The School Debate: Singapore vs. The UK


I'm not homesick exactly. But this week the reality of what life in the UK would have entailed has been inescapable. For this week, had we remained in the UK, Clara would be starting school. And I'm not sad that she isn't exactly. It's not that simple. I don't wish we were back there either. But there's something about watching the lives of her little friends back home moving on to school that feels like the chasm of distance is widening more. Even if we weren't going down the home schooling route, Clara would still be in pre-school here. And she'd be in pre-school until 2020!!! How very different those two lives seem all of a sudden. Her friends from home, or at least the children of my friends, are flooding Facebook right now. So many nervous little faces looking squeaky clean and ready to take the next big step into childhood. You've seen the pictures I'm sure. Neatly pressed school uniforms bought in a size that includes "growing room", and shiny black shoes from Clarks. Every child has to go through the humiliation of the doorstep photo shoot. It's part of childhood. But not a part of childhood for Clara. Not for a long, long time anyway. In a way she's missed out on something that Finn's had. Granted, he didn't have a first day at school photo either but he had a first day at pre-school photo which was broadly similar. Or at least, he was wearing a slightly baggy uniform and seemed far too little to be sent marching into a classroom.

Even if we did decide to send the kiddies to an international school here, the doorstep photo wouldn't be the same. Not even close. Lack of physical doorstep aside, they'd be in Singapore appropriate uniform. Absolutely no chance of shirts, ties, and wool blazers here. In fact, even wearing black school shoes seems to be optional with most kids in white trainers. It's not the same. But then, very little is when you live thousands of miles from home. I know it sounds so silly, I do appreciate that. I'm having a blub over the fact my daughter isn't starting school this week, meanwhile in the UK there are parents everywhere biting their lip as they wave goodbye to their four year olds. To be honest, I'd probably shed a tear if we were there too.

Clara is my baby and she (we) are having a whale of a time at home still. I'm not sure she is ready for school, which isn't a decision I'd have been easily able to make in the UK. The school year starts in September and a delayed start (to the following January for example) is only granted at the discretion of the school. Clara is a bright little spark (I know, we all say that about our offspring), but emotionally she's not ready. She would be fairly young in her school year and I think it shows. And no, I don't think by being available to her for a while longer at home is perpetuating this problem. I just think I still have work to do to set up to be ready for a formal education setting.

My personal feelings aside, the age at which a child should start their formal education is a hotly debated topic. A recent report from Stanford University suggests that "kids whose parents waited to enroll them in kindergarten by age 6 (instead of 5) had measurably better scores on tests of self-control by the time they were 7 and 11". And yet the majority of British kids start school at age 4 and will turn 5 during that academic year. In Singapore the age for compulsory school is the year (Jan-Dec) in which the child turns 7. This means a cohort of 6 year old's, and using Finn as an example, the occasional 7 year old (he has an early January birthday). I can't imagine starting my formal education at age 7. By being in Singapore rather than the UK Finn has managed to acquire an additional three years of childhood. 

Singapore's schooling is intense, but that combined with a delayed start has meant an education system consistently ranked as one of the best in the world. In fact, Singapore came out on top in last years Pisa rankings and is far ahead of the middle-ranking UK. What is most interesting about this data though, aside from the age question, is that Singapore manages to achieve top results in all areas with no correlation to the socio-economic status of students. And trust me, there are plenty of disadvantaged families here too.

I don't know whether we'll still be living in Singapore by January 2020 when Clara would be starting school. It seems too far away in the future to know for certain. But as September 2017 brings the predictable onslaught of first day pictures, I'm quietly pleased that Clara isn't one of them. Unintentionally we've gained more years of childhood freedom than I ever thought we would have. And whilst we are in the throes of home schooling with the intention of slotting Finn and Clara into school at some point, the question very much remains- when and where?