Living in Singapore?
Education and Child Care in Singapore
The Singaporean Education System
Primary education in Singapore lasts for six years and is compulsory for children above the age of six. It focuses on English, the kid’s mother tongue (i.e. Chinese, Malay, or Tamil — a subject which can be dropped in the case of foreign children), and mathematics. This prepares children for the national Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).
Before the start of secondary school, students are divided into different curricular groups based on their PSLE performance:
- Normal (Academic)
- Normal (Technical)
The group a student is placed in determines how long they go to secondary school: students in the Express group complete their secondary education in four years and obtain their GCE O Levels. On the other hand, students in one of the Normal groups go to school for five years, which gives them an extra year to prepare for their GCE O Levels.
After the age of 15 school is no longer compulsory, however, most students receive education which prepares them for university or the working world. Again, the duration of the student’s studies depends on their academic abilities. Depending on students’ grades, they either take a two-year junior college path, or a three-year course, both of which lead to the GCE A Level examination. This prepares them for their School Graduation Certificate and entering university. The website of the Ministry of Education offers a School Information Service with ratings and contact details of all state schools in Singapore.
International students seeking admission to stage one of primary school or to junior college can approach their local school directly and will be offered a place if there is one available. Admission to all other stages of primary or secondary education is handled centrally by the Ministry of Education.
The Admission Exercise for International Students is held annually in September/October for admissions in January of the following year. It is designed to test the prospective student’s ability in English and mathematics. More information can be obtained on the Ministry of Education website. State schools don’t charge tuition, but there is usually a nominal admission fee.
Most expats choose to send their children to private international schools, of which there are plenty in Singapore. As of December 2009, Private Education Institutions must be registered with the Council for Private Education. The CPE website has a special section for international students containing advice on choosing a private school and a list of all registered institutions.
You can, however, also find a first overview in our in-depth article on International Schools in Singapore.
Taking Care of Your Child
Preschool and kindergarten education in Singapore is not provided by the state. However, kindergartens need to be registered with the Council for Private Education, just like private schools.
Childcare centers, which offer a program very similar to that of official kindergartens, require a license by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth, and Sports. Some expat organizations might offer their own childcare facilities or have unofficial arrangements among expatriate families who look after each other’s children on a rotary basis. Most international schools run integrated kindergartens for their younger pupils.
For further information on childcare in Singapore or even possible activities for kids, take a look at the corresponding articles in the Family, Children, and Education section of our Extended Guide to Singapore.
Need Some Help? Getting a Nanny and Domestic Help
It is not uncommon for expat families to have a live-in nanny or household help. In fact, there are employment agencies specializing in matching expat families with foreign domestic helpers. For a fee, these agencies handle all the paperwork, references, and dealings with the Ministry of Labor.
Please note that as the employer, you are responsible for board and accommodation as well as coverage of medical expenses on top of paying a monthly salary of 200–400 SGD. If you want to save yourself the expenses incurred by an agency, ask other expat families for recommendations of reliable domestic staff.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.
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