Singapore is known to have one of the best public school education systems in the world. The coherent and streamlined curriculum in schools is a product of its cultural identity, historical and institutional legacies. Students from Singapore have been consistently doing well in international assessments like the TIMMS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and the PISA (OECD’s programme for International Student Assessment). It is no surprise that many countries in the west are trying to replicate or take inspiration from this unique instructional regime.
However, schooling in Singapore is not restricted to public/local schools alone. Singapore’s unique multicultural environment has led to the growing acceptance and popularity of international schools that are catering to many expats living in Singapore. Even Singaporeans are waking up to options other than public schools that have been offering more or less the same curriculum over the years.
So the question that every parent faces when choosing a school for his/her child is, ‘Which school is the best for us as a family? Not only for the child, but for the parents as well.’ The answer is never as simple. With Singapore as a country with a high focus on academics and a really strong local school network alongside a choice of various international schools offering newer curriculums; it can be baffling for parents. For an expat family, it could be even more confusing.
There is no one factor that can be decisive here as there are so many elements at play. Both local and international schools have their pros and cons. While the local schools follow a strong national curriculum with heavy reliance on textbooks, worksheets, assignments and practice, International schools (primarily the IB and IGCSE) have an academically less strenuous curriculum but equally strong emphasis on non-academic areas as well. National schools offer easy movement within Singapore schools as the curriculum is uniform while international schools offer an easy transition between countries. This is one of the prime reasons for foreigners to favor international schools. Local schools have restrictions on foreign students while international schools encourage students from different countries to apply with them. It is therefore obvious, that the exposure to different cultures is something that is unique to international schools. Do read more on some of the top international schools in Singapore like the CIS (Canadian International School), GISS International School and UWCSEA (United World College South East Asia) and you will find that all of them boast of multiple nationalities on campus both among students and teachers.
The national school curriculum often proves detrimental to many students who may not be academically very bright. It also is a cause of immense stress for students and parents when it comes to the high stakes exams like the PSLE (Public School Leaving Examination is taken at the end of grade 6). This influences the choice of the school further on. International schools do not follow this criteria as they are not bound by the national curriculum at all. Therefore, they are not as rigid. Also the number of students per teacher is relatively high in local Singapore schools than International ones. So as a parent, if you feel that the child may need extra support and guidance from teachers, local schools may not be the best bet.
One of the most important differences is the fee structure that is much higher in international schools. It is one factor that stops parents from choosing International schools. But for many, the quality of education, level of teaching, world class infrastructure, great learning environment and the opportunity to study under universally accepted curriculum are big differentiators and therefore, worth the price.
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