A Guide to Education & International Schools in Singapore
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Talk to other international parents with young children in Singapore
Talk to other international parents with young children in Singapore
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Ask other international parents already living in Singapore
Join one of our many local parent groups and get advice on which schools to choose.
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);
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.