Local vs international schools in Singapore

While the majority of expats in Singapore send their children to an international school, some families choose to go the local route. There are pros and cons to each, so here’s some information to help you weigh up your options.
Local vs international schools in Singapore
By Carli Allan
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Local schools
All local schools follow the same MOE (Ministry of Education) curriculum. There are six years of primary education for ages seven to 12 years – Primary 1 to 6 – ending with the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE).

Students then proceed to secondary education for ages 12 to 17 years – Secondary 1 to 5. Local schools currently place students in the Express, Normal (Academic), Normal (Technical) or the Integrated Programme (IP) streams – and this is based on their PSLE results. This streaming will be abolished for all secondary students from 2014, and replaced by a new system of subject-based banding, or SBB. Under the new system, students will take subjects at different levels according to their abilities; they will take a combination of subjects at three different levels based on their PSLE scores: General 1, General 2 and General 3.

Currently, students in the four-year Express and five-year Normal streams work towards taking GCEs; those in the technical stream can take subjects such as design and technology. Higher-performing students can study the six-year IP, in which they bypass taking GCEs and work towards A Levels or the International Baccalaureate Programme (IBDP). Local schools offering the IP include ACS Independent, Cedar Girls' Secondary School and St Joseph's Institution.

Although the MOE curriculum is certainly very academically focused, there is an increasing emphasis on the arts, co-curricular activities, innovation and global citizenship; new subjects being introduced include computing, theatre studies and drama.

International schools

Opt for an international school and you’ll have a wide choice of different curricula. Many international schools follow the UK (IGCSE and A Level) or the International Baccalaureate (IB) systems, often with an American, Canadian, Australian or other national slant.

While some international schools will follow one curriculum, many in Singapore mix and match different curricula and styles of teaching. This option is ideal if you don’t plan to stay in Singapore for too long as it makes it easier for students to reintegrate into schools in their home country.

There is a wide offering of international curricula including the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme’s Primary Years Programme (PYP), Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Diploma Programme (IBDP); IGCSE; CBSE; Advanced Placement (AP) Programme; A Level; International Primary Curriculum (IPC); French baccalaureate; Swiss; Korean; Japanese; Dutch; Canadian; Abitur; Montessori; Steiner education; and Inquire Think Learn.

You have a wide choice of all-through schools offering an education from nursery through to Grade 12/Year 13 (IBDP and A Level), or a smaller offering of standalone primary and secondary schools.

Local international schools
Singapore's three local international schools follow several of the MOE's polices, but adapt the curricula to be far more international. For example, the schools follow the government's bilingual policy in its teaching of Mandarin and they observe practices such as singing the national anthem. Students take IGCSEs rather than GCEs, and then study the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP).

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