SINGAPORE — As children who spent most of their growing up years in various international schools away from their native Singapore, coming back home to the country’s education system in 2018 came as a rude shock.
Ms Safira, whose husband has worked in various countries around the world for over a decade, said that two of her children found it extremely difficult to assimilate from a system that primarily focused on “learning through play” to one that placed an emphasis on grades.
“I was certainly very worried,” said Ms Safira of her then 10-year-old son.
“When he came back in Primary 4, he had no idea what exams were. He had PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) in the following two years, and he really struggled,” the 42-year-old said.
The Forward Singapore report published last Friday (Oct 27) highlighted the Government’s intention to encourage more Singaporeans to venture overseas as part of their career development.
It said that leaders in multinational corporations (MNCs) often “value global or regional experience” and look for workers with overseas exposure to fill its top regional roles.
Indeed, experts in hiring and recruitment told TODAY that the demand for Singaporean talent by international employers is on the rise, as the country has been “gaining greater recognition for having highly skilled, intelligent and motivated workers”.
“As a head-hunter, our interest is often piqued when we see a Singaporean candidate ‘back in town’ or looking to come back,” said Mr Richard Bradshaw, the chief executive of recruitment consultancy Ethos BeathChapman Asia.
“‘Returning Singaporean’ is a phrase often used by head-hunters again to denote that extra dimension to their profile in a positive fashion.”
However, the Forward Singapore report said that Singaporeans with parents who take up overseas roles often worry about their children’s education and how they can adjust when they come back.
It added that the Government would find ways to help these children integrate smoothly back into schools.
NOT AN EASY DECISION TO MAKE
Mr Adrian Choo, the chief executive and founder of the career strategy consulting firm Career Agility International, said that “educational continuity” is one of the main hurdles parents of young children have to grapple with in their considerations to move abroad.
“For children up to seven or eight years old, it isn’t that big of an issue. But the moment a child is nearing the age where they have to take the PSLE, if for any reason they have to move back to Singapore, they do not have enough time to get up to speed,” he said.
Mr Bradshaw said that variations in education systems encompass differences in curriculum, teaching methods and extracurricular activities — all of which can influence a parent’s decision.
In TODAY’s conversations with six parents of young children of various ages under 15, most believed that the decision to make a move overseas would be much less complicated had they been fresh out of the workforce and without family commitments.
Educational considerations aside, the hassle of logistical requirements and the need to start over both professionally and socially can add to the reservation.
“Emigration means the loss of a strong support system that helps in building a family, and many professionals are understandably hindered by these factors,” said Mr Colin Kleine, the co-founder and chief strategy officer of tech consultancy Scalerr.
Furthermore, Mr Choo believes that some countries may not be as attractive a prospect as others.
For instance, he said, Singaporean companies often struggle to move their managers around the Southeast Asia region due to there being a perception that these opportunities are “less glamorous” or even “hardship postings”.
In such countries, differences in the spoken language may also serve as a hindrance, said Ms Priya Rao, chief operating officer of talent management platform Bridge Et Al.
“Family considerations are a significant influence in decision-making. If people are contemplating a move within Asia, they often prefer destinations where language isn’t a barrier,” she said.
WHAT CAN GOVERNMENT DO TO ALLEVIATE THESE CONCERNS?
For 41-year-old Sachith Nair, who spent 18 years working and living in London, the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) Leave of Absence (LOA) scheme had helped his daughter, 10, adapt to school life back in Singapore gradually whenever his family returned during term breaks.
“Although she was still educated in the UK, whenever she had an extended holiday, she could come here and get a little more embedded into the academic system,” said Mr Nair, who returned with his family in 2021.
According to the MOE website, the LOA scheme allows a child from a Singapore school to rejoin their school after they return from overseas. But they must be accompanying a parent on an overseas posting, and they must have the intention of rejoining their school after returning to Singapore.
More of such schemes, especially for Singaporeans who choose to move abroad voluntarily even without a posting from a local company, would go a long way in incentivising them to venture overseas, Mr Nair said.
Mr Choo believes that another way to ease the stress off parents is to provide exemptions or waivers for PSLE, for children who had spent a substantial amount of time in a different school system overseas — though he acknowledges that such a policy would be unlikely.
For Ms Safira, she feels that counselling support should be provided for children who return to public schools after spending a stint overseas.
She said that she had attempted several times to help her son, who in 2018 was enrolled in a public primary school in the north-east, see the school counsellor to guide him through situations he felt anxious over.
However, she said that she was turned away.
“They didn’t think it was necessary… There’s this idea that counselling is for ‘problem children’, or kids who are having difficulties in different ways like family problems… Not kids who come from abroad,” she said.
“There needs to be an awareness that these kids have had a very different experience from the kids who have grown up locally.
“With emotional support from the grown-ups, the desire to learn will fall into place.”