International vs local school: it’s a debate that has kept many a parent awake at night when it comes to making the right decision for their child’s education here in Singapore. And back when HoneyKids’ Ed, Tracy, first joined the team in 2015, she had her eldest in an international secondary school, her middle child in a local primary school and her youngest in a local kindergarten. Almost four years later, Tracy is still confident that her and her hubby made the right choice for each of their very different kids. Here’s where Jack, Angelica and Rafferty are at now, and how the different systems have worked out for them…
The early years – international school
Jack spent years 1-6 in EtonHouse International School Broadrick, which is where we initially picked up on the fact that he needed assessing for some learning difficulties he was having. He was eight-years-old when the assessments were completed, and we found out his struggles in the classroom were due to dyslexia. Having a reason for his learning battles was the making of Jack in terms of both confidence and achievements. We decided to not pursue a local school education for him, and he had support both in school and externally to help him get up to speed. The difference was like night and day once we all knew what we were dealing with.
Sadly, at that time, EtonHouse did not have a secondary programme, so we had to find a new school for him for his high school years. Was that easy? Nope, not at all. Bandy words like ‘dyslexia’ around and many doors were shut, which was disappointing since he was coping so admirably by this point. A friend put Chatsworth International School on our radar, and it ticked all the boxes for the smaller, more boutique style school we were looking for: plus it had a learning support programme.
The secondary school years – international school
Jack was enrolled at Chatsworth from years 7-11, and he completed his MYP and the assessments that went with it last summer. Despite the road blocks and tears (a lot of which were mine), he passed all of his subjects: not only are we off-the-scale proud of him, but he is proud of himself, which is the best part of all.
Thanks to his learning support programme (Mr D: you’re awesome!) and his sheer determination, he got to graduate and finally say goodbye to his nemeses: maths and science. But what was next on the cards for him? If we were in our home country – the UK – it would have been A Levels, which would have suited him well. He could have picked his three strong subjects and concentrated on those. Alas, aside from one international school in Singapore (which we could neither afford nor hope to get a place in), it’s pretty much IB all the way once a child hits Year 12 here in the international system. This was NOT a path suitable for Jack, so for a good few months I hit the ‘net for info, trawled my mum-group Facebook pages and did all the research I possibly could into ‘what next?’. It was actually a mum on one of those FB pages that suggested Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS)… Thank you so much, that mum.
The college years – not for profit private college
Jack began his Foundation Psychology Diploma late last year at MDIS, and is half way through the seven month course. He can move on to do the full diploma once he has completed this, which will be an 18 month course. There are a mix of expat and local students ranging from age 16 years through to early 20s in his class, and he is loving the freedom that a college timetable affords him. (Especially when he has late lessons and doesn’t have to get out of bed!).
He has plans, eventually, to return to the UK and become a police officer, so this is a good fit as a further education option for him right now. MDIS has affiliations with UK universities, so this also works in his favour if he decides to continue to do a degree. I can’t deny it: I feel hugely happy that this has all worked out for him after all those months of worry. I feel like he is on the right path for sure.
So Jack’s ‘international schooling’ has come to an end, and looking back it was 100% the right kind of schooling for him during his primary and secondary years, and college seems to be working out too. The kid did good.
The early years – local kindy and local school
Angelica attended St Hilda’s Kindergarten from N2-K2, which gave her an amazing foundation for her future learning. Yes, we had a bit of a bunfight on our hands to get her a spot in local school when the time came, but she did end up with a place at a lovely school close to our home.
She started at Angsana Primary School for Primary One… and now she’s just gone into Primary Six! This feels insane to be honest. It’s flashed by so ridiculously quickly, and this year is the year of the dreaded PSLE…
I’ve always been puzzled by the draconian reputation local school has amongst a lot of the expats. Yes, there is homework and what feels like quite accelerated learning compared to the learning pace Jack had in international school, but there’s also been learning support, fun after school clubs (Angelica is currently a Scout) and amazing overseas trips (she went to Xi An to see the Terracotta Army last year!).
I firmly believe that the bad rap the local system gets is not actually because schools are exerting too much pressure, but because some parents adopt the ‘tiger parent’ model when it comes to education. The recent ‘Life Beyond Grades‘ initiative, created by parents who recognise that primary school does NOT define a child, is definitely an initiative I absolutely agree with. For what it’s worth, Angelica’s ‘Discipline Master’ is one of the nicest teachers I’ve ever met: the school has the right balance when it comes to what is acceptable behaviour and what is not, and likewise it has high expectations of students when it comes to learning, but not unattainable ones. My daughter wants to do well because she is encouraged to do so, not forced to do so.
I’ll be honest, we haven’t decided yet. We are torn between a secondary education in a local school for her, or placing her in an international school so that she can do iGCSEs, which would be a better fit if we repatriate back to the UK during her secondary school years. An international education at secondary level would be an easier transition to a UK secondary school. BUT we also know that a secondary school education in a Singapore school will be exceptional. Ugh. Decisions.
Angelica will be involved in the decision process for sure, and at the moment she is keen to try an international school. Watch this space! And if you see me in the coming months, do feel free to buy me a coffee. I’m tired. #moresleeplessnights
The early years – local kindergarten and primary
Ah, Rafferty. He’s now six years of menace and a completely different kettle of fish to his brother or sister. Rafferty also went to St Hilda’s and he flourished there. He attended from N1-K2 and was chosen as ‘valedictorian’ for his graduation ceremony. He has a flair for learning that, at this stage, is pretty impressive. He loves learning. He also seems to attract mischief like a magnet, and often manages to make the wrong decision when it comes to keeping his behaviour in check. Luckily for him he is extremely likeable and he probably gets away with more than he might otherwise.
We actually did get Raff a spot at an international school for P1, but this was our second choice for him when it came to his education path. Balloting for places last year was tougher than ever for foreigners for the local system, so we needed a back up plan. The School Gods were, however, on our side, and he not only got into local P1, but he got into the SAME school as his sister. For the first time ever I have two children in the same school at the same time!
There have definitely been some teething issues: he has gone from being a big fish in a small pond at Kindy, to a minnow in primary school, and it took him a while to adjust. He naturally gravitated towards the bigger kids in his new school and spent his break-times hanging out with P3 kids, rather than his own peers. He got himself into a bit of bother on more than one occasion and the aforementioned Discipline Master did say to me, “Mrs Tristram, Rafferty is not like his sister at all is he?” No sir, he is not. He’s a rambunctious bundle of energy, but he’s definitely finding his feet.
His class teacher called me last week (the teachers at Angsana are, can I just say, wonderful) to assure me (after a minor scrape he got into) that he was doing really well, was a very kind soul and that he was settling in well. He’s going to be just fine, I know it. Especially as I know the school has his back, and have already worked out how to get the best from him. I think perhaps an international school would have been too ‘soft’ for him, and I know that we have made the right decision for him.
So there you have it. Not the info-packed story that international vs local school part 1 was, but more an update as I am asked a lot about where my kids are studying these days. They became minor celebs for a while after the first story was published, so I am sure they will be mortified to know they are in the spotlight again (Raff won’t be bothered. That kid is destined for the stage).
And no, to those who ask me frequently, we do not feel guilty that Jack went to international school while his sibs do not. Jack got the education pick that suited him, and we continue to evaluate what system is best suited to each individual child’s needs. All three children are happy with the schooling choices we have made for them, so the price tag is irrelevant to them.
And don’t forget: if you’re currently in a schooling dilemma, do RSVP for our upcoming and essential HoneyKids International School Fair with HSBC. You’ll be able to meet over 20 international schools in one room on one day, as well as also get info from the universities and overseas schools we’re also bringing in to make this a one-stop-shop for international education. You might even spot Jack in a HoneyKids t-shirt helping out mum if you’re lucky…
Photography: Tracy Tristram
Like this story? Here are more you may find useful:
The ultimate guide to choosing an international school in Singapore
Life skills we need to teach our kids before they leave home
Are our teens ready for the big wide world?
March those kids to camp: cool camps happening in the school break
Don’t forget to hop over to our HoneyKids School Selector for all things education!