Singapore-style schools a hit in the region

Grade 6 pupils at Anglo-Chinese School (International) Jakarta use Singapore textbooks for subjects such as science. Across Asia, such "Singapore- styled" institutions have been growing over the years.
Grade 6 pupils at Anglo-Chinese School (International) Jakarta use Singapore textbooks for subjects such as science. Across Asia, such "Singapore- styled" institutions have been growing over the years.PHOTO: ANGLO-CHINESE SCHOOL (INTERNATIONAL) JAKARTA

Institutions in places such as the Philippines, Thailand expand to cater to rising enrolment

She has not studied in Singapore, but Filipina Trixie See Suarez, 43, was so impressed by the Republic's brand of education that she decided to open a Singapore-style school in Cebu five years ago.

The Singapore School Cebu she founded uses curriculum and textbooks from the country to teach subjects like mathematics and science.

It also spends a term, or 10 weeks, covering Singapore's history for the social studies subject.

Mrs Suarez said for many children in Asia, attending a Singapore-type school is a "good stepping stone".

"Many would like to study what the Singaporeans are studying as they believe they are being provided with the best out there," she said.

The Singapore School Cebu started with 78 pupils from pre-school to Primary 4, and later added the upper primary and secondary levels. Today, it has 200 pupils, mostly from the Philippines. This month, the school will commence construction of a new six-storey wing.

The school, however, is not the only "Singapore-styled" institution in Asia that has grown over the years.

At least 25 schools in countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam offer curricula similar to Singapore's or feature elements of its education system, such as Singapore textbooks. Many have, in recent years, seen growth in student numbers, with some having to expand campuses.

In Thailand, Anglo Singapore International School, started by Singaporean Julie Sutanto, 56, in 2003, has grown from one school block to three campuses. Even then, new facilities like classrooms will be added at one of its campuses while a six-storey building will be set up at another in the next two years. The school, which offers kindergarten to pre- university level classes, has about 1,500 students - half are Thai - and has started waiting lists for certain levels. The fees range from $13,500 to $30,000 yearly.

While Singapore-style schools use the country's textbooks, some educators like Mrs Sutanto said the curriculum may still differ slightly, to suit the local context or glean the benefits of various education systems.

Singapore-based KinderWorld Education Group ventured into Vietnam nearly 16 years ago, and has set up some 15 institutions there, including seven Singapore International Schools. It will open a school in Thailand in May. Its Singapore International Schools, which charge from $8,000 for pre-school to $25,000 for pre-university levels yearly, cater to 3,000 students, over a third of whom are Vietnamese.

Singapore-type schools typically bear the Republic's name and offer a bilingual - in some cases, trilingual - focus, yet most are privately run.

The Singapore International School in Hong Kong, set up in 1991 with a cohort of about 200 students at the pre-school and primary level, is the only overseas school run by Singapore's Ministry of Education (MOE). The school, which later included secondary and pre-university levels, has 1,300 students. Principal Pek Wee Haur attributed the appeal to "the increasing confidence in Singapore-style education". Despite this, MOE said there are "no plans to set up a similar school elsewhere".

What makes Singapore-style schools popular, say most principals, is the perception that Singapore outfits are run well. Mr Ng Eng Chin, principal of Anglo-Chinese School (International) Jakarta, has observed the student numbers in his school tripling to over 900 in the last decade. "However, it doesn't mean that everybody embraces the Singapore system, because of the stress that they are mindful of," he added.

The school, which takes in pre-school to pre-university students, joined the ACS family in 2006. About 80 per cent of students are Indonesians, some of whom are children of lawmakers. Mr Ng said students pay about $10,000 to $17,000 per year. The fees are several times that of local ones.

Most students at Singapore-type schools take the Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education, Cambridge International A level or International Baccalaureate exams.

Thai banker Vipa Harisdangkul, 43, sends her daughters, aged 12 and 15, to Anglo Singapore International School in Thailand. She plans for her elder daughter to further her education abroad. "The Singapore curriculum is quite intense," she said. "I have no doubt my daughter can go anywhere she wants in the world."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore-style schools a hit in the region'. Print Edition | Subscribe