March 9, 2009 Monday

Gloom and boom at international schools

Expat schools in S'pore losing students while local ones are growing

By Jane Ng & Cassandra Chew

TWO pictures have emerged among international schools here: The demand for places in schools run for expatriates' children - particularly the smaller ones - is shrinking, while those run by the local brand-name schools have become ever more popular.

The reasons for these trends differ.

Some schools for expatriates' children are losing their enrolments because their students' parents have lost their jobs in the downturn here, although premier ones such as the Singapore American School (SAS) are still mostly unaffected.

Of the 27 international schools here, which do not include kindergartens and supplementary schools, 10 say up to 20 per cent of their students have pulled out, leaving even in mid-term; 14 others say their numbers are stable, but are expecting more withdrawals at semester's end around June.

But 'local international' schools like ACS International and Hwa Chong International, which follow the national bilingual policy, have each grown their enrolments five to six times since 2005.

Both have added or will add facilities. ACS International, for instance, has new classrooms and soon, a sports complex, a medical centre and more classrooms.

Even the newer SJI International has expanded - it opened its primary school last year and an extension last December.

Meanwhile, the Nanyang family of schools plans to open a co-ed international school mainly for foreigners by next year, starting with primary-level classes on its kindergarten's Bukit Timah site.

International arms run by the brand-name schools here are now hot among local and foreign parents seeking for their children, among other things, smaller classes of about 25 students each.

Between 50 per cent and 70 per cent of the students at these schools are Singaporean, their parents unfazed by the higher fees - about $20,000 a student each year.

For marketing supervisor Carol Wong, 55, choosing ACS International for her son Joshua paid off.

Though he did well enough after Primary Six to get into St Andrew's Secondary School, she put him in ACS International, attracted by its smaller classes and departure from the mainstream curriculum.

Last year, this 'average pupil in primary school' topped the school with eight As in the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (iGCSE).

Ms Wong said he 'really soared in ACS'. With the smaller classes, he got more attention from his teachers. Tuition became unnecessary.

The Government gave the brand-name schools here the go-ahead to open international arms in 2005 to attract 150,000 international students here by 2012, and to give local students more choices in secondary school education.

Smaller classes aside, parents like the multi-cultural experience and the globally-recognised qualifications they offer, like the iGCSE, similar to the O levels at Secondary 4; and the International Baccalaureate diploma two years later.

Among the expatriate schools hardest hit by falling enrolments is the Global Indian International School Singapore, which went from over 600 students last year to about 500 now.

Avondale Grammar School, set up in 2007, has lost 15 to 20 of its 150 or so mostly-Australian students.

The Japanese School and the Singapore and Australian International schools are less badly hit, but expect a slowdown.

However, the top-choice SAS, Tanglin Trust and the United World College of South East Asia are still getting applications and still have waiting lists.

Dr Glenn Odland, head of the Canadian International School, said: 'We are getting a lot of last-minute arrivals because some big companies are moving operations to Singapore.'

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