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Education in Singapore

A comprehensive guide about the education system and international schools

The high quality of university  education and international schools in Singapore  is a point of pride, with  public and private schools  offering a huge range of qualifications. If you are looking for an international schooling system that will push academic children, you have found the right country. One fact that might surprise Western parents is that the school year runs from January to November.

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Relocating with children can be  emotionally  difficult, even if they are studying in a country with some of the best schools and higher education in the world.

Moving children out of their education system into a whole new culture can make expat parents feel worried at best, guilty at worst. However, when it comes to education in Singapore, this is not the case. For many people, bringing up their children in the nation has opened their eyes to a new world of educational opportunities.  Students can study for qualifications including GCSE’s and A-Levels, the American High School Diploma, and International Bachelaureate and more.

Our detailed guide offers insight into  the different options your children have in the  Singaporean education system.  We have all the information you need to find the  best schools and higher education  institutions in the Lion City. Adult learners who want to speak any of Singapore’s four official languages can find detailed information about language schools at the end of the guide.

How is the education system in Singapore?

The  education system in Singapore is overseen by the Ministry of Education (MOE). They set details such as the mandated  school year, which  starts in  January  and ends  in  November.  While international school holidays vary, public schools have four terms with breaks between them and they observe public holidays. In addition to National Day (August 9th) these include:

  • Chinese New Year;
  • Christian holidays of Good Friday and Christmas Day;
  • Muslim festivals of Hari Raya Puasa and Har Raya Haji;
  • Hindu festival of  Deepavali (Diwali);
  • Buddhist festival of Vesak.

School Age System in Singapore

What are the school systems like in Singapore? It’s useful to know that school years in Singapore are split by age. This is similar to the grading system in the US.

 

Age School Type
3-4 Nursery
5-7 Kindergarten
7-11/12 Primary School
12-17 Secondary School
17-18 Optional Junior  College (Or  Vocational  Qualifications)
18+ Optional Higher Education (University, Polytechnic, Arts Institution etc.)

 

What is the Education System Like?

Until 2024, Singapore will employ a streaming system to educate students. This splits children into “streams,” or pathways, based upon their academic abilities. Singapore citizens are forbidden to attend international schools without prior permission from the MOE, so all local children are split into pathways like this.

The three “streams” based on abilities are: Normal (Academic stream, preparing for college), Normal (Technical stream, preparing for vocational qualifications), and Express or high achieving students who are expected to excel at university.

Whichever stream a child is placed into will determine the qualification they achieve. Express students gain  between six and ten  Singapore-Cambridge GCE O Levels, while normal students take a “Normal-Level” exam before possibly taking O Levels.  Normal (Technical) students are encouraged to take vocational topics.

Education Facts about the Singapore School System

  • Primary school lasts for 6 years and secondary school lasts for 4 years, preparing children to move to a junior college (in preparation for university) or a polytechnic (for vocational training and adult learning).
  • In 2018, there were 145 government primary schools and 41 primary schools receiving government funding in the country.
  • Thanks to the emphasis on education, almost all (around 97%) of Singapore’s population over the age of 15 is literate.
  • Singapore is a global leader for reading and science proficiency, ranking above Japan.

Main Differences Between Public and Private Schools

There are many differences between public and private schools in Singapore, including the qualifications granted. Private schools are able to set their own qualifications and curriculum, whereas Singapore public schools offer the Singapore curriculum with GCE O-levels and Normal-level exams.

Another big difference is in the class sizes; public schools have a class size of 32 children on average, whereas private schools average out at 24 pupils per class. School hours also vary. A public school day lasts around 08:00 to 13:30 for younger children and up to 18:00 for older children. At private schools, the day lasts from around 08:30 until 15:00.

Cost

Perhaps the biggest difference is cost. Public schools in Singapore have fixed fees that mean educational costs are often under 30 SGD (21 USD) a month. Private school fees are fixed by that educational institution and are more expensive.

If organizing childcare in a new country seems overwhelming, look to  InterNations GO! We work  with local education experts  to  find and compare kindergartens,  daycare, and  schools based upon your exact needs. We  can also  arrange meetings with school officials and help with school  and higher education  registration. Contact us today for more information.

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Daycare and kindergarten

In Singapore,  you  do not  have to worry about whether  daycare, kindergarten or preschool is mandatory. There are no legal consequences  for looking  after your child at home, as only primary schooling is compulsory. However, families in Singapore  usually  have  two working parents. This means competition for  kindergarten and preschool  places is high.

What  Age  Do  You  Start  Kindergarten  in Singapore?

In the Lion City,  kindergarten is split into three years, rather than just  junior and senior kindergarten.  Nursery  is  for three- and four-year old children;  Kindergarten 1 (K1)  is  for five-year  old students and Kindergarten 2 (K2) is for six-year-olds.

If you want to send your child to preschool or kindergarten, for instance if you are working, there are three main  options  for children who are under six:

  • Ministry of Education  kindergartens  that  offer half-days  (four hours,  Monday to Friday) for K1 and K2.
  • Anchor Operator Scheme daycares and kindergartens  that  provide government  subsidized centers  for children between 2 months and 6-years old.
  • International preschools  that  offer more educational resources for children thanks to higher fees.

Educational Approach

Daycares and kindergartens in Singapore are not just childcare facilities. Each has their own educational curriculum and focuses on preparing children for Singapore’s education system.

The government is currently trying to expand the number of  large childcare centers for up to 1,000 children, which will increase the  places for children aged 2 months to 6 years by 200,000.  These facilities have  space for play areas and greater socialization opportunities. They claim to focus on education  despite  bigger class sizes.

If your situation requires that your children stay at home, you can consider hiring a babysitter or a live-in nanny.  A  fifth of households  in Singapore  hire live-in help, though your employee will  usually  have a more domestic than educational focus towards childcare.

Daycare and Kindergarten School  Costs and Fees

 

Schooling Option Average Monthly Cost  SGD  (USD)
Anchor Operator Scheme Infant Daycare 1,270  (930)
Anchor Operator Scheme Full-day Child Care 720  (530)
Anchor Operator Scheme Kindergarten 160  (120)
Ministry of Education Kindergarten Half-Day  Program 300  (220)
International Preschool 1,000+  (740+)

 

Agency babysitters charge around 25 SGD (18 USD) per hour, with monthly rates varying. Hiring an agency  nanny can cost upwards of 600  SGD (440 USD)  per month.  Additional fees  include  a daily allowance,  foreign workers levy, agency costs, insurance, and their air fare  home  once the contract is complete.

Primary and Secondary schools

Parents looking for the best primary and secondary schools in Singapore for their children do not have to go private. Public education might appeal to expats in  Singapore  to help their children integrate into their new country. Public education is also a cheaper option than international schooling.

Organized  in a British format of primary and secondary schools, as opposed to  elementary  schools, middle  schools, and  high schools, public schooling in Singapore may also appeal to expats because English is the main language of instruction.  Children gain a Primary School Leaving Examination certificate and GCE ‘O’ Level certifications.

To  join  a Singaporean local  primary  school, you must sign up  in  one of  three  registration  phases in the year your child turns six. Permanent residents can  apply  in the first two phases. International students can only register in the third.

For any other age group, please refer to the  age criteria for the admission of international students.

To secure a place in a local school, international students must take the Ministry of Education mandated  Admissions Exercise for International Students  (AEIS).  This exam is conducted in English and taken in September or October of each year.  Fees for the test are around 670 SGD (485  USD)  and are non-refundable.

School Costs

Local education is subsidized in Singapore for permanent residents.  The average costs  for these  are shown in the table below:

 

 

 

Primary School  Monthly Fee

SGD (USD)

Secondary School  Monthly Fee

SGD (USD)

Singapore  Permanent Resident 205 (145) 380 (270)
ASEAN Citizen International Student 465 (330) 780 (560)
Non-ASEAN Citizen International Student 750 (540) 1,400 (1,000)

 

Local schools also charge a miscellaneous monthly fee. This  is  13  SGD (9  USD)  for primary school students and  20  SGD (14  USD)  for secondary school students.

There are two further categories of public schools in Singapore: autonomous, and independent. Autonomous schools in Singapore are still subsidized by the government but charge “autonomous school fees” that vary from school to school. Independent schools, who set their own curriculum, can decide their own monthly and miscellaneous fees. It is best to check directly with the school for the latest fees.

International schools

In this section of the guide, we have gathered information about  nine  of the  best  international  schools  in Singapore, the language that they teach in, and the qualifications they offer.

Thanks to its diverse  population, Singapore is home to a huge range of international schools.  Such  institutions are incredibly popular and are the first choice of schools for international students and their parents. This means that they often have long waiting lists. They  are  also  some of the most expensive schools in the world.

British Schools

 

School Language of Instruction Qualifications Offered
Tanglin Trust School English IGCSE;

A-Levels;

IB Diploma

 

Dover Court International English, with a Mandarin focus in primary school and French or Spanish in secondary school IGCSE;

BTEC;

IB Diploma

 

Dulwich  College English and Mandarin IGCSE;

IB Diploma

 

French and German  Speaking  Schools

 

School Language of Instruction Qualifications Offered
Lycée  Francais  de  Singapour French, some English kindergarten classes IB Diploma;

Diplôme  National Du Brevet “Option Internationale;”

Language certificates including IGCSE, HSK, IELTS

German European School English, German IB Diploma;

German International High School Certificate (Deutsche International  Abiturprüfung)

Abitur

Swiss School Singapore Bilingual English/German or English/French Transition to United  World College of South East Asia – IB Diploma

 

Other Countries

 

School Language of Instruction Qualifications Offered
Canadian International School English, Bilingual program in French/English or Chinese/English IB Diploma
Stamford American International School English, Bilingual programs in Mandarin/English American High School Diploma;

AP;

IB Diploma

Australian International School English, Mother Tongue program for Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Indonesian-speaking students Australian Higher School Certificate;

IGCSE;

IB Diploma

 

International School Requirements and Admission

Students who hold a foreign passport  and are not on a long-term visitor  or student pass  are eligible for admission to international schools in Singapore. Exceptions can be made for Singaporean citizens, for example, if you are an alumnus of a certain school or transferring from abroad. These  cases need approval from  the Ministry of Education.

Most schools require that students can thrive in a high achieving academic environment. If your child requires extra learning support, you should contact the school of your choice and confirm that this is available.

Language and Other Requirements

An age-appropriate level of fluency in English or Mandarin will be required for most schools. If your child speaks a different mother tongue, the schools listed above with bilingual courses should be accommodating.

If your child is older, evidence of national test results may be required.  Schools can also ask you to submit  previous school reports.

Due to the higher school fees (see below), schools may require proof of  parents’  financial  means.

International School Tuition Fees

School fees vary but expect to pay between 30,000 SGD (21,600  USD) and 50,000 SGD (36,000  USD) per term. Some examinations fees might be charged separately.

Schools will require an application fee to be paid. This can range from 800  SGD (575  USD) to 4,500 SGD (3,200 USD).  Some schools  will waive these fees for returning families and alumni.

Beyond tuition fees, you might be expected to pay enrolment fees, as well as for school uniforms, textbooks, and food costs.  This can cost between 3,500 and 10,000 SGD (2,520  and  7,200  USD) per year.

Higher education

Higher education is  an important element of the  Singaporean education system, with students streamed from a young age to go to the best universities in the city-state.  The country is recognized as a global leader in university research and innovation, with the system being overseen by the Ministry of Education  (MOE).

With six autonomous universities, there is a range of degree  subjects across the Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral  levels.  Considered to have one of the best education systems in Asia, the country is a popular destination for foreign business and engineering students.

Foreign Universities

The nation is also a popular location for branches of foreign universities. The German Institute of Science, Technology TUM Asia, and INSEAD all have a presence in the area, alongside private institutions offering partner courses with many British and American universities.

Singapore also offers polytechnic  education that  trains adults  to gain  specific  workplace skills. They are popular continuing education institutes and offer diplomas and work experience.

The country is widely accepting of international students, who  make up 20% of the student population. Moreover, the city-state is an appealing place to study business as the government provides funding for graduates to start their own business or to join start-up hubs.

Best Universities for International Students in Singapore

World-renowned for its business and engineering degrees, the country has two universities in the Times Higher Education top 100 World University Rankings 2020. The first is the National University of Singapore, which was founded in 1905. This university offers over 370 degrees with strong field research in engineering, environmental studies, and physical science.  The second university is Nanyang Technological University, which has the biggest on-campus residence infrastructure in Singapore. This university is particularly strong in engineering, business, humanities, arts and social sciences, and medicine.

There are five polytechnic institutions in Singapore:  Nanyang, Ngee Ann, Republic, Singapore, and Temasek.

Top Faculties

Singapore is known for its prestigious master’s in business administration (MBA) degrees. These degrees are an important next step for international business professionals. It is not a requirement to have previously studied business in order to obtain one of these degrees.

The most popular  business and  MBA courses in Singapore are at the following universities:

  • National University of Singapore;
  • INSEAD Singapore;
  • Nanyang Technological University (Business School);
  • Singapore Management University (Lee Kong  Chian  School of Business).

How Much Does It Cost to Study in Singapore  for International Students?

University tuition fees  are high  in Singapore.  Prospective  international  students should expect  to pay fees based on their country of origin, chosen field of study, and degree level.

The costs below are related to tuition fees. On top of this, students should expect the cost of living per month to be between 750 SGD to 2,000 SGD (540  USD to 1,440  USD) depending on the area they live in, their lifestyle, and so on.

When calculating fees, it is important to check whether the university charges per semester, and how many semesters are in the university year.

Undergraduate Fees

A bachelor  degree in Singapore lasts for three or four years, depending on the course.  Non-Singaporean residents studying at a public university should expect to pay around 10,000 SGD (7,200  USD) a year in tuition fees.

International institution fees will vary. It is best to check directly with the  university you wish to attend.

 Postgraduate Fees

Masters courses in Singapore last between one to two years. The average fees for these courses  in a public institution is  35,000 SGD (25,200  USD).

MBA Fees

MBA programs take between twelve and eighteen months to finish.  The cost for these masters varies between 40,000 SGD to over 130,000 SGD (29,000  USD to over  94,000  USD) depending on the institution.

Scholarships

International students have access to scholarships in Singapore. These vary based on your degree level, field of study, and country of origin.

The MOE offers international students subsidized tuition at Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore. To qualify, you must sign a  Service Obligation (SO)  agreeing to work in a Singapore-based company for three years after you graduate.

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Language schools

Language schools are available across Singapore and are a great way to meet fellow expats. More importantly, being able to speak with your fellow residents  is  an  important  part of cultural integration. In Singapore,  learning a local language  can seem like a hard task  as a diverse population means that many languages are spoken.

Official  Languages of Singapore

  • English (with British spelling);
  • Mandarin (with simplified characters);
  • Malay;
  • Tamil.

Locals  will  also speak “Singlish,”  a  distinctly  accented version of English that  ignores standard grammar and  uses  many slang words.  Foreigners are not expected to speak  this unofficial language, and it is not used for business.

Every Singaporean citizen must learn English as well as one of the other three official languages. Understanding and speaking English is therefore an important element in your relocation.

Which are the Best Language Schools?

Reputable language schools include Inlingua, which offers full/part time courses in English and Mandarin and part time courses  in  Malay. You can also check out Lingo for 1-2-1, group and online classes for many languages. Elite Linguistic Network has both beginners and professional courses in Mandarin and English. Language school fees vary based upon the type of course you are looking for (1-2-1, group course etc.) and the length of your course.

If you are looking to learn sign language, the Singapore Association for the Deaf offers courses in Singapore, Shanghainese, and American sign language.

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: March 19, 2020
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