Should Expats Enrol Their Child in a Local or International School in Singapore?

international school students

The Singapore education system is known for producing top scorers in the PISA test, and for being extremely rigorous in math and science. The medium of instruction is English, which has made it possible for many expats to enrol their kids in local schools.

So why do some expats still shell out tens of thousands of dollars a year to enrol their kids in international schools? Here are some factors to consider:



To put it bluntly, international school fees in Singapore are very high. So high, in fact, that some expats working in Singapore choose to send their children across the Causeway to attend school in Johor Bahru.

You are generally looking at annual fees of about $20,000 to $35,000.

Local schools, by contrast, are much cheaper, although they are rising. In 2008, non-ASEAN foreigners will pay $650 a month to enrol their kids at a primary school, secondary school fees will be $950 a month and pre-university fees including JC will be $1,300 a month.


Stress levels

To many expat parents, the stress levels faced by local students, who spend most of their free time after school taking private lessons, are unreasonable.

While much obviously depends on the child’s aptitude and attitude as well as the parents’ expectations, an international school would probably be the less stressful of the two options.

The local education system involves a litany of high stakes exams including streaming at age 10, the PSLE at age 12 and the O levels at age 16 or 17. Doing badly at any one of these stages can make the road to university longer and more arduous.

Doing well in the local education system does tend to be more reliant on a student’s capacity for rote learning, unless he manages to get into the highly selective International Baccalaureate programme.

That being said, the local education system is known for its strong emphasis on math and science, and Singaporean students tend to be very well-prepared for the rigours of university education. In addition, some parents opt for local schools because they believe a more structured environment will help their children cultivate discipline.

That is not to say that being enrolled at an international school is necessarily a walk in the park. Some of the more reputable international schools can be extremely competitive, and many international school students do rely on private tuition outside of school to boost their grades. That being said, international schools do tend to be less rigid.



If there is an international school targeted at students from your home country, enrolling your child there would mean they gain more exposure to their native tongue and probably graduate with higher proficiency in the language.

Local schools offer a range of of second language options, including Chinese, Malay, Tamil, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, French, German, Japanese, Arabic, Burmese and Thai. However, the language of instruction for all other subjects will be English.

Parents who can’t find a school where lessons are taught in their native language can default to English-medium international schools and local schools.

It must be said that the standards of English language teaching at typical local schools tend to be rather low. Nonetheless, this should not pose a problem if your family is anglophone.

If English is not your home language, however, your child will probably become more fluent studying at an international school, although to be fair English standards tend to be quite high in the more prestigious local schools. There is also the question of accent—parents who do not want their children to pick up a Singaporean accent should opt for international schools.



How long you intend to live in Singapore will affect your choice of school.

If you are only staying for a few years and intend to return to your home country afterwards, it would probably be more convenient to simply enrol your child in an international school that offers a similar curriculum to that in your home country.


School hours and holidays

Local schools tend to run from about 7:30am to about 1:30pm. International school sessions usually start a bit later from about 8am to 9am, typically ending around 2pm to 3:30pm.

Local students usually get a month of holidays in June and another in December, and the school year begins in January. International schools, on the other hand, usually follow the calendar of the country whose system they follow.

If you have annual holiday plans that cannot be deviated from, such as summers spent in your home country, you may decide to place your child in a school with a calendar that will not disrupt them

In addition, if you are coming from a system where the school year begins in, say, September, shifting your child to the local school system might mean being held back a year.



For families who are planning to remain in Singapore for the long haul, enrolling their kids in a local school might be a more attractive option, and not just in terms of the money saved.

Kids who are in international schools tend to grow up in a bubble with little to no exposure to local culture. Furthermore, many families with kids enrolled in international schools tend to up and leave after a few years, which means that your child may have trouble making lasting friendships.

Have you had any experiences with local or international schools in Singapore? Share your stories in the comments!