July 1, 2007

Foreign schools bursting at the seams as more expats move in

Parents confront long waiting lists; some schools are expanding to take in more

By Nur Dianah Suhaimi

EXPATS are not only feeling the pinch from rising rents but they are finding it much harder to get their kids into foreign schools, which are chock-a-block with students.

The booming economy is luring lots more foreigners here - the expat population grew from 798,000 to 875,500 last year - and has put severe pressure on international schools.

Parents desperate to get their child a place in one of the 38 schools that operate non-Singaporean education systems are confronting ever- lengthening waiting lists.

The classroom crunch is especially bad for preschoolers who can languish on a waiting list for as long as six months before a place opens, say some schools.

Parents are even registering their kids a year ahead of time to make sure they have a place in the classroom.

Engineer S. Nathan, 31, has approached several schools but still has not found a place for his five-year-old daughter.

The Indian national said: 'My daughter has been on the waiting lists of two schools for about a month now. All the popular schools are full.'

The Canadian International School, which has 1,600 students spread over three campuses in Toh Tuck, Bukit Tinggi Road and Kampong Bahru, says it is 'bulging at the seams'.

Head principal Glenn Odland says there are about 100 students across all levels on its waiting list.

The Singapore American School, which is closed for the summer break, has reached its maximum capacity of 3,700 students.

And pupil numbers at the Australian International School in Lorong Chuan have shot up 71 per cent over the past three years to hit 1,800.

The school has had to open 10 more classrooms and employ 10 more teachers in the past year to cope with the influx. But even that is not enough with 150 children across all levels on its waiting list still.

Schools do not expect the squeeze to ease any time soon given the healthy economy and the government effort to woo more foreign talent to realise its plans for a population of 6.5 million.

The Australian school is tackling the challenge by building an extension that will be completed next June with the capacity to accommodate a further 700 students.

The Canadian International School is taking a similar approach and will open two new campuses in Jurong and at the old Tanjong Katong Girls' School site within the next two years.

ISS International School, which can accommodate up to 900 pupils at campuses in Paterson Road and Preston Road, plans to add another campus even though it still has about 200 vacancies.

But China businessman J. Wong, 51, is not waiting. He sent his 14-year-old son and only child to a local school when he learnt that some expat schools have at least 100 students on their waiting lists.

Mr Wong said: 'Local schools are just as good, sometimes, even better.'

[email protected]