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Singapore Schools: Public vs. International (Private)

Parents want their children to experience a great education.  But not everyone agrees on what a great education looks like. Is it creative and engaging?  Focused and practical? Data-driven and futuristic?

Singapore offers two kinds of schools - local public schools and international private schools.  Choosing the right one means looking at the pros and cons of each option.

Singapore Public School

The education system in Singapore begins in preschool, moves through primary school and ends in secondary school before students graduate.  About 4% of Singapore's public school students come from the international community and another 9% hold permanent residence.  

Once in secondary school, learners are placed on a path pointing toward either technical college or university.  While nearly all of Singapore's public schools include the same rigorous instruction, they offer different levels of extra-curricular activities and academic support.

Singapore Private School

Singapore is home to more than 40 private schools, most catering to international families.  These schools include country-specific institutions such as British schools, German schools and Indian schools.  International schools typically offer a flexible curriculum, which varies widely in theme and approach. But the Committee for Private Education oversees all private institutions under the Private Education Act to ensure quality and regulatory alignment.  

Singapore's Public School Quality vs. International (Private) School Quality

Singapore's public schools frequently rank among the best in the world, especially on maths and science lists.  Their reputation for academic excellence springs from a robust commitment to traditional, competitive education.  Teachers emphasise procedures and subject mastery resulting in overall excellent performance on standardised examinations and highly disciplined educational environments.

The curriculum for private schools in Singapore varies widely from school to school.  Some institutions take the traditional school approach and focus on information recall.  Others take the future-proofed approach to education, which is more broadly methodological.  With so much diversity in their curricular choices, Singapore's private schools also vary widely in quality and outcomes.  Simply put, if you've seen one private school in Singapore, you've seen that one school.  The international school nearby may offer a totally different approach and produce a different kind of graduate.

Public and Private Schools in Singapore: Pros and Cons

  • Cost

Singapore's public schools welcome international students, but they do charge tuition for non-Singaporeans. Citizens of ASEAN nations pay one fee, and citizens of other countries pay a higher one. Private school tuition can range higher than public school costs, however, starting at S$13,000 a year and topping out at S$50,000 a year.

  • Admission

As in most countries, citizens enjoy first priority for slots available in public schools.  Expat families who plan to enrol their child in public school should always have a backup plan in case they are waitlisted in favour of local families.  

Foreigners cannot request a school, meaning children can get placed in a school allocated by the Ministry of Education.  Admission to private schools, however, is often much more straightforward.

  • Academic Year

Singapore's public schools take holidays in September, December, March, and June. The Academic Year runs from January to December.  Families from other countries may find this schedule inconsistent with their native calendar. Private schools choose their academic year for themselves where the most popular academic calendar is August - July which aligns with northern hemisphere schools.

  • Curriculum

Singapore has constructed one of the most admired public education systems in the world, and its maths curriculum, in particular, is second to none.  Most of Singapore's curriculum prepares students to pass levelled, standardised examinations. International schools typically select the curriculum used in their home country, or they adopt a curriculum based on a philosophy such as the Montessori method or the International Baccalaureate approach.

Singapore offers international families a diverse educational landscape.  Trusting your child to the right school - public or private - takes careful thought and research.  Let us know what information we can provide you to make your choice a little easier.

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