An all-through Catholic school in Toa Payoh, St. Joseph's Institution International has a reputation for its impressive exam results, pastoral care and rigorous approach to teaching maths at elementary level.
St. Joseph's Institution International is a Catholic school with a strong academic record in IGCSEs and the IBDP. As one of seven Lasallian schools in Singapore, SJI is also focused on pastoral care and “respect for the individual”. While the school is founded on the same values as Saint Joseph’s Institution, a Catholic school founded by the De La Salle Christian Brothers in 1852, SJI does offer a more international education.
The non-profit SJI International High School opened its doors in 2007, and was shortly followed in 2008 by SJI International Elementary School; the two schools share one campus. In just 10 years, the school has come a long way. There are around 650 students in the elementary school, which follows the Singaporean curriculum for maths and the International Primary Curriculum (IPC); there are more than 1,000 students in the high school, where students work towards their IGCSEs and the IBDP.
SJI International is one of three local international schools in Singapore (the other two are Hwa Chong International School and the Anglo-Chinese (International) School). These three local international schools are managed by the MOE, but they are privately funded and they have the freedom to set their own curricula and fees. While at least half of the students must be Singaporean, these schools tend to have a very international student community.
The academic year runs from January to December, which is an advantage for parents with other children in the local education system. It means that students sit their IBDP in December, with results being published in January (or December from 2020).
A local international school like SJI International appeals to expat students for many reasons: it is easier to get a place than at a local school; teaching combines the MOE and international curricula such as the IB programme and A Levels; fees are lower than many international schools; and academic standards are high.
It’s an academically selective school that admits it remains true to the heritage of the Lasallian’s “academic nature” where students “share the same drive”. Its more rigorous application process does help to maintain the school’s strong academic record, which means it may not appeal to families looking for a less academic experience.
Read more: Local vs international schools in Singapore
SJI International offers a blended curriculum that ultimately works towards the IBDP, and is designed to appeal to a wide variety of nationalities represented at the school.
In the elementary school, which caters for children from Prep 1 (four years) to Grade 6 (12 years), the curriculum follows different components from Asia, the UK and the US. The school favours the “rigorous approach” of the Singaporean maths programme; it adopts the “thematic approach” of the creative International Primary Curriculum (IPC) for humanities, art and science, which “weaves together a variety of subjects in an integrated and logical way”; and it uses a combination of the UK National Curriculum and US system for language arts (writing, reading, speaking and listening).
All elementary students have weekly Religious and Moral Education (RME) lessons, which are based on Lasallian Catholic values. There are also specialist teachers for Chinese, PE, art, music and ICT, with dedicated facilities to support these lessons.
Students are streamed according to ability for Mandarin lessons from Prep through to Grade 6. And, not surprising for a school that has such strong connection to the local education system, SJI’s aim is that “children will be confident users of the language”. It goes the extra mile to achieve this by running a Chinese Camp on campus for Grades 2-4 and a six-day overseas cultural programme in China to offer Grades 5-6 “an authentic and enriching learning experience in a natural setting”.
In high school (Grades 7-12), students work towards IGCSEs and the IBDP and study subjects including maths, English, science, geography, PE, design technology, music, drama, art, ICT, wellbeing and RE. The language programme at high school includes a choice of Mandarin, Korean, Spanish, Hindi and Tamil.
This is a hybrid secondary curriculum that’s popular and widely adopted within international schools across Singapore. The British system and IB programme are both recognised globally, and combine the content and knowledge of IGCSEs with the higher-level critical thinking and analytical skills of the IB. IGCSES are internationally recognised qualifications that offer students both breadth and specialisation; the exams also prepare them for the rigour of the IBDP.
Sport and the arts
Sports is described as “an integral part of life” at SJI International, and the school has invested in developing a sports complex to support this. PE covers a broad spectrum of sports, including swimming; sports teams compete in events against other schools in both the international schools (ACSIS) and local Singaporean schools (SSSC) leagues; and almost 50% of elementary students (Grade 2-6) play on at least one school team each year.
The arts are given an even greater focus than sport – and it’s an exciting time for the arts at elementary level as the school is in the process of developing a new arts block, where we can expect state of the music, drama and art facilities.
The school’s music curriculum includes an optional instrumental teaching programme that offers instrumental lessons in piano, violin, flute, clarinet, saxophone, guitar, trumpet, voice and drums during the school day. Students have the opportunity to join the school’s string ensemble and junior and senior choirs, and after-school clubs include musical theatre, ukulele group, samba band, and music and technology.
In terms of the arts, SJI International celebrates its internationalism. Early years perform in an annual nativity play; Grades 2-3 participate in a Global Family Festival; Grade 5 stage a musical ranging from Little Red Riding Hood to The Rocky Monster Show; and all students exhibit in an art show. Arts events in high school include an annual school production, Cultural Carnival, Arts Week, Battle of the Bands, talent shows, and a lunchtime concert series.
Beyond the classroom
SJI International students are given plenty of opportunity to develop interests and learn new skills outside of the traditional curriculum. Although this may be one of Singapore’s most academic international schools, it is giving its students the time, facilities and opportunity to explore play sport, perform and create, build and design, care for the environment, and serve the community. The school runs more than 100 after-school activities, many of which are run by external companies.
The school’s deep-rooted Catholic values underpin SJI International’s strong enrichment programme. Elementary students can sign up to the school’s bespoke Community, Activity, Sport, Service programme, which is SJI’s version of the British Duke of Edinburgh Award or the International Baccalaureate’s CAS programme. In high school, students take part in service projects in Malaysia, Indonesia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and India. And students in each grade participate in challenging residential experiences, both home and away, where “experiential skills and character strengths are developed”.
In 2019, the average IBDP score was 37.7 points, making it one of the top-performing schools in Singapore, and 38% of students scored 40 points or higher. Students go on to study at universities worldwide, with the main destinations being Singapore, the UK, the US, Australia and Canada.
Leadership and faculty
The elementary school principal is Irish-born Tighearnan Mooney, who has teaching experience in the UK and Malaysia; the high school principal is Irish Roisin Paul, who has spent the last 27 years teaching in a variety of schools in England and Northern Ireland
80% of teachers are recruited internationally, with the majority coming from the UK, and the rest are Singaporean.
From its active PTA through to its vertical house system, SJI International has all the hallmarks of a close-knit school community. Parents on the elementary and high school parent support groups organise social events, fundraises for both school projects and class-specific charities, and supports arts projects by creating costumes and props. There’s also a large parent volunteer group that helps with chapel duties.
The elementary and high schools operate independently, which does help to create a small-school environment for each age group and ensure that they have access to age-appropriate facilities. However, students are brought together with peers from each grade through the school’s house system, which brings with it many advantages. It encourages friendly competition and offers older students opportunities to take on leadership roles such as head of house.
SJI International has a large, green campus that is spacious enough for its student body of around 1,600. At the heart of this school is a beautiful chapel that’s used by families for mass and other religious events.
The elementary and high schools each have their own dedicated school within a school, with facilities including classrooms, a library, science labs, canteen, play areas, art and music rooms, ICT suite, hard court play areas and a grassy playing field.
Elementary and high school students share facilities at the impressive Lawrence da Silva Sports Complex, which was opened in 2012. This purpose-built four-storey complex houses a large multi-purpose sports hall, fitness centre, dance studio, climbing wall, and 25-metre outdoor swimming pool.
Admission and fees
Admission is based on the school's own entrance exam (and not the MOE’s AEIS). Priority is given to applications from Catholic families (you’ll need to show your child’s baptism certificate). The high school admits both Singaporean and international students while the elementary school only enrols international students.
Fees range from $28,250 in elementary school to $32,986 in Grade 12, which is average in terms of international tuition fees and considerably cheaper than other high-performing international schools. Scholarships are available for both Singaporean and international students.
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