Choosing an international school for your child

Choosing an international school for your child


It’s that time of the year again when many of you are waiting for the letter from the Ministry of Education (MOE) regarding the admission of your children into Primary schools here.

You have no choice in the school you want if your children are foreigners.
You trust that every local Primary school in Singapore has the same quality of education to offer and gladly accept any school that MOE offers your child.

Now let us say, your child is not offered a place in the local schools.
What is the immediate next step?
Do you just choose the cheapest international school available and enrol your child in it?
Do you blindly trust they will offer a good quality of education?
Well, no, that does not happen.

You start looking around for options. You start ‘shopping’ for schools.
You may think of international schools as an expensive place that sells education as its business.
You forget that they are essentially schools, set up with the primary intent of offering education to children.
The difference in fees stems from the absence of government funding as a private education institution. They are funded by the fees you pay.
There will be some of you who will choose an International school even though your child can have a place in a local school. Maybe it’s because you want an approach or curriculum different from that of a local Primary school.

Just as you would not ‘shop’ for a partner to get married to, you should not shop for a school to enrol your child into.
So, what can you do?

Recommended steps

These are some good steps to follow:

  1. Understand the Singapore private education market. Read and research into school reviews on neutral websites – those with no stakes in the private education institutions.
  2. Understand your finances. What is your budget range that you are willing to set aside for education.
  3. Understand your preferred values in a school. List your values and your partner’s values to find your common values. Discuss the ones which are not common and why they are important to you. Come up with a final list which both of you feel are the most important values that a school of your choice must have.
  4. Understand your child and his/her needs. Understanding your child requires you to observe, connect and listen to your child at every opportunity you get.
  5. Narrow down to a few educational curriculums you are familiar with and understand. This maybe based on familiar curriculums from your country of origin or from your observation of children you have met in your life who are under a certain curriculum and exhibit attitudes and behavioural outcomes that you value.
  6. Narrow down the approach of education that aligns with your values.
  7. Once you have done this, it is a good time to read what the schools have to offer.
  8. List the schools within your budget that offer the curriculum and approach you likelisting your shortlisted schools in order of your affordability.
  9. Visit the schools and talk to the personnel involved in the daily operations and education of your child. Getting the opportunity to talk to at least a few teachers who would be teaching your child at some point makes a difference in understanding what the school truly offers.
  10. Understand the vision, values and approach of the school. Listen carefully first.
  11. Ask questions after listening. Does it match with what you envision for your child?
  12. If everything matches, go for it.
  13. If a core value or approach does not match, visit the next school and start from step 9.

Avoid solely from comparing between schools

It is very important not to compare one school with another. When you do that, you lose track of what you wanted in the first place and it becomes a game of what is ‘better’. Comparing also side tracks you from the goal of finding the right fit for your child.

Focus on your child and avoid solely relying on other parents’ reviews

You may say why not talk to the other parents? Well then, it would depend on step 3 above because your values and theirs may be different. You would then be basing your decision on someone else’s values, someone else’s child’s needs and someone else’s expectations. If you make a decision looking at what others made, then you would feel cheated when the outcomes are not what you like. You would be unable to hold them accountable either.

Why not base your decisions solely on facts about the school in question and your child’s needs and expectations? It is easier, simpler and the most responsible solution for your child. Remember that a school is your child’s second home. Your child will spend a very long and important part of his/her life there and so it must be a happy place for your child.

Look forward, look inward

Once you have decided upon a school, do not look outside the school for improvements. Instead, look at all the good you can find within the school. Forgive the small misgivings of the school personnel because there will be inevitable errors made as with any organisation. No person can be perfect and a school is a place full of people just like you and your child. Look at ways you can contribute to the school as well. The school is after all your partner supporting you in providing the best education for your child.


Anjum is one of the founders of Lodestar Montessori School. She wishes that everyone discovers Montessori the way she did. She lives in Singapore with her husband and son.