Thursday 19 February 2015

Home-grown international schools in demand from Singaporeans

Trio expand to take more students, with interest especially from S'poreans
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Feb 2015

THE three home-grown international schools cannot seem to expand fast enough to keep up with demand for places from Singaporean parents.

Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) (International), St Joseph's Institution (SJI) International and Hwa Chong International School have expanded their facilities in recent years to take in more students.

Yet, the demand for places, especially from Singaporeans, keeps growing, despite annual fees of more than $20,000.

ACS (International), which expanded its facilities at its Holland Village campus last year, has already seen its enrolment rise from 800 two years ago to 1,000 now.

When more classrooms are added by the end of this year, it will be able to take in up to 1,200 students. Half of the places there are taken up by Singaporeans.

At SJI International's high school in Thomson Road, enrolment has risen from about 800 two years ago to 977. It is adding classrooms this year and will be able to take in 1,027 students.

Hwa Chong International School in Bukit Timah Road has seen numbers rise from 600 two years ago to 750. When the third phase of its building programme is completed in the middle of this year, enrolment is set to hit 800.

The three schools are privately funded but are under the Ministry of Education. This means they follow the bilingual education policy, but can design their own curricula and set class sizes and fees.

Fourth-year students take the International General Certificate of Secondary Education exam, similar to the O levels, and then study for the two-year International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma.

When the Government gave the go-ahead in 2004 for ACS, SJI and Hwa Chong to open international arms, there were doubts on whether Singaporeans would want to enrol their children.

Officials from the schools said the rapid growth is the result of the established brand names and different curricula, particularly the IB programme, which is becoming popular among parents.

At SJI International, 62 per cent of places are filled by Singaporeans. All places for this year's Grade 7 classes, equivalent to Secondary 1, were taken by last July. Places for Grade 11, equivalent to the first year of junior college, were filled earlier than before.

Mr Bradley Roberts, head of the high school, said: "The school is completely full at all grades."

ACS (International) chairman Tan Wah Thong said the school is at its maximum size, but parents from Singapore and elsewhere are still asking to enrol their children. He said the school will have to look at other locations to expand.

"The ACS name is a draw, but because we have no streaming and allow all students to move up to JC to take the IB exams, it is attractive to parents," said Mr Tan.

Hwa Chong International principal Bob Koh said many local students blossom in international schools. "They have more space to grow and more individual attention because of smaller classes."

Parents said they liked the IB programme's smaller class sizes of 20 to 25 students, and the fact that there is no streaming.

But two of the eight parents interviewed also said they picked an international school as their children failed to get into the Integrated Programme schools or JCs.

Shop manager Esther Tay, who hopes to send her son to SJI International next year, said he suffers from exam anxiety despite doing well academically. "A school that does not stream students will suit him better. I was shocked when I saw the fees, but in the end I decided they would be worth it if my son is going to be happier."

Pricier, but worth it for some

LOCAL international schools certainly fill a need for parents and children who prefer a more holistic learning environment to pursue their education goals ("Home-grown global schools in demand"; yesterday).

My second child, who started his Secondary 1 programme with Anglo-Chinese School (International) this year, is full of positive comments about his school. It is said that a happy child is a motivated person.

Being a precocious boy who is outspoken, curious and inquisitive, he finds that the school's approach of small-group learning, discussions, presentations and learning exchanges empowers him to be bold in asking questions.

A smaller cohort also provides him with several opportunities to develop his leadership skills, critical in today's working world.

Not all young children can cope with a highly competitive education system like ours. Aggressive competition kills the joy of collaboration, teamwork and creativity.

At 13, a child should continue to deepen his passion for learning and enlarge his capacity to socialise with others of varied backgrounds. Without the fear of being held back a year for not making the grade, the child is able to focus on developing himself intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally.

Compared with local school fees, the $20,000 or more annual school fees charged by local international schools may seem exorbitant. However, local school fees are heavily subsidised by the Government. If these subsidies were removed, the wide range of programmes and facilities, as well as well-qualified teachers, at top schools would also command a higher fee.

From an altruistic perspective, if more financially able families were to send their children to local international schools, more places at our popular local secondary schools could be freed up to students from lower-income groups.

Frankie Mao
ST Forum, 18 Feb 2015

However, they risk dividing society

I READ with concern the report on the three international schools expanding to meet the demand from Singaporeans ("Home-grown global schools in demand"; yesterday).

Singapore's education system has been built on the bedrock of meritocracy: Regardless of social background, students would have access to the best schools as long as they meet the grade. More importantly, wealthier students in this system would not be able to "pay" their way into the best schools.

It is very worrying that the top schools in Singapore have now spun off private arms which essentially pre-select only those who can afford it.

Such a parallel private school system for wealthy Singaporeans runs counter to the fundamental meritocratic principles upon which Singapore was founded.

With increasing income inequality, society will become stratified, as wealthier parents are able to afford an advantage for their children.

Calvin Cheng Ern Lee
ST Forum, 18 Feb 2015

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