Local vs International: How to Choose the Best School for Your Child in Singapore
As one of the best places to study in the world, Singapore’s reputation precedes itself when it comes to international education. The country is home to world-class schools at every level, from primary school all the way to university and postgrad. Sending your child to study in Singapore means they can access challenging, high-quality education during their foundational years and beyond.
Singapore local schools, in particular, are known for being effective, with a strong emphasis on academic rigour and excellence. At the same time, international schools offer students a well-rounded education and prepare them to lead, succeed and excel in the jobs of tomorrow.
So how do you choose between local and international schools in Singapore? In this article, we will have a look at various factors that may impact your decision, such as:
Before anything else, it’s important to understand the differences between local and international schools in Singapore. While both provide world-class education, each type of school offers a completely different environment for students. Most local schools are primarily attended by Singaporean students, while international schools have a more diverse student population.
Let’s take a deeper look at the differences between local and international schools.
Local schools, also known as mainstream schools, follow the national curriculum set by Singapore’s Ministry of Education. There are four stages of schooling:
Duration in Years
1 to 3 years
3 to 6 years old
7 to 12 years old
4 to 5 years
13 to 16/17 years old
1 to 3 years
18 to 20 years old
All classes are taught in English, but students must learn a Mother Tongue Language (either Chinese, Malay or Tamil) in primary school. This means most local school students grow up bilingual.
If you’re planning to enrol your child in a local school, you should also be aware that priority is given to Singapore Citizens (SCs) and Permanent Residents (PRs) which leads to limited places for international students.
Additionally, the tuition fee varies depending on your child’s residency status. For more information on local schools’ tuition fees, you can check the Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) website or the costing table later in this article.
As the name suggests, international schools generally offer other-than Singaporean programmes.
Many international schools follow country-specific curriculums, such as American, British, Japanese, etc; while others provide a more broad-based, globally-oriented and holistic framework of studies — such as the IB Primary Years (IB PYP), International Primary Curriculum (IPC), IB Middle Years Programme (IB MYP) and the International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC).
Most international schools offer externally moderated examinations, such as the Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) in Grade 10 and/or the IB Diploma in Grade 12.
International schools are popular for their openness and multicultural diversity, with some schools having more than 50 nationalities represented within their student body.
If your child holds a foreign passport, you should have no problem applying directly to an international school. However, Singaporean Citizens (SCs) are not permitted to enrol their children into international schools unless they obtain special approval from the MOE.
Similar to other countries, international schooling can get quite expensive, with fees ranging from S$12,000 to S$50,000 annually. However, these fees also ensure that your child will receive access to the highest-quality education available, taught by experienced teachers from all over the globe. On top of this, your child will have access to world-class facilities — such as Olympic-sized swimming pools, state-of-the-art auditoriums, sports fields, visual art and music rooms, well-equipped libraries, and (in the case of XCL World Academy) an innovations suite, Esports arena, a contemporary design centre and more.
Many international schools also offer comprehensive homeroom and pastoral care programmes to promote students’ academic, social and emotional development. This ensures that every child receives a well-rounded education and allows them to achieve their full potential.
Factors to consider when choosing between local and international schools
Whether you choose a local or international school, international students in Singapore will need one of the following requirements:
S$12,000–41,000+ annually for primary students S$12,000–50,000+ annually for secondary students
Parents of international students entering Primary 1 need to indicate their interest in applying to a local school by filling up an online form on the MOE website.
International students aged 6 will need to register for the P1 registration by early June. The MOE will notify parents via email if their child has been offered a place in a primary school. Results come out by October of the same year.
Tests focus on lessons in Math and English taught in Singapore’s local schools.
If the student passes the test, placement will depend on vacancies in schools.
Applicants will need to submit academic records and reports from their previous schools and academic years.
Some international schools may require recommendation letters from previous teachers and schools.
Certain schools may have a nationality quota.
After fulfilling the application requirements, some schools may require applicants to take an entrance exam that focuses on English, Maths, Science and Logical Reasoning (cognitive aptitude testing to understand each student’s potential in each subject, and to better understand the learning styles that best suit each child).
All local schools in Singapore follow the curriculum as outlined on the Ministry of Education (MOE) website.
Local schools are known to focus on maths and sciences.
Coding was recently added to the primary school curriculum.
Students are required to take up a Mother Tongue Language (MTL): Chinese, Malay or Tamil.
There are three programmes for secondary school: Express, Normal (Academic) Programme and Normal (Technical) Programme.
Top international schools in Singapore offer curriculums such as:
The most popular graduation qualification is the IB Diploma (available in the final 2 years of secondary school). One of the best preparations for the IB Diploma is the IB framework of studies in the primary years and middle years. Here are some highlights:
Students experience a balance of academics, arts and sports programmes.
Emphasis placed on a holistic, well-rounded education. Some schools incorporate jobs of the future for middle and senior years students.
Students have the opportunity to learn a second language such as Spanish, Mandarin or French
In schools like the XCL World Academy (XWA), students in their last two years can choose from multiple pathways, with the option to earn the IB Diploma Programme (DP) — one of the most respected educational qualifications worldwide.
Local schools are great for families who want their children to be immersed in the local culture.
International schools offer a global culture with students and teachers from all over the world.
The MOE advises that school starts no earlier than 7:30 am but schools have the autonomy to decide on a later start time.
*Times may vary depending on the school
Most international schools start classes around 8am/8:30am, while classes end between 3–3:30 pm.
*Times may vary depending on the school.
The MOE recognises the importance of Co-Curricular Activities (CCA). Students can choose from four categories:
Clubs and societies
Performing and visual arts
CCAs are compulsory for secondary school students.
International schools highlight the importance of extra-curricular activities. These activities either focus on the arts, academics, or sports.
Extra-curricular activities are usually after-school activities and are available for all students.
Most premium quality international schools include ECAs within their annual tuition fees; however many others charge additional fees on a pay-per-play basis.
Starts in January and ends in mid-November.
Most follow the northern hemisphere timetable, starting in August or September and ending in mid-June/July.
For southern hemisphere schools, the academic year begins in January and ends in early December.
When should you choose a local school?
Singapore is known to have one of the best educational systems in the world. And for subjects like Mathematics and Science, their students have consistently topped the ranks. Local schools are typically hyper-focused on academics, which can be a pro or a con depending on the student.
With significantly more affordable tuition fees and quality education, local schools are undoubtedly a great option, especially for families who would prefer to immerse their children in the local culture.
The MOE sets a fixed calendar for local schools, which means holidays and exam schedules hardly ever change. On the other hand, international schools have more flexible timetables, which are often displayed on their websites. If your work follows the Singapore calendar, then the local school calendar might work better for your schedule. Alternatively, you can choose a southern hemisphere school that starts in January.
When should you choose an international school?
International schools are a popular choice for expatriate families because of the multicultural environment they offer. Moving into a new school and country can be a daunting experience for any child so it’s important for them to find peers they can relate to.
International school teachers are experts at helping children to transition into a new country, a new school and (possibly) a new way of learning with a new-style curriculum. And because the IBO developed their programmes with international families in mind, international schools like XWA, which offer the full IB continuum of studies (IB PYP, IB MYP and IB Diploma), are uniquely placed to assist transient, internationally-mobile families.
Students who wish to pursue their tertiary education in another country will find it advantageous to study in an international school with a compatible curriculum. This makes it easier for them to transfer and get accepted to their dream universities and schools.
Exposure to different cultures is possibly one of the best aspects of being in an international school. Having friends from various countries will help your child become culturally aware and open-minded.
International education focuses on a student’s holistic development, which means they won’t be cooped up in a classroom all day. Students are encouraged to learn through experience and develop their passions with the help of extra-curricular activities.
Why choose XCL World Academy
XCL World Academy (XWA) is a family-oriented school that offers a world-class curriculum, empowering students to become the next leaders of their generation.
Starting from our nursery programme and continuing through the full IB continuum of studies, our students are encouraged to play an active role in their learning both inside and outside the classroom.
Our small class sizes and our personalised teaching programme ensures that our educators can focus on each student and customise their learning experiences to help them reach their maximum potential.
Our future-oriented approach to education will equip your child with skills in:
Global Leadership & Innovation
Technology and Digital Media
Business & Entrepreneurship
Sustainability & Stewardship
With students representing more than 50 nationalities and educators from over 20 countries, our community is truly international. No nationality comprises more than 15% of our total population, making ours one of the most culturally diverse student bodies in all of Singapore.
XWA believes in a well-balanced lifestyle. Our numerous extra-curricular activities and clubs, most included within the annual tuition fees, allow our students to discover new skills and develop their talents in a supportive environment.
The sprawling five-hectare campus is located in the heart of Yishun and is easily accessible from any part of Singapore. More than just a school, students can enjoy state-of-the-art facilities such as an Olympic-sized swimming pool, an all-weather FIFA-approved sports field, massive libraries, Esports facilities, innovation labs and so much more.
If you are a progressive parent that believes:
That a school should focus on the best available teaching and learning approaches (and not on archaic methods from a century ago), and in particular our children need to learn how to learn, and not just what to learn; and
That school should be preparing students with the skills and knowledge that will set them up for success for university and beyond, knowing that most jobs that they will be applying for do not exist today; and
That a school should foster the talents of each individual child by understanding how they learn best and challenging them to reach their fullest potential; and
That your child should learn in a multicultural environment, celebrating their own language and culture as well as those of others …
… then we encourage you to schedule a tour today to learn more about our unique programmes and be immersed in our wonderful community. We look forward to welcoming you soon!