International Schools in Singapore

Singapore continues to attract many expatriates and when it comes to schools, 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 Singapore

Tanglin Trust School, Singapore

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.According to figures provided by LEK Consulting Global Education Practice the Singapore international school market is worth around SGD 1.6 billion (GBP 0.9 billion) and enrols around 53,000 students annually.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.The 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, six 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.

Developments and curricula

Stamford American International School (SAIS), which delivers the IB 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) opened in August 2017.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.A spokesperson for SAIS said, “We are proud to be a global, multicultural community with over 75 nationalities. Our international culture is supported by our World Language Program, where we offer three of the most spoken languages on the globe: Mandarin, Spanish and English. An extensive range of cultural events, such as the International Fiesta organised by our Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Chinese New Year, Deepavali and Christmas are also celebrated here.“SAIS also offers an after-school Mother Tongue Program led by parents and the larger international community. Children in the program have access to native teachers, classroom facilities, IT support, library and event spaces.”One of the oldest international schools in Singapore, Tanglin Trust School, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2015, opened its new Nixon Building in November 2016. 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 IB Diploma.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.”The Australian International School (AIS) caters for children from ages two months to 19. It is an IB World School but offers a choice between the IB and Australian curriculum.“Whilst there remains a strong focus on academia, we offer a wealth of opportunities for students in areas of sport, music and the creative arts, ensuring a balanced education,” explains Julie Yorke, director of admissions. This is something that families enrolling children in national schools are unlikely to find with its historically narrow focus on academia.

New school plans

Traditional education hubs in Singapore, such as Marine Parade and Bukit Timah have seen competition in recent years as the government is making more land available for foreign system schools. This is in line with its aim to expand the population over the next ten years.Aljunied, which was formerly agricultural land is now a bustling neighbourhood and the government has made further plots of land available there for the development of more foreign schools.Nexus International School has secured a site in Aljunied for a new $17 million campus, which is scheduled to open in 2020. It will be Singapore’s latest state-of-the-art international school and will be the flagship Nexus campus. The school will be able to increase its student numbers from its current capacity of 1,200 at its Ulu Pandan campus to 2,000.EtonHouse International School opened a new campus in spring 2018 in the centre of the city, which caters for primary and secondary school students. EtonHouse Orchard follows the IB curriculum and became an authorised IB World school from September 2018.

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 deter 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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