Local Education: Is It The Right Fit For Your Expat Kids?

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Wondering if you should enroll your child in a local or international school? Up until a few decades ago, many expats preferred sending their children to international schools, as it was held to a much higher standard as opposed to local schools, be it in terms of quality education or students. However, there has been a recent shift in the educational paradigm, in which an increasing number of expats elect instead to send their children to local schools.

Why the sudden preference for local schools over international schools? What are the benefits and costs of choosing a local school? Here are some frequently asked questions and answers to help you discover if local schools are the right fit for your child:

Why should I opt for a local school over an international school?

First and foremost, the cost of education in a local school is much lower than an international school, with fees for a local school estimated to be around SGD 12,000 annually due to heavy government subsidies, while fees for an international school could run up to SGD 30,000 a year.

Despite being the ‘cheaper’ alternative, a local school can provide your children with an excellent English-based bilingual programme, a strong grasp of numeracy and literacy, and acquisition of essential life skills such as focus, stress management, content retention, and communication.

Are local schools’ English standard good? Will learning English in a local school put my children at a disadvantage against other native English-speakers?

When it comes to learning languages, parents have the most influence over their children’s skill level. If it is important to you that your children speak perfect English, then insist that they always use proper English when speaking with you so it will become their mother tongue. It will not make a difference if your children go to international schools to learn English, only to come home and converse in Spanish with you.

You mentioned an English-based bilingual system. Does this mean my children need to learn a different language in a local school?

As mentioned earlier, Singapore embraces an English-based bilingual education system, while the official mother tongue of each student is taught as a second language. You may need to check with the local school you are interested in if your children would need to learn another language, but with the rising demand for staff with foreign language skills, encouraging your children to learn Mandarin would give them an edge in job-hunting. Additionally, local schools will give your children the best shot in maintaining their Mandarin conversational skills when they mix around with the local children.

I want my children to do more than rote learn; I want them to be academically strong and emotionally intelligent. Would a local school be able to provide that?

Rote learning is usually the norm when it comes to local schools, since passing exams is their main concern. Compared to an international school, the educational approach at local schools is not as individualised and classes tend to have a higher student to teacher ratio. However, local schools have a reputation for being very robust when it comes to proficiency in math and science.

Being in a local school would also provide your children with a unique opportunity for an immersive experience. The less rigid requirements of local schools allow for a more diverse range of classes, activities, and community, so they are the best way for your children to meet and befriend the locals (children) and learn about Singapore culture.

How tough will local schools be? I don’t want my children to go through a high-stress, fiercely competitive environment.

It is no secret that local schools nurture a high-stress, fiercely competitive environment. Many local parents seek extra tuition for their children in multiple subjects to ensure that their children have the right trajectory to gain entry into the secondary school they want. This can be punishing to a child, but at the same time, the competitive environment can also be an opportunity for your children to prepare them for the real world by learning what stress feels like and how to manage it effectively to be successful.

Both local schools and international schools have their own pros and cons, but many expat parents these days prefer sending their children to local schools over international schools, as it is more affordable and more enriching academically.

Additionally, your children will get to break out of the “expat bubble” and experience Singapore culture, as well as learn how to manage stressful situations in life. It is worth remembering that no education system is perfect, and it all comes down to making a decision based on your circumstances and the needs of your children. Your influence and example as a parent is the best education system a child can have.

For more information, there is a Facebook group for expat parents with children in local schools started by Judy Shei, an American who wanted to provide a forum for expat parents that focuses on local schools. You may also refer to The Ministry of Education Singapore.

Do you have any experiences or insights to share in terms of local education system? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below!
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