.9 million inhabitants by 2030 (the population currently stands at 5.4 million), and the indigenous population alone will not achieve this goal.As a result, more multinationals and skilled expats look set to be enticed into Singapore over the next few years. In the meantime, school choice and availability are good.School search and education advice - connect with our in-country expertsThe number of English-medium international schools continues to grow. The International School Consultancy (ISC), which researches the global international-schools market, indicates that there is a current total of 110 schools for preschool, primary and secondary age, with more than 63,000 children attending. Of these schools, 18 per cent have more than 1,000 students.When it comes to the teaching and learning approach of Singapore’s international schools, 6 per cent are US oriented and 29 per cent offer International Baccalaureate programmes, but the most popular learning and teaching approach is British, with 33 per cent of the schools offering a UK curriculum and/or examinations.
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Developments and curricula

Dulwich College opened in Bukit Batok in August 2014. Headmaster Nick Magnus explains that British independent education enjoys a strong reputation in Singapore because of its rounded approach to students’ academic and character development.“We offer an enhanced English National Curriculum tailored to the needs of our international students, which leads, in time, to the IGCSE examinations. We intend, subject to the necessary approvals, to offer students in Years 12 and 13 a challenging academic qualification which is fully recognised by, and gives access to, top universities worldwide,” he says.“Our approach blends Eastern academic rigour with a Western understanding of developing the whole child that is very appealing to our cosmopolitan student population and parents. I think it also helps that we keep hold of what we consider essential attributes, such as politeness, service and good manners.”Mr Magnus outlines why the school, which attracted more than 900 students in its first year, has appealed to so many parents. “We provide a challenging academic environment that goes beyond the boundaries of the classroom to stimulate and encourage an independent spirit and enquiring mind through invigorating sports and performing-arts programmes.“One aspect that appeals to our parents is our focus on Mandarin. Part of the appeal here is our dual-language approach in English and Mandarin, which involves teaching our DUCKS (Dulwich kindergarten) classes in both languages. This breeds an easy familiarity with, and understanding of, both languages in students from an early age, providing both linguistic and cognitive benefits for children.”Dulwich College Singapore continues to grow its senior school. It is expected to have more than 2,500 students by 2020, when it will also introduce boarding facilities for students’ aged 11 and above.The 2014/15 school year also saw a new campus in Yishun for GEMS World Academy. The school, which initially provided learning for Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) to Grade 8 children, has expanded to accommodate Grades 9 and 10 from September 2015, offering all International Baccalaureate programmes, plus the IGCSE. Current intake is for Pre-K to Grade 11. This will be expanded to Grade 12 in 2017.Stamford American International School, which delivers the International Baccalaureate integrated with the American Education Reaches Out (AERO) standards, has increased its capacity from 1,500 to over 2,800 students. Its new early-learning campus (for children aged between 18 months and six years) will open in August 2017.The first cohort of Grade 12 students joined the school for the 2015/16 academic year. This means that it can now cater for children aged from 18 months to 18 years.Stamford has developed its World Language Program, which offers three of the world’s most spoken languages, English, Mandarin and Spanish. There are daily and bilingual options in Mandarin and Spanish, as well as a dedicated Accelerated English programme, taught by native-speaking specialists.One of the oldest international schools in Singapore, Tanglin Trust School, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2015, has had the lease on its current site extended to 2038. Until the extension was approved, the school had been reluctant to build anything other than essential facilities. However, in November 2016, its new Nixon Building was officially opened. The building features a fully fitted gym, a second performance theatre seating 500 spectators, and state-of-the-art media technology facilities.Tanglin Trust School follows a British approach to learning, with an international perspective. Students work towards IGCSE and a choice of either A Levels or the International Baccalaureate Diploma.Like Dulwich, Tanglin seeks to develop its students’ understanding of languages, but also places strong emphasis on nurturing their first language and culture. “We are keen for students who already speak a language other than English at home to continue to develop their mother tongue,” says John Ridley, director of learning. “In the infant and junior schools, native and near-native speakers of Chinese are offered additional early-morning Mandarin sessions designed
to complement their curriculum lessons.”Other international schools in Singapore are remaining competitive by improving their learning resources. Nexus International School, for example, has introduced a one-to-one laptop programme.

New school plans

In response to the government’s goal to expand the population over the next 15 years, Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) announced in May 2015 a tender process for three new building plots for foreign system schools. This is the fourth tender process since 2008.The EDB encourages schools that are bidding to consider within their proposals provision for community engagement, public access to school facilities, and traffic management. One example of such provision is at the new campus of the Overseas Family School. A huge underground car park houses the buses that have transported the 3,800 students since the school’s move across the island to its new Pasir Ris campus in August 2015.In late 2015, Nexus International School was awarded a site for a new campus in Aljunied. The campus is set for completion by the end of 2018. The school will be able to increase its student numbers from its current intake of 900 at its Ulu Pandan campus to 2,000.EtonHouse International School is extending the secondary-school intake at its Broadrick campus, admitting Year 9 students for the first time in the 2017/18 academic year and adding to the programme each year until students graduate at the age of 16. 

National-school options

Although Singapore’s international schools are the dominant choice of expatriate families, a few parents choose national schools for their children. This is partly because of the excellent reputation of the Singapore curriculum and its high position in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings. PISA 2015 results showed that Singapore was the best-performing country in science, reading and mathematics.However, access to arts and humanities is limited in Singapore’s national schools, and the extremely rigorous Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) at age 12 deters many.The breadth of international schools, availability of places in most schools, and wide choice of curricula, learning orientation and examinations, which allow the potential for continuity during future relocation, make international schools a preferred choice for most expatriate families.
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