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Local vs International Schools in Singapore: Costs and Benefits

Is it time to think about school for your children? Read our article to learn the costs, benefits, and drawbacks of international and local schools in Singapore.

International schools in Singapore get a lot of praise, which may make you assume that a local school has less to offer to your child. However, more expensive education does not always mean a better education. Both options have benefits and drawbacks, so it's important to do your due diligence before enrolling your child in primary or secondary school. Read ahead to find out whether an international or local school is best for you and your family.

Comparing The Costs of Tuition

When it comes to international schools, tuition and facility fees are the bulk of the heavy price tag. A Singaporean citizen could easily pay 300x more in fixed fees at an international primary school like the American School compared to a local, government-aided institution. This high charge does not even include uniforms, lunches, bus transportation, laptops, or exams, amongst other possible costs. To put this difference into further perspective, we've calculated the total costs of a local school year (approximately 10 months) and compared it to international school tuition fees.

Table comparing costs of local and international schools.

Many local school fees are set by the Ministry of Education and are thus extremely affordable. Between school fees and miscellaneous costs like operation expenses, you can plan on paying roughly S$130 on your annual primary school fees, and as low as S$250 on annual secondary school fees. Even if you attend a non-government aided secondary school, you would pay up to S$6,000 for a school year, which is approximately 83% less than the average international school cost of S$36,149.

When To Choose An International School

Even though international schools are expensive, the price is justified for many families. First, international schools hold the reputation of offering a comprehensive, global education to your child. Second, these schools are often viewed as the best option for incoming expat families, or Singaporean families that plan on moving to a foreign country and want to create a stable community through the international school network. Similarly, these schools offer a great foundation for students who want to study or work abroad later in their life, as the internationally-recognised curriculum is designed just for that.

With this in mind, it's important to note that some international schools like the American School give priority to their own citizens, or non-US citizens that work for an American company. Therefore, Singaporean citizens may find it more difficult to enrol at the more popular international schools. However, this is not always the case, as many non-country-affiliated international schools have equal enrolment policies.

If cost is no issue to you, then an international school is a top consideration for your child, as long as you are aware that the global factor of an international school may supersede the local culture of Singapore. In addition to the Western focus in many international schools, demographics like 5% Singaporean enrolment at the American School, for instance, may not be ideal for you and your family. However, if a multicultural environment has a strong appeal to you, then an international school is the right path to take.

When To Choose A Local School

While a local school's selling point is its extreme affordability, it can rival international schools in other ways, too. The main difference you'll find is the focus on maths and science in local schools, rather than the flexible curriculum at an international school that puts a focus on humanities. For the same reason, local schools are known to be more rigorous than a typical international school, which can either be a pro or a con for the students in your family.

If you want your child to be well-versed in Singaporean history and the many languages of its residents, then a local school is a better choice than an international school. Conversely, if your concern is that your child is missing out on a well-rounded, global curriculum, you'll find that many local schools are moving into this direction. In fact, many local schools teach in English and some offer courses in Western languages like Spanish and French.

Singaporean citizens will find the best tuition rates at local schools. Just like with international schools, you'll notice that local schools grant priority to its citizens and neighboring countries.

Table breaking down the cost of local school tuition for different types of applicants.

Singaporean citizens, permanent residents, and ASEAN international students reap the most cost benefits from attending a local school. However, even though non-ASEAN students could pay up to 60x more than Singaporean citizens in annual school fees, non-ASEAN students would still end up paying up to 43% less at a government-aided local school than at an average international primary school. Expats, in that case, should also consider local schools, especially if it works better with their budget and commitment to local culture.

A Choice Of Costs and Culture

Your choice between an international school and local school comes down to two main factors: costs and culture. If you want your child to grow within an international network, then an international school can set him or her up for that future. If high education fees are an issue, there is always the option of taking out an education loan which can be used to finance years K to 12. Conversely, if you'd prefer to save money on your child's primary and secondary education, then a local school can help you do just that. Many local schools offer a strong emphasis on Mathematics and Science, as well as Singaporean culture. Therefore, your choice comes down to more than just money. While both school types offer quality education, they provide different educational foundations to the students in your family.

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Natalia Sanchez-Kumar

Natalia Sanchez-Kumar is a Research Analyst at ValueChampion. She is a History graduate of New York University and has worked in the area of social impact, Future of Work and socio-technological research in the US and India. She has co-authored policy proposals alongside the International Labour Organisation in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, as well as hosted a data privacy conference with Facebook in New Delhi.