Social Media

back

Expat View: Why We Chose Singapore Public Schools

LearnPost Category - LearnLearn - Post Category - SchoolsSchools

We hear from lots of mamas with questions about how to choose the right preschool for their little ones. Today, American mama Crystal shares her story about taking the next step to primary school – and how she decided going the local route was the best choice for her family. Next week she’ll share her thoughts on navigating the unfamiliar P1 Registration process.

My journey into Singaporean education began, as so many wonderful things do, with vicious morning sickness. Pregnant with my second daughter, I was spending most of each day prone on my bathroom floor waiting to/having just revisited everything I’d ingested for the last six months. The idea of sending Elanor to school – any school – became irresistible.

When I was a teacher in Boston (USA), Singapore was constantly held up as the pinnacle of academic excellence. It was also portrayed as a soulless factory of identical children in a large classroom with seats in rows. It was a country where children were not allowed to be children because after school they went to tuition. But they achieved, and we should strive to follow. We teachers left every one of these “motivational” speeches feeling sorry for those poor Singaporean children.

smsg_public schools_1

In 2010 we moved to Singapore with an 18-month-old daughter. School seemed ages away, so we did a cursory evaluation of our options.  Singapore’s schools were dismissed out of hand because of the stereotypes I’d been fed. As a public school educator, I was uncomfortable with the idea (and cost) of sending my kids to private school. Home-schooling seemed like the logical solution. After all, how long could we possibly be here? One year? Two?

As Woody Allen said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”  The school we chose for Nursery 1 in April 2011 was near our home and had a curriculum of which I approved. Though it catered primarily to Singaporeans, the classrooms were full of joy, colour, and loving teachers. The school had a diverse student body. The parents were not tyrannical automatons! I felt comfortable sending my daughter there so I could throw up in peace, with no real plans beyond surviving my pregnancy.

In January 2012 I had an 11-week-old baby, and Elanor loved her school, so I decided to keep her there for Nursery 2. I grew close with several other mothers as well as teachers at her school. They invited us to their weddings and into their homes. The passage of time – and these new friendships – changed Singapore from somewhere we lived temporarily to our home.

smsg_public schools_2

Kindergarten 1 arrived in January 2013, and we no longer were thinking about when we’d be repatriating. It was time to face reality and think seriously about primary school. The stereotypes that I’d been inculcated with had fallen by the wayside, replaced by the far more complex reality. Perhaps the most telling example of this mental shift away from thinking of Singapore as temporary is that we chose to send 18-month-old Rhiannon to a school with a stronger Mandarin curriculum than Elanor’s. We were thinking about our daughters’ long-term academic needs.

It was around this time Elanor began describing herself as “half American, half Indian, and half Singaporean”. This was a small victory as prior to that she insisted that she was 100% Singaporean, despite the opinion of the United States Government. Her speaking voice carries a distinctly Singaporean lilt, and Singlish peppers her speech. With few exceptions, her friends are local. The only home she remembers is Singapore.

Reality: private school was no less private, and no less expensive. Would Elanor feel comfortable in that environment? Probably not. What about homeschooling? Having my children home all day with no respite was far scarier than leaping into the unknown and trying public school.

smsg_public schools_3

Our fears about sending Ellie to public school in Singapore had little to do with the misconceptions we’d arrived with in 2010. Local schools look familiar on the surface—the canteen (cafeteria) is deafening with the sound of children during their lunch/recess time, the school wishes that kids would leave their phones at home, and Frozen school supplies are all the rage. I’m sure there are other things, but Disney owns my soul and my Visa card.

However, we lacked the experience of attending school in Singapore. I felt a sudden surge of empathy for the recently immigrated parents I’d dealt with as a teacher. I’d not been intentionally rude or unkind to them, but I hadn’t thought to explain traditions like a Valentine’s Day Party, either.

There is no such thing as a perfect school system. Not in Singapore. Not in Finland either, that other bastion of educational perfection. Most definitely not in the United States. It was necessary to get over ourselves and deal with the culture shock — because the two of us would be the only two people experiencing it. The paperwork for Permanent Residency (PR) was submitted, the Mandarin tutor hired, and we readied ourselves for the perplexing process of Primary 1 registration…

Lead image sourced via Straits Times, Image #1 sourced via ABC News, Image #2 sourced via Straits Times, Image #3 sourced via Shutterstock

Join the conversation

7 thoughts on “Expat View: Why We Chose Singapore Public Schools

  1. I wonder if you had boys if you still would have gone down the route of PR to get your child into a local school. Knowing that this would mean they have to complete National Service later in life. Without a PR, the ability to secure a place for expat children in a local school is near impossible. While I respect that this was your experience the article does not adequately reflect the true situation of expats trying to put their children through schooling in Singapore without having financial assistance from employers.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful reply, we definitely welcome your perspective! In part 2 Crystal is going to address the P1 registration process, and she definitely acknowledges that 1) the process is very different for PRs (though she will also address the steps for non-PRs) and 2) The fact she has two girls (and therefore doesn’t have to worry about NS) affected her decision to apply for PR. While this article is only about Crystal’s personal experience and isn’t meant to be a reflection of the experience for everyone, we do understand the frustrations faced by families with different circumstances. We’d welcome a contribution if you’d like to write something. Thanks again! ~Kate

    2. As Kate said, I’ll address the fact that the PR Expat and Non-PR Expat experiences are very different in the next article.

      Regarding PR—I will say that at the time we made the decision we had two daughters and knew that I can’t safely bear another child, nor are we considering adoption. So NS was never part of the decision process. It also wasn’t an easy decision, even without having to think about NS.

      I won’t pretend that the discussions/decisions surrounding PR might have been different if we had a different family make-up. Asking if biological sex of our children was the only deciding factor is limiting the question too much, though. If we had boys, if we only had one child, if our child(ren) were school-aged when we moved here, if the language of instruction were not our native tongue, if we had a special needs child, etc–each of those factors would have influenced our choices.

      I’d love the perspective of a non-PR as the process is radically different.

      1. Hi Crystal! How did it go? She is in the public school? I have discussions with my husband about it even though our boy is only 3, he wants him to go for public (and us asking for PR), because of the language, culture etc…which I agree, and we don’t mind NS in 15 years, as it would be a different experience wherever he is, what scares me is the hours dedicated to studying, and early start in the morning..Would love to hear how did this go for you!

        1. Hi Ana

          We had a positive experience with SG schools. I have several articles about P1 and P2 on Sassy Mama

          https://www.sassymamasg.com/primary-1-culture-shock-an-expat-parents-view/

          https://www.sassymamasg.com/expats-guide-surviving-primary-school-singapore/

          https://www.sassymamasg.com/primary-school-expat-reflections-after-one-year/

          https://www.sassymamasg.com/learn-primary-school-exams/

          The early start was rough. We repatriated earlier this year and the later start time is definitely one of Elanor’s favorite things along with the lack of a uniform. But she did fine.

          In the younger grades, Elanor had a chinese tutor for 3 hours a week which is where most of her homework came from, and her grandfather did some math tuition over skype (half hour a day) but apart from that the only “school” homework was to study english and chinese spelling words. Toward the end of grade1 and in grade 2 they give you some guides to practicing for the big exams. We used them to an extent. By SG standards we were quite relaxed–but here in the US we’re crazy tiger parents.

          That said, if he has any sort of learning disability, SG schools have zero supports in place and no legal protections (as in the US and other countries). We wouldn’t have sent our younger daughter to SG public because of this.

    3. It’s a lottery, but it’s not impossible. We applied as non-PRs and got a P1 space for 2015 at a school 10kms from where we live. We consider ourselves lucky; many others did not even get a place. I would advise anyone moving to Singapore to negotiate strongly for education expenses, a salary generous enough to cover the fees (plus the inevitable increases of 5-10% per annum), or prepare to homeschool.

Comments are closed.

more sassy mama

What's New

We're social
Me, my bump and mini-me stroll at Gardens By The Bay. Spending precious time with her before the baby arrives is so important. Cherish these moments mamas!
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
#sassymamasg #sosassy #postcardplaces #darlingescapes #dailyadventures #myhappyviews #iloveitthere #takingitallin #citygram #exploringsingapore #city_explore #seemycity #urbanarchitecture #singapore #gardensbythebay #weekendinsingapore #momlife #motherhood #mommylife #parenthood #momsofinstagram #momlifeisbestlife #mommyhood #letthekids #simplychildren #babybumps  #magicofchildhood #cutekidsclub #candidchildhood #babybumplove
Flower Power Tiles at Parkway Parade 🌸
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
#sosassy #sassymamsg #ihavethisthingwithfloors #ihavethisthingwithtiles #floortile #tiledesign #shoegram #singaporestreet #ihavethisthingwithcolor
Cheers to a happy Fri-YAY!
📷 @hopefuloutsiders .
.
.
.
.
.
.
#sosassy #sassymamasg #gatheringslikethese #tastingtable #stylemytable #kitchenbowl #ourplatesdaily #appetititejournal #styleonmytable #onthetableproject #thechalkboardeats #tablesituation #foodilysm #foodstamping #eatstagram #foodpicture #foodgraphy #cocktailhour #pinkdrinks #pinkoftheday
✨SASSY MAMA GIVEAWAY✨

We know how hard you mamas work, whether at home or in the office. Which is why you definitely deserve the STYLE MAKEOVER we're giving away to one of our lucky followers!

Enter to WIN a *FREE Styling session and photoshoot* with @sabrinasikora of #FirstWifeStudios. 
Your styling session and photoshoot will include: -👚💃Two separate looks, one casual and one dressier, from @indiibreeze @thyine as well as jewellery from @shoplustre. -💄PLUS a hair and makeup styling session provided by @aclairebeauty with a photo shoot courtesy of #FirstWifeStudios⠀

Here's what you need to do:⠀⠀
✨1. LIKE this post⠀⠀
✨2. Follow @sassymamasg and @sabrinasikora
✨3. Tag one friend in the comments below (multiple entries allowed by tagging one friend per comment)

One lucky winner will be announced by instagram story and via DM Friday, 28 September. 
Terms and conditions apply.
.
.
.
.
.
.
#sosassy #sassymamasg #sassymamagiveaway #giveaways #stylemakeover #stylingsession 
#momlife #motherhood #mommylife #parenthood #momsofinstagram #momlifeisbestlife #mommyhood #metime😊 #photoshootday
Mid-Autumn Festival is just around the corner, mamas! Have you taken your little ones to check out the beautiful decorations around town? From Chinatown to @gardensbythebay, here are some of our faves. Click our link in bio for more Mid-Autumn fun!⠀
.⠀
.⠀
.⠀
.⠀
.⠀
.⠀
.⠀
#sassymamasg #sosassy #postcardplaces #darlingescapes #dailyadventures #myhappyviews #iloveitthere #takingitallin #citygram #exploringsingapore #city_explore #seemycity #urbanarchitecture #singapore #Chinatown #gardensbythebay #midautumnfestival #midautumn ⠀
They call this generation 'Alpha'! The first group who will be immersed in technology their entire lives. Many Alphas will have a digital footprint before they even understand the term. Scary thought? Toddlers today 🤔
.
.
.
.
.
.
#sassymamasg #sosassy #momlife #momquotes #motherhood #mommylife #parenthood #momsofinstagram #momlifeisbestlife #mommyhood #toddler #toddlerlife #toddlers #toddlerslife
Amore Roma 💕
📷 @katie.one
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
#sosassy #sassymamasg #huffposttravel #postcardplaces #darlingescapes #dailyadventures #howiholiday #myhappyviews #thatview #enjoytheview #iloveitthere #bestplaceonearth #thatviewtho #takingitallin #theviewfromhere #takemethere #naturescapes #travelnow #vacaymode #vacationlife #travelbook #fernwehcollective #sceneryshot #vacationforever

We're social

What we're up to and what inspires us