Singapore's Best International Schools for the Arts

From state-of-the-art performing arts centres to specialist music and drama programmes, which international schools in Singapore are putting the arts at the heart of their curriculum – and helping to produce the next generation of actors, musicians, writers and designers?
Singapore's Best International Schools for the Arts
By Carli Allan
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How creative is your child’s school? Whether they have a passion for fine art, design and technology or graphics, or an exceptional talent for violin, film or photography, students in Singapore are given plenty of opportunities to develop their skills in drama, music and art.

Encouraging creativity in children doesn’t just improve their chances of becoming the next Van Gogh, Leonardo DiCaprio, Vanessa-Mae or Sofia Coppola. The arts give children opportunities to explore, express and communicate their feelings, and help them to grow socially, mentally and emotionally.

There are many global studies to suggest that the arts should be a vital part of a broad and balanced curriculum at both primary and secondary levels. Creative industries are among the fastest growing economies in South East Asia. And, according to the World Economic Forum, by 2020 creativity will be one of the top three most important skills for future jobs; this is alongside complex problem solving and critical thinking.

Arts could become more important than maths, according to Andreas Schleicher, the head of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), who is widely regarded as one of the most influential voices in world education.

Speaking to UK MPs in February 2019, Schleicher said:

“I would say, in the fourth industrial revolution, arts may become more important than maths. We talk about ‘soft skills’ often as social and emotional skills, and hard skills [being] about science and maths, but it might be the opposite.”

Private schools worldwide have a reputation for championing the arts, whether that’s music, drama, dance, film or art. But are international schools in Singapore making space for the creative and performing arts in their curriculum? The answer is yes, albeit to varying degrees.

Just as British schools are looking to top-performing markets in South East Asia for ideas on how to improve maths and science education, Singapore is turning to countries such as the UK for inspiration on how to address its shortcomings in arts education.

In the public sector, Singapore opened a secondary school dedicated to the arts, School of the Arts (SOTA). And in the international sector, schools are offering programmes that often go beyond the requirements of their UK, US or IB-based curricula.

Campus facilities

Visit any international school in the Little Red Dot, and you’d expect to find theatre, music, drama and art rooms on a state-of-the-art campus. Many will also have a black box theatre, private music practice rooms, a green screen, gallery spaces for displaying student artwork, recording studio, and drama and dance studios.

Tanglin Trust

Tanglin Trust's screening room

Some schools have invested in specialist facilities that are dedicated to the arts, and provide the extra resources needed for arts-based IGCSEs, A Levels, BTECs and modules in the IBDP. For example, in 2016 Tanglin Trust School opened a film studies facility complete with Foley pit where students can design sound effects and soundtracks; a visual effects studio where students can also add motion graphics; a Google-style Think Tank pre-production room; two film studios (one green and one black) with lighting rigs and professional cameras; and a 40-seat screening room where they can watch and analyse films.

UWCSEA’s Dover campus has not one but two theatres, as well as a more intimate black box theatre, which are all used to stage a wide range of performances in just one academic year, ranging from West Side Story to Hiroshima. In addition to its arts facilities, Canadian International School’s Lakeside campus has a multimedia lab and a STEAM makerspace where it teaches the arts as part of its Science, Technology, Entrepreneurship, Arts and Mathematics programme.

The STEAM Centre at the CIS Lakeside campus

Dover Court International School has a Music Technology Room equipped with iMacs and headphones where students can compose soundtracks; this is used as part of the school’s unique Juilliard curriculum (see below). Dulwich College (Singapore) spent $1 million on Singapore’s largest pipe organ, which is described as “the centrepiece of the College’s extensive music programme”. Students can learn to play the fully-functional pipe organ alongside other unique instruments including the viola, oboe, bassoon and harp. Stamford American International School (SAIS) has a 500-seat theatre with a 60 sq m LED backdrop screen, and Singapore American School has an art wing with in-house kilns, and photography, film and graphic art studios.

EtonHouse Orchard

EtonHouse Orchard's combined black box theatre and music area

The outdoor art room at OWIS

Not all arts facilities need to have the ‘wow’ factor, though. There’s an outdoor music 'shed' for infant children at Tanglin Trust, a ceramics and pottery lab at GIIS SMART, a dark room at UWCSEA’s East campus, and an outdoor art room at OWIS – these are all examples of how schools can use simple but effective ways to engage students in the arts. Also, bigger is not always better. EtonHouse Orchard may not have a large campus, but it is creative with its use of a small space; it uses a town square concept with a black box theatre, music area and small stage to give students a transformative space to perform. And the single-form entry primary school, The Grange Institution, works with professional artists to run a Creators in Residence project – while keeping annual tuition fees low at $15,840.

Arts in the curriculum

While schools may have funded these arts facilities, are they investing as much in the delivery of a creative education?

Many international schools offer a UK or IB education, neither of which sideline the arts. In fact, specialist teachers are often brought in to teach creative subjects from early years (as young as three) up to college.

An art class at the Australian International School

Music, art and design are compulsory in the UK National Curriculum from the age of five up to 14 years; dance is a compulsory part of the PE curriculum for five to 14-year-olds; and drama is a compulsory part of the English curriculum for five to 16-year-olds. A substantial number of schools, including XCL World Academy (Singapore), Dulwich College (Singapore) and Nexus International School, teach IGCSEs; arts subjects include art and design, drama, music, and design and technology. There is, however, only a small number of schools in Singapore that teach A Levels – including Tanglin Trust School; arts subjects include art and design, design and technology, drama and theatre, media studies, and music.

Similarly, the International Baccalaureate programme dedicates both time and resources to the arts. The IB’s Primary Years Programme includes dance, drama, music and visual arts. During the Middle Years Programme (MYP), all students study three arts programmes from Grades 6 to 8: one visual arts, one performing arts, and one design course. Students then go on to study one of these fields during Grades 9 and 10, and end the programme with an arts showcase in Grade 10.

Which schools offer the IBDP and A Levels in Singapore? Click here to find out.

In the IBDP (Grades 11-12), students study dance, music, visual arts, theatre and/or film as part of the arts subject group. IBDP students must study Theory of Knowledge, which includes a unit that addresses questions such as ‘Who determines art and what is and isn’t art?’, ‘What are the standards a society uses to judge good art?’ and ‘What is the purpose of art?”. They also complete a CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service) project, which can include arts activities.

School of the Arts (Singapore)

There are two schools in Singapore – School of the Arts (Singapore) and XCL World Academy (Singapore) – currently offering the IB’s Career-related Programme (IBCP), which gives students an opportunity to focus on a creative career pathway. GEMS works in partnership with the Savannah College of Art & Design university to offer a unique programme that combines a wide range of SCAD degree credit courses (fine art, design, fashion, fashion business, digital media, graphic design, advertising & branding, and many more) with a high school diploma and IB certification.

Music is also widely taught at schools offering a US curriculum, such as the Singapore American School, and other arts subjects are integrated into academic subjects. Some schools will teach music, art and drama based on US programmes such as the Massachusetts Arts Curriculum. In the college years, students have a choice of art history, studio art and music theory under the Advanced Placement programme.

Focus on the arts

There are plenty of schools in Singapore that recognise the value of a creative curriculum – and bring it to the fore in the daily timetable. At nursery and primary level, schools offer students the opportunity to learn an instrument. Typically, this is the keyboard or guitar but some schools offer other unique choices. At Singapore American School (SAS) and UWCSEA’s East and Dover campuses, students can learn and perform on a gamelan instrument; Stamford American International School (SAIS) is the first and only school in Singapore to offer the world-renowned Suzuki Violin Program from the age of three, with the option to progress to the cello from the age of five; and GEMS World Academy (Singapore) runs a six-week string instrument course (violin/cello) for all primary students.

Some schools integrate tried-and-tested global arts programmes into their curriculum. For example, Australian International School follows the Orff Music Literacy Programme, and integrates music, movement, drama and speech into its play-based learning for early years students.

The arts are certainly a strength at Dover Court International School which offers the Juilliard-Nord Anglia Performing Arts Programme. Developed in partnership with the performing arts academy based in New York, this arts curriculum puts students in front of Juilliard’s performers and teaching artists at various workshops, masterclasses and performances. The love of music at this school starts in Year 1 when students take compulsory keyboard lessons.


Looking at the broader picture, schools celebrate their students’ artistic talent across campus – from artwork on the walls to collaborative works of art created by all year groups. Also, Art Week has become an integral part of the school calendar, and many IB schools hold an annual school-wide CAS Week, inspired by the IB’s Creativity, Activity and Service framework.

Extra-curricular activities

Schools include a variety of arts-based activities as part of their extra-curricular programmes. As well as music and vocal ensembles, these range from Whizz Kidz photography, clay modelling and Chatsworth’s Got Talent at Chatsworth International School to Chinese drumming, ukulele groups and learning the skills of ‘backstage’ theatre at Nexus; GESS runs ECAs such as woodwork and paper mâché classes, some of which are in both German and English to support its bilingual curriculum.

Although smaller schools may not have the facilities to run the wide choice of ECAs at schools such as UWCSEA (which has more than 90 activities covering music and the performing arts across its Dover and East campuses), they are still offering arts beyond the classroom. Invictus International School, for example, works with an art studio just a two-minute walk away to run after-school activities.

Music lessons

Music education is available at most schools – if you’re prepared to pay for it. Lessons are either held after school or during the school day; if the latter, lessons are usually scheduled on a rotating timetable to ensure that students don’t consistently miss the same class.

GESS runs a Vocal and Instrumental Programme (VIP) at its new campus, which features a black box theatre, 400-seater auditorium, and a VIP centre with practice rooms. To encourage students to sign up for lessons, the school recently ran a Try An Instrument Week. Another example is Nexus International School, which works in partnership with the highly regarded Aureus Academy to offer instrumental lessons for students in kindergarten to Year 13. And at UWCSEA’s Dover and East campuses, more than 1,200 students are enrolled in its instrumental teaching programme,

Visiting artists

Visiting author-illustrator Polly Dunbar left a lasting impression at Tanglin Trust

Artist-in-residence programmes bring local and international artists, musicians, and other creatives into schools to share their skills. As well as giving students an insight into the professional art world, they offer mentoring in a specific discipline.

For example, at Singapore American School (SAS), the PTA and SAS Foundation fund a visitors-in-residence programme that brings in professional musicians, illustrators, thespians and choreographers to work with students. The Tanglin Trust Foundation has funded “inspirational visitors” such as performance poet Harry Baker and storyteller Roger Jenkins; AIS has welcomed the likes of 2016 X Factor Australia winner Isaiah Firebrace and jazz musician Tony Dee as part of its Mentors and Inventors programme; and, as part of the GIIS Leadership Lecture Series, actors, directors, lyricists and screenwriters have visited the GIIS SMART and East Coast campuses.

Performances and festivals

Whichever school your child attends, they will have an opportunity to participate in a variety of musical ensembles, art exhibitions, original plays, full-blown musicals and choral concerts. Whether students want to paint, act, sing, direct, or film, they can take centre (or back) stage.

There are inter-house music competitions, termly performances, exhibitions and assemblies, to name but a few. For example, ISS International School, which has campuses at Preston and Paterson, ends each semester with an Arts Showcase, “in which students from all three disciplines have the chance to share and celebrate their talents and growth as young performers”.

Canadian International School stages performances at its outdoor amphitheatre, black box theatre and indoor theatre, some of which are in Chinese and French to help students practice and develop their bilingual skills. It also hosts an annual STEAM Fair, where arts activities include pyrography (the art of decorating wood, street art, and ice sculptures). And the arts calendar at UWCSEA includes an annual CultuRama dance event and Asian Arts and Culture Week.


International school groups give students the opportunity to join a global community of young actors and artists. Dulwich College (Singapore), for example, participates in an annual Dulwich Festival of Music for its Asia family of schools; this was hosted by the Singapore campus in 2017. It also hosts an annual D’Oscars film-making festival a MADD Festival that celebrates music, art, drama and dance. And Nord Anglia offers three bespoke performing arts summer camps in Geneva, Florida and Shanghai to students at all 56 of its schools, including Dover Court.

Students can take to the stage, both home and away. Several schools in Singapore are members of the International Schools Theatre Association (ISTA), which organises drama festivals and other arts events worldwide. And Dover Court, Dulwich College (Singapore) and Tanglin Trust are all members of the Federation of British International Schools in Asia (FOBISIA), which organises events such as music and drama festivals for its 61 member schools in Asia.

Locally, 17 international schools in Singapore take part in the annual IN art exhibition, which features a collection of art by students from Tanglin Trust, Australian International School, Singapore American School, St. Joseph’s Institution International, UWCSEA (Dover Campus), UWCSEA (East Campus), ISS International, GESS, Chatsworth International School, Stamford American International School, International French School, Canadian International School, GEMS World Academy, Nexus, Dover Court, and Dulwich College (Singapore).

Scholarships for the arts

The vast majority of scholarships offered by schools in Singapore are focused on academic achievements. However, GEMS World Academy offers an arts scholarship to a student who “has actively participated in the arts beyond the school curriculum and life”. And the MOE-run School of the Arts (SOTA) offers an annual SOTA–NAK Scholarship for 100% tuition fees to students of all nationalities.

To read more about where to find scholarships at international schools in Singapore, click here.

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