Elanor is not quite two years old. However, that didn’t stop every book about moving to Singapore and a number of my husband’s work colleagues to counsel us to start looking at pre-schools yesterday because of wait lists.
Once the apartment was taken care of, I dutifully turned my head to education. And realized that there was no good solution for us.
While Singapore has some incredible public schools, it also has some less than great public schools. There are X spots per grade, and my understanding is that a lottery controls where you get a seat. Residents (of course!) get first preference, then Permanent Residents (you can apply for PR status after 5 years if you so choose), and finally Expats are left in a distant third. As an Expat, I have no real shot at a more desirable public school, and even if we were to get in, Elanor’s spot would not be guaranteed from year to year. If a Singaporean moved home with a child E’s age and they want the seat, Elanor will lose it.
There are also some fairly legitimate concerns about the quality of English instruction at a local school. While Singapore has many things to offer Elanor (Mandarin and a challenging “Maths” curriculum), I’m not necessarily comfortable leaving her English instruction in the hands of a non-native speaker (much less one who likely learned British English instead of American English). Considering a long term goal is to move back to the US, it is vitally important to me that E learn spelling and grammar that are consistent with American English.
I will also admit that I’m concerned about the gender and sex role stereotypes she’ll be subjected to in local culture…and that’s not even touching on Singapore’s not so great track record on recognition of gays, much less gay families. I don’t want her to learn that a family is a mommy a daddy and children…that’s just not consistent with our values.
As in the US, the religious schools are the cheapest private schools. R’s cousin sends her daughter to one and it is affordable. We are atheists and would rather let Elanor play in traffic than send her to a school that espouses religious ideology. Enough said.
Our biggest reason to not send E to a private school here? Overseas Family School (which is consistently called a second tier school when compared to the British School or Singapore American School) charges $14,000 SGD (about 10k USD) a year for PRE-SCHOOL. It’s more for Kindergarten, more for elementary, more for middle and a hell of a lot more for high school. What does 10K USD mean to us…based off our travel plans in a few weeks, it’s at least two round trip tickets home a year for the three of us.
But is money enough? Well, I do have a Master’s in Education sitting unused in my drawer at the moment. I’m certified to teach grades 1-6 back home as a generalist and 5-12 as a history teacher. So there’s also the fact that it’s a poor use of our money, considering.
I looked into the curriculum at the Singapore American School, and I have to say I wasn’t crazy about what I read about the elementary reading and math programs. They’re using two trendy programs (for reading, the Fountas and Pinnell approach, which I’ve taught and for Math, they use Chicago Math, which I’ve also taught, and find both to be very poor and incomplete models for teaching the two most important subjects). This is not to say that these approaches might not work in some families or for some learning styles. But in my experience, I feel very strongly about not sending my children through those programs. It’s just not a curricula I feel comfortable with, and it is the only “American” School here. (There is a new one, called Stamford American, but they use a British curriculum so that sort of defeats the whole “American” thing).
As the mom of a very active girl, I have issues with the idea that all of them require girls to wear skirts. I find it sexist and pointless. It also forces those same gendered stereotypes that we feel strongly about.
But really, it’s largely about the money. I can think of a ton of things I can put 14k SGD to far better use for.
As it turns out, the Singaporean government could actually care less what my non-Singaporean child is doing in terms of school. There is no requirement on the record regarding schooling of non-Singaporeans. So I can actually homeschool with little concern about testing, oversight, standards, etc. I’ll use our home state’s standards as a guideline, as Massachusetts has some of the more rigorous requirements, but largely I’ll have a great deal of freedom to construct an academic approach the fits with Elanor’s learning style and allows her to progress at her pace. I’ll keep records, of course, so that when we do move home it’s not an issue, but I see no reason to shell out good money at this time. Especially for pre-K. If I want to pay for school at MIT prices, we’ll pay for MIT when she’s 18, not 8.
We don’t plan on being here long enough for it to matter
The final nail in the coffin of schooling her outside the home is that we just don’t plan on being here long enough for it to matter. In the US, she would enter into compulsory schooling in 3 years, when she is 4 on September 1rst (2012). She would enter K in 2013. Our guesstimate on time is five years at the outside and then hopefully a transfer back to the US. I know for certain I have no interest in being here in ten years. So where is the value add of sending her to a private school and paying through the nose for what would likely be only a few years?
She goes to gymnastics, and we’re enrolling her in swim come January. When she’s ready to sit for a longer period of time, we’ll also enroll her in mandarin, so she’ll get classroom experiences and socialization (not to mention that almost everyone I know here has a kid). I’m not worried about that.
I never saw myself as homeschooling. I didn’t love being a teacher and I have no plans to enter that world professionally again. But in Singapore, it’s the solution that makes sense for our family. It will allow for longer trips home. It will allow for more trips home (from the financial perspective) and when we have two kids…it’s double the savings. If I weren’t a certified teacher, I probably would bite the bullet and go for OFS or Chinese Girl’s School…but as I am, I just don’t see the point.
I guess it’s just another example of doing what’s right for your family. And for us, that will mean homeschooling.
Edited to add–This is a very out of date post, and does not reflect my current feelings. I’ve been sending E to a local pre-k/k program since mid 2011 and it’s been a phenomenal experience. See my more current posts in “Education” under Singapore.