Expat Guide to Schools in Singapore

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Choosing to move to a foreign country is difficult enough, and taking your children out of their current schools into a new school makes the shift even trickier. As parents, we all wish for the finest education for our children, so getting their schools right is an important task on the relocation agenda.

Luckily, Singapore is not short of institutions offering quality education for both local and foreign students. The schools in Singapore cater to every level – from early childhood education all the way to pre-college preparation.

We know the process of moving your child can be emotionally and mentally taxing, so here we attempt to give you a framework on the available education options to kick start your research on the best school in Singapore for your child.

Education Systems for Expats

As mentioned, you can find several schools in Singapore that follow various education systems. The schooling system in Singapore can be broadly divided into four types:

International Schools

Ideal for highly mobile expat children, the curriculum development allows students to join part-way through, and to exit into other educational programmes easily. International schools offer extensive extracurricular and language programmes to cater to a diverse international community. These schools generally follow international curriculums like International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE), International Primary Curriculum (IPC),  or International Baccalaureate (IB).

National Curriculum Schools

These schools adhere to the curriculum, values, and culture aligned with a specific nationality, say French, German, or Indian. These schools are ideal for expat students coming from specific countries with plans to return, or if parents want to expose their child to their native tongue and national heritage.

Dual Curriculum Schools

These schools combine national and international syllabus and conduct dual study programmes allowing children to stay close to a national curriculum while enjoying the merits of an international programme. Examples of dual curriculum schools include the German European School Singapore, Stanford American School, and the Australian International School.

Local Singapore Schools

Singapore’s school curriculum is known for developing students that score well above the global average in math, science, and reading skills. The local Singapore schools offer education at low costs. Considering the high-quality standards of education and the flexibility to choose from several subjects, the national curriculum is ranked as one of the best in the world. The national curriculum has been modeled internationally so you can be sure of the quality of education. But note that getting into a local school while possible, isn’t easy due to the preference given to Singapore resident students.

Stages of the Singaporean Education System

The schooling options offered in Singapore can be broadly divided into multiple stages like primary, secondary, tertiary or post-secondary, and so on. We have designed an overview of the educational stages below.

Early childhood/Pre-schoolFrom birth – 6 years1. Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)

2. Montessori

3. Reggio Emilia

4. Waldorf Steiner

5. Primary Years Programme by IB

6. International Curriculums like Australian, German, etc.

7. American Education Reaches Out (AERO)

8. International Primary Curriculum (IPC)

9. Singapore National – Nurturing Early Learners (NEL)

Primary/Elementary/Middle Years5 years – 13 years1. Primary Years Programme by IB

2. International Curriculums like Australian, German, UK, etc.

3. American Education Reaches Out  (AERO)

4. International Primary Curriculum (IPC)

5. Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) by Singapore National Curriculum

Secondary10 years – 17 years1. Middle Year Program by IB

2. International Curriculums like Australian, German or UK’s General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) etc.

3. American Education Reaches Out Curriculum (AERO)

4. International Primary Curriculum (IPC)

5. International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE)

6. GCE ‘O’ Levels / ‘N’ Levels by Singapore National Curriculum

A Levels or Diploma Programme17 years – 19 years1. Diploma Program (IDBP) and Career-Related Program (CP) by IB

2. International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE)

3. American High School Diploma / Advanced Placement (AP Courses)

4. GCE ‘A’ Levels, UK Curriculum offered by International Schools

5. GCE ‘A Levels, offered by Singapore National Curriculum Junior Colleges

6. Polytechnic, Singapore National Curriculum

*There are some overlaps as different curriculum programmes have different stages.

Overview of Curriculums in Singapore

Let us now understand some of these curriculums offered by various schools in Singapore. Once you know the curriculums and schooling system in Singapore, you can shortlist a few schools and choose a suitable course for your child.

Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is a UK-based framework for learning, development, and care of children from birth to five years old. The areas of learning include communication and language, physical development, personal, social and emotional development, literacy, mathematics, understanding the world, and expressive arts and design.


This is a child-centered educational approach based on independence, hands-on play, and learning through experience. The classrooms and highly trained teachers offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process. Children work in groups as well as individually on various projects to explore the knowledge of the world and develop their maximum potential.

Reggio Emilia

This is yet another child-centered education system focused on children in the pre-school to primary schooling ages. Developed for use in the pre-school and Kindergarten classrooms, the method focuses on the idea of a self-guided curriculum. The students learn the curriculum through exploration and projects to tailor the learning to their interests.

Waldorf Steiner

These schools focus on children learning through sensory experiences and having the children get involved in practical activities. The teachers of this curriculum see education as a way for students to learn when they are ready and not a competition. The teachers employ the approach of ‘the right thing at the right time’ with the observation of each student will introduce new concepts and knowledge at the appropriate time in the child’s development.

National Curriculums

There’s a long list of schools in Singapore that specialize in national curriculums of different countries. This means that your kid can continue with their studies if you are moving from countries like America, India, Germany, France, England, etc. Your kids won’t have to face a sudden difference in the pattern of their studies.

Some of the common curriculums in Singapore include:


The Australian curriculum is ideal for Australian immigrant kids who continue their studies without compromising on the quality. The curriculum runs from Foundation to Year 10 and focuses on several learning areas just like the Australian curriculum such as English, Mathematics, Science, Health and Physical Education, Humanities and Social Sciences, Arts, Technologies, and Languages. After excelling in the primary section, students in Years 3, 5, 7, and 9 can opt to sit the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy tests (NAPLAN).


The US State Department’s Office of Overseas Schools and the Overseas Schools Advisory Council supports schools in the implementation of American Education Reaches Out (AERO) Standards. AERO provides a curriculum that runs from Kindergarten (age 5) to Grade 12 (age 17). Students finish school with the American High School Diploma, which is recognized by the US and Canadian universities.

Indian – Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE)

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is the board of education for the Union Government of India, and it carries out final exams for Indian schools in Years 10 and 12. While CBSE-i is based on guidelines of the National Curriculum Framework and the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the curriculum takes a flexible approach to coursework covering regional issues and world geography.


Just like other boards, the German curriculum in Singapore is also meant for kids who wish to continue their German studies after moving. Kindergarten (ages two to six) is optional, after which comes compulsory Grundschule (ages six to ten). Secondary education in Germany is relatively complex, involving five different types of schools.

National Curriculum Developed by the UK Board

The English National Curriculum is a highly structured and an incredibly popular curriculum across the world developed to ensure a degree of uniformity through a general framework prescribed by the UK government. This curriculum is ideal for students who wish to move to the UK or other major countries for studies and jobs.

The National Curriculum by Cambridge (UK) has five key stages:

Key Stage 1 for students aged 5-7 (Foundation Years – Year 1-2) (IPC).

The International Primary Curriculum (IPC) is a global-minded curriculum and skills-based approach for three to twelve-year-old students.

Key Stage 2 for students aged 8-11 (Years 3 to 6).

Key Stage 3 for students aged 12-14 (Years 7 to 9).

Key Stage 4 for students aged 15-16 (Years 10 to 11) (I)(GCSE)(IGCSE).

The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is for students who are preparing for the UK leaving exams. The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) is equivalent to the Singaporean National GCE O-Level examination in Singapore. People who wish to pursue International Baccalaureate, GCE A level, or BTEC Level 3 Diploma courses should pass Key Stage 4 of the National Curriculum.  The syllabuses overlap in GCSE and IGCSE and thus they are treated as equivalent levels of degrees.

Key Stage 5 for students aged 17-18 (Years 12 to 13) (A levels).

A level is a two-year course, after which students can take advanced level exams (A levels), which isn’t compulsory. Otherwise known as GCE Advanced Level, students can take this course after completing their secondary education and before pursuing a degree at university.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

This international curriculum aims to provide a truly international level of education by developing academic, personal, emotional, and social skills of students so that they can be successful in today’s increasingly interconnected world.

The IB Continuum has four programs:

  1. The Primary Years Program (PYP) for students aged 3-12.
  2. The Middle Years Program (MYP) for students aged 11-16.
  3. The Diploma Program (IDBP) for students aged 16-19.
  4. The Career-related Programme (CP) for students aged 16-19.

Singapore National Curriculum

The local curriculum in Singapore is managed by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and provides a structured framework (though they are trying to be more flexible and diverse in recent years). The education system starts from pre-school with Nurturing Early Learners (NEL) curriculum from age 4 through primary. The secondary school students (excluding IB students) participate in the annual Singaporean GCE ‘O’ Levels or GCE ‘N’ Levels based on their preferences and the kind of streams they wish to choose in the future. The results of these exams determine which pre-universities or post-secondary institutions they may apply for.

The pre-university centers of Singapore such as Junior Colleges and Centralized institute are designed for students who wish to pursue a university degree or diploma after two to three years of pre-university education. Alternatively, polytechnics and arts institutions in Singapore prepare students for both the workforce and university studies.

What Next?

You need to know a lot of things to judge a school and everything about it. Also, you need a credible source or two who can tell you the actual experience of a school. All this is challenging in a new country where you’ll be an expat soon. If you find that you still need more guidance, fret not, you can always speak to education specialists to help you navigate the schooling system in Singapore.