Singapore school in HK a big draw

Mdm Hellen Teo (right) with her husband and six-year-old son Matthew, a student at the Singapore International School.
PHOTO: Mdm Hellen Teo

Want the benefits of a Singaporean education, but not living in the Republic?

If you happen to be in Hong Kong, you can join the likes of celebrities such as veteran Hong Kong actor and producer Simon Yam and Taiwanese singer-actor Richie Ren, in placing your children at the only overseas school run by Singapore's Ministry of Education (MOE).

Located in the quiet Aberdeen district of southwestern Hong Kong, the Singapore International School (SIS) offers "Singapore-styled" education from kindergarten-equivalent years through primary and secondary school, with an emphasis on bilingualism.

The school was set up in 1991 with an initial cohort of 200 students and courses at the primary school level.

An MOE spokesman told The New Paper: "The objective was to provide Singaporean children in Hong Kong with a Singapore-styled primary education so that when they return home, they will fit back easily into schools in Singapore."

In 2012, SIS expanded to include a secondary school campus.

Today, the school has about 1,300 students from 20 nationalities, with Singaporeans and Hong Kongers forming the majority, the ministry said. While Singaporeans may look to SIS as a cultural bridge to home, non-Singaporean parents are attracted to the reputable Singaporean academic formula.

There is a premium to be paid, however, as SIS is no ordinary government-run school.

For starters, annual school fees can come up to hefty sums - HK$75,000 (S$13,500) per year for each child in kindergarten and as much as HK$132,000 for a secondary school student.

Singapore citizens are eligible for a HK$16,100 subsidy per annum, but that still puts the fees of SIS at about six times that of independent secondary schools in Singapore, where rates range from $200 to $300 a month in 2010, according to latest MOE statistics.

Yet, parents with children in SIS told The New Paper that their investment in SIS education is worth every penny.

HIGH STANDARD

For Ms Hellen Teo, a 46-year-old Singaporean housewife based in Hong Kong with her British husband and six-year-old son Matthew, the school's "high level" of bilingual education was a key pull factor.

"The standard of mathematics and science is also high," she said.

"We wanted the Singapore system so that one day if we return home, Matthew could assimilate easily into a school in Singapore. The school is run by MOE, thus also ensuring a good selection of teachers from Singapore."

Another highlight is the school's "state-of-the-art" facilities, said Madam Teo, which, according to the SIS website, include "specially outfitted iMac labs" for the younger students, an indoor pool, and a roof-top tennis court.

Ms Karen Lau, a Chinese native and a housewife living in Hong Kong with her Malaysian husband and two children, both of whom are in SIS primary, said: "In terms of value of the education, SIS is definitely worthwhile.

"My husband studied in Singapore from primary school until pre-university level and enjoyed it very much. Singapore education is very good and so he wanted to put our kids in SIS for their values such as discipline.

"We prefer somewhere in the middle, not too westernised, not too local (Hong Kong)."

Another perk of attending classes at SIS: You get to meet, greet, and take selfies with the likes of Ren.

The celeb parents take part in school events, said Ms Lau, who is the chairman of the parent-teacher association.

"For instance, every year we have a dinner to thank the teachers and for budget reasons, we would ask them for help. (Simon Yam's wife and model) Qi Qi has performed three times for us and her husband (Yam) has also helped at events," said Ms Lau.

"Richie Ren has also performed for us many times. They don't charge at all and they will sponsor everything, even the costumes. Even when we want to pay them, they would refuse," she said.

Not only are they generous, the celebrities and their children are not the least bit snobby, said Ms Lau, and they get along well with the school community, a fact that Ms Lau attributes in part to the principles practiced by the school.

"One thing I would say about SIS and Singapore is that Singapore's people are very respectful and humble and that's the teaching there too."

SIS not suitable for some kids

Having spent most of the last 10 years living around the world with her family because of her husband's work-related travel, Madam Marietta Toh thought it important for her two children to make more Singaporean friends.

So when her family settled in Hong Kong two years ago, she and her husband saw the Singapore International School (SIS) as an obvious choice. Her two children, aged 11 and 13, had mostly attended international schools, and did not speak Mandarin.

Madam Toh said both had difficulties in the application process because of their poor command of the language.

UNFORGIVING

Madam Toh eventually decided against enrolling her children in the school.

"I myself was in the Singapore system all the way. I liked it when I was there and had hoped that my kids would have some exposure in case they want to go back to Singapore to work in future," the 40-year-old home-maker told TNP.

"But SIS does not cater to lower-level Chinese students, and it seemed there was no way of entry for people who have not got a Chinese education beforehand. They stick too strictly to the Singapore Chinese syllabus and there is no differentiation of levels.

"For Singaporeans who have been away, SIS is not suitable for kids not used to a Chinese education, so unfortunately, it doesn't fit us."

SIS education 'worth the money'

He is Australian, his wife is Thai and they have been living in Hong Kong for the past decade.

The couple have no personal ties to Singapore, but when they started looking for a school for their first child, then aged four in 2008, the Singapore International School (SIS) caught their attention.

"We were just looking for schools with bilingual curriculum. There weren't too many and SIS was one of them with good English and Chinese curriculums," Mr Grant Healy, 45, told TNP.

"I spent some time researching the school's values and thought it was a right fit.

"SIS has a good balance of striving for academic excellence and extra-curricular activities.

"Their core beliefs are things we believe in, too, such as being good to the community. The principals of the school believe in discipline and it shows in the children. The kids are very well behaved."

The businessman and his wife were so satisfied with the outcome - and how their first child enjoyed SIS's Chinese programme so much that the subject is now his favourite - that they decided to send their two younger children to the school as well.

Despite having three children in SIS and with costs coming up to about HK $150,000 (S$27,000) a year for each child, Mr Healy said that "the education is worth the money".

"I think the fees are very reasonable compared with other good international schools. I'm not going to say it's cheap, but it's reasonable for the education the kids are getting," he said.

"From a business perspective, China is growing and I think being able to speak Mandarin is going to be advantageous. If you start at a young age, in pre-primary through the SIS system, it has been a natural progression of the language."


This article was first published on October 26, 2015.
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