There are pros and cons to choosing local public schools or private international schools. Although most expats have traditionally chosen the private school route, increasing numbers prefer the local school system. What’s the best option for your child?

Public Schools in Singapore

The main drawbacks of public schools include the fact that you may not be lucky enough to get a place for your child. Waiting lists are long and of course, Singaporean nationals and those with permanent resident (PR) status get allocated places ahead of foreign nationals without a PR status. But many parents are joining the waiting lists, hanging on in the hopes of finding a place in a public school. What’s the big attraction?

It’s cheaper

Private and international schools are somewhat expensive. Your child’s education could easily become a six-figure investment in their future. Public schools, on the other hand, are still costly, but relatively, a whole lot cheaper. Given the high cost of living, many parents are hoping to save by finding a place in a public school. Fortunately, the local public schools offer a high standard of education.

Incredibly high standards

Although this puts some expats off, many see it as a huge advantage. Singaporean public schools have incredibly high standards and expect a lot from the kids that attend. Classes are divided up according to academic performance. While some don’t like this approach, there is an advantage in that slower learners get special attention without holding back the children who outperform.

When children are ready to leave primary school, their academic readiness – and the performance based group they will join in high school is determined by a rigorous examination. For Singaporean kids, this is an absolutely vital exam, and the pressure is very high.

Some may argue that grading kids into academic streams at such a young age is extreme, while others contend that it’s a good way to prepare kids for the competitive environment they will face as adults. The examination also helps children and their parents determine the areas that need attention, and if these can be addressed, it is beneficial in enhancing overall academic performance.

The Primary School Leaving Examinations could either be seen as ‘too much pressure’ or a way of getting an independent evaluation of your child’s progress in relation to his or her peers – something that private schools do with a ‘softer touch’.

The curriculum

The curriculum has very little focus on the arts or humanities. Again, one could argue for or against this. Many people feel that studying the arts and humanities help to ensure a well-rounded education and understanding of the world, while others consider them less important than the sciences. There are no right or wrong answers to this question, but one thing is certain: the Singapore public education system provides a solid education that compares well to any international standard.

Going local

Many expats choose public schools because they want the richest possible exposure to the local culture and language for their children. They would like their children to become truly fluent in Mandarin, and make friends with their peers from Singapore. Since locals may not attend private schools without express permission from the authorities, public schools are the best options to meet and mingle with local children.


Kids at private schools are mostly from wealthy families, this is natural given the high tuition fees. Some parents, who opted for the Singapore public schools, are happy that there are children from multiple backgrounds at these local schools: Singaporeans, foreign nationals, privileged and less privileged.

Group of children

Private Schools in Singapore

Although private schools are expensive, they still remain the more popular choice among expats with kids. Some companies also help with school fees, so its beneficial to find out if your employer is willing to do so. Having discussed that the standard at private schools isn’t necessarily higher, and they’re definitely more expensive, it’s interesting to examine why people choose an international school? As we’ll see, they do have their advantages.

Curriculum that match those followed in their home country

If you’re not planning to stay all that many years in Singapore, and your children will have to re-integrate into home-country schools, keeping them on a similar curriculum to the one they would have followed at home makes sense.

That way, upon return to your home country, your children will fit right back into their new schools. The transition can be almost seamless. There are many international schools in Singapore to choose from, and its easy to find one that closely matches the schools in your home country, allowing your child an easier transition both into and out of Singaporean schools.

Not quite as much pressure

Singapore public schools aren’t scared of putting the pressure on. It’s all about academic achievement from start to finish. Many parents feel that this much pressure, this early in life, isn’t really necessary, and prefer to place their children in a lower stress environment.

After all, children are already under stress owing to relocation, so limiting that can be helpful, particularly for sensitive children. The academic standards are still up to international levels with additional advantages of individual attention and coaching from teachers at private schools.

Easier to find a place in a school

If you choose public schooling as an expat, you may not even find a place for your kids at public schools. You could end up being allocated a school that simply isn’t convenient for a commute – or siblings could be allocated to different schools. With international schools, you may still have to do a bit of looking around (most of them even have waiting lists), but at least you don’t have to compete for placement with Singapore nationals and PRs who get preference at public schools.

With private and international schools, you can pick a school that’s convenient to where you’ll be living, and you can place more than one child at the same school. This element of choice is important to a lot of expats who don’t fancy the idea of their child being randomly placed at a school.

A well-rounded education and great facilities

As we’ve previously noted, the emphasis in most public schools is on the sciences. Many people feel that the arts and humanities are important to a well-rounded education – along with sports and a number of extra-curricular activities. Private schools offer all the ‘frills’ anyone could hope for.

And your kids can learn Mandarin too. Apart from offering classes, a lot of schools are adding lessons in the local language to their (very extensive) lists of available extracurricular activities.

Your kids get to mix with their expat peers

Relocating to a completely new country can be hard for kids. They leave all their old friends behind, and the new environment they find themselves in remains unfamiliar for sometime.

At international schools and private schools, kids get a learning environment that’s closer to the one they’re already used to, and they tend to meet peers who are going through the same experience, and some who have been in Singapore for long enough and are willing to show them the ropes. This makes adapting to a new country a lot easier, as they know they can talk to other kids who are experiencing, or have experienced, the same things that they’re facing now.

The bottom line

Although increasing numbers of expats are choosing local, public schools, the majority still choose to send their children to private schools. Choose wisely for your kids with this roundup of the advantages of both options.

Advantages of public schools

  • High academic standards
  • Exposure to local culture
  • Learn to speak Mandarin fluently
  • Lower cost
  • Sciences focus

Advantages of private schools

  • Easier transition into Singapore and back to home country schools
  • Great facilities and activities
  • Myriad number of schools
  • Less pressure on kids
  • Socialising with other expat kids

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