Why I’m choosing Singapore’s Public Schools

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The Primary 1 registration dates have been released by the Ministry of Education.  Knowing that I’ll be queueing on July 30, 2014 to register Elanor for P1 makes everything more real.  As this is not a common experience, I’m planning to share the process with my readers.

Disclaimer–Different families have different needs.  You should do whatever is right for your family, no judgment.  I am expressing my views.  The choices I’m making are right for my kids, and I have no expectations that those same choices will be right for you.

I think my evolution in opinion over the past four years is the best explanation I can give as to why we’ve made this choice.

I began my time in Singapore intimidated by public schools.  While Singapore was held up as a model of education to American teachers, we were also told that the schools were cold, regimented, and impersonal.  Singaporean schools had giant classes.  I was scared.

Ravi and I disqualified independent/private schools.  Cost was definitely a factor–the idea of spending the equivalent of a year of university tuition for first grade seemed like a poor investment.  Another was the exclusivity–Singaporean children are barred from entry to these schools by the Singaporean government–so the only children they would know on a day to day basis were other expatriates.  If you go to Singapore American School and walk through the corridors you will hear the American accent almost exclusively.  It looks like my classrooms from the US were transported to Singapore.  If the school is a reproduction of what we left behind, what was the point of moving, in our opinion.  I think if our kids had been older when we moved, our needs would be different and the benefits might outweigh the negatives (like the giant barbed wire fence that surrounds the school, and security that feels more extreme than what I go through at the American Embassy).

I decided, reluctantly, that I would likely homeschool.  This isn’t really a far fetched idea as I am a certified elementary school teacher with experience in the classroom.  I certainly have the skill set to give Ellie a solid foundation and elementary school experience.  Singapore is a rich environment to explore with museums, nature, and all manner of educational opportunities.  The fly in the ointment was that Elanor and I have a wonderful relationship normally, but we have had a number of clashes in an educational environment (Suzuki Violin, some math concepts).  The truth is that while I have the skill set to teach my first grade child, my sweet spot–the grades I am most comfortable with–is fifth and sixth grade.  I also have experience and enjoyed third grade.  I would never have applied for or accepted a grade as a first grade teacher because I am not a fan of the age group–I am amazed by the patience and grace my early education colleagues have in abundance.  (For the record, expats can homeschool in SG without filing any paperwork.  Locals can homeschool with an exemption from the MOE.)

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I got pregnant, and we decided to enroll Ellie in a local nursery/K program.  When you’re throwing up multiple times per day, and nauseous when you’re not actively puking, the idea of your child leaving the house for several hours a day is irresistable.  I didn’t care if she was coloring or learning Shakespeare–I just wanted a few hours where I didn’t feel like I was neglecting her.  So I found a school I liked that was reasonably nearby, and enrolled E.  Over time I saw the wonderful work they did with Elanor, and how comfortable Elanor was in a classroom of primarily Singaporean children–to the point where she would likely feel out of place in an expat school.  I saw Elanor begin to learn Mandarin and grow in confidence.  I watched her rise the demands of a rigorous curriculum (every nursery/k school is different–your mileage will vary).

I became friends with Singaporeans.  Partially through Elanor’s school/activities, this blog, twitter, and friends of friends I began to develop a network of Singaporean friends.  When the subject of education came up, they’ve been very honest about the pros and cons of what public school is like.  Some of these friends have older kids, and I’ve talked to P1 and P4 students about their experiences and what they do/don’t like about school.  The picture being painted was very different from the one with which I arrived in Singapore.  They have been endlessly helpful in answering my questions, no matter how dumb (Question–Can the girls wear shorts under their skirts?  Ellie doesn’t sit properly in a skirt yet.  Answer–Yes.  Most girls just wear their gym shorts under their skirt)

I started to look into the curriculum, talk to teachers, my friends.  Most schools have a fairly well maintained website.  I learned from them about things like the STELLAR reading program , what Singapore’s Math program looks like, the expectations of P1 Chinese and so forth.

We decided to try the local schools.  Elanor has a Singaporean identity and her friends are overwhelming local.  She will be happier in a local school.  We will be happier with her in a public school.  Our family has applied for PR as we have no plans to leave Singapore any time soon.


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Do I have concerns about sending E to Singapore Public Schools?  Of course I do–but it’s also true that I have a lot of anxiety about US public schools, about homeschooling, and about private schools.  In our family’s case, we weighed the pros and cons of each choice and went with the one that made the most sense for our family and our daughters.  Again-your choices will be different because your family and what’s right for you will be different.

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