The Australian Education System - From a Singaporean Mum's Point of View

This is a milestone piece. Over the years I have been asked about the Australian education system so many times that I lost count. As my daughter is too young to be in school, I have no exposure to the education system here. In fact, I found myself wondering about it myself. So far I have been relying on third persons' perspectives to give me some insights.

When it comes to Singaporeans, I have met none who had good things to say about the Australian educational system. A school teacher who has taught in both countries, in fact, told me, "I will send my kid back to Singapore for education if I were you." Other Singaporean parents complained about how "slack" the schools here have been for their children and how "they will never catch up" if they move their kids to a school in Singapore one day. I am still viewing this from a neutral point of view until Albany goes to school. I promise my own views from personal experience when the time comes.

This valuable article from The Singaporean Mum, M who contacted me 3 years ago [link] and eventually came to Perth alone with her son. I have to coax her repeatedly over the years to share her experience in writing with me. It's also one of the more unusual positive view from a Singaporean parent.

Over the years, we witnessed how she struggled to settle down in Perth without the privilege of her husband's presence, who have to remain in Singapore for work. At some point, I was wondering if she would break down, pack up and return to Singapore. She didn't. Instead the challenging times steeled her up. She now lives in the far north of the Perth metropolitan separated by a vast belt of vineyards and told me how the views of the fields and animals along her daily drives gives her strength and happiness.

Amusingly, Singaporean mum M even included a list of reference at the end like a report she would have done during her teaching days in Singapore. I highly recommend you to read her article and share it with those who may be seeking this information.

The Singaporean Mum, M
9 March 2015

It has been over 2 years since we settled here in Perth. It has been one of the most amazing experiences in my life and possibly, for my 9 year old son. Many of the people around us have commented on how happy he is and how much he has progressed. So much has happened over the course of 2 years here in Perth and I am very thankful for God’s blessings in our lives and for His guidance in moving us here. 

Some 3 years ago, I wrote to Nix and had many questions and doubts about moving away from home. Singapore was the only place I have ever lived for over 3 decades of my life. I did not put much thought into moving, to be honest. Life was good in Singapore. I was had a stable job, earning a decent salary and making good progress in my career. Hubby was in a similar position and was just as contented with life as I was. Things started to change when our son was diagnosed with Autism. He was struggling to keep up with learning in school. We were struggling to support him in every way we can. There was a strain on all of us; financially, emotionally, physically.. you name it! Yet there was little or no support in Singapore (educational support / financial support / therapy support) and there was a long wait list for literally everything (and with little subsidies for that matter). Scholarships and support are words only for the Gifted and Elites. Mine is an ’S’ word too! Mine is Special but clearly that is not good enough. 

We were advised to put him in a special school because there was no support for him in mainstream. It was a trying period for us… we had so many questions for the future. “Can he survive this year in mainstream? So I have to put my domestic helper in class till P6 as his education support? What if he cannot cope with the exams? What about streaming and PSLE? So what happens after education? Will he get a job? What job can he do? Who will employ him?” There are just CRAZY number of questions every parent with a special needs child can think of. 

In our hearts, we know he can learn (in fact he wants to learn), given longer processing time and the correct tools for learning. He is not intellectually inept, he just needs more patience, more time and the right tools and ways to learn. It was a clear decision to move. For education, for better support in special needs… for better living and a real balance to living life. I am tired of hearing teachers tell me what my son can’t do, or that I am not doing enough to help him… or he is intellectually disabled / crippled in any way. So we flew to Perth to seek out a ‘better’ education and support for K. 

Today, K is a happy boy and I have so many things I want to rave about why he is in a good place. He is in a awesome mainstream Catholic school in NOR (one of the many schools that I researched for over a year prior to our move). He wakes up happy to the new day and hops off the car every morning with his green haversack. He knows where to go and the routine at school as the good teachers there have trained him well.. they also know him well (not just academically but understanding him as a whole). K’s school is one of the few mainstream Catholic schools with a Special Education Support Unit within the school premises. The SE unit is well equipped with all the necessary tools and equipment that a child with special needs might require (speech and language / occupational - sensory processing) and they cater them accordingly so that it is customised for each child. K goes to his mainstream classroom daily like all the other children for all his classes except Literacy (English) and Maths where he will go to the SE unit for 1-1 desk work (if child requires a lot of support) / 1- 2 or 3 (if child can work in small groups). For learning in the mainstream classroom, K gets his own personal education assistant teacher (EA) who will assist and facilitate his learning with the rest of his classmates, throughout the whole day. Yup, you read me right… 1 TO 1 SUPPORT THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE DAY IN SCHOOL!

The teachers almost always, have positive things to say about him. They know how to handle him so that he is constantly in a good mood to work and they know when he needs a ‘sensory break’ from the mundane desk work. K gets motivated at desk work and usually a good worker because, he gets time on the class computer or gets a go at the trampoline if he finishes his work early. His teachers figured that he loves to type and he learns better through the computer (he is now learning microsoft word and typing skills - learning punctuation, sentence constructions and social communication via the PC).

Learning is not about facing the whiteboard all day with a short recess in the middle. (There are 3 breaks for snack / play in the 830am-3pm day in school) There is a lot of emphasis on quality rather than quantity in the teaching and learning that I see in his school. I can’t say so for the rest as I haven’t been to many. Generally, the education in Perth does not heavily emphasise on academics. In fact, they believe in learning processes rather than solely on the product. They believe a lot of learning and teaching pedagogies through play, exploration, experiential learning, school excursions, sports (a very big thing esp in aussie football and netball) and just enjoying the process of living life.

K’s classmates are a wonderful bunch. He is verbal but due to speech delay, he is socially inept in many ways. The children go all out to help him, they will greet him and high-5 / hug him. They will come out of class and exclaim to me how well he did at ‘show and tell’ or that he was so good at spelling and swinging on the monkey bars. They are a wonderful bunch to have in school for K. He is especially good with the girls in class who enjoys mothering after him. He is slowly picking up the necessary social skills for learning and being in groups through these activities so that he knows the correct social behaviours for class, church mass and school assemblies. 

On occasions after school, K goes to an after-school child care within the school. His carers love him to bits and like his teachers, they are always emphasising how good he is and how smart he is despite having autism. It is a good feeling when people look beyond and embrace differences to see that X factor in you. It is always a good feeling that people accept you for who you are. 

Living in Perth for kids with special needs is so much more acceptable for us. There is so much to look out for in terms of activities for children with SN. We read a lot and were told to find a niche in which K will excel in. It took us some time but we eventually found some good places for him to learn a skill or 2. We signed him up for 1-1 gymnastics for special needs (this was recommended by many people after they observed him), 1-1 SN swim class and small group horse riding / equine therapy for children with special needs. Our week’s schedule is really fruitful and max out with therapies and these other activities that keeps him occupied and active. There is little emphasis on tuition and a lot of outdoor play. I also call this the Science to living life… a life that keeps children happy to learn. 

There is so much to talk about school and living for a child with special needs. Hence, I will keep this simple with a short summary of K time table (Kids with autism need routines and time tables keep them calm). I have also included some cost for the benefit of those who are interested. 

Fill in all other blanks with PLAY… (well, almost if Mummy does not give extra homework!)

Moving to Perth has been one of the best decisions that we’ve made. It is has been smooth but not all rosy… that said, every step of the way has been a learning process for us and absolutely worth it!

(links removed)


  1. "A school teacher who has taught in both countries, in fact, told me, "I will send my kid back to Singapore for education if I were you." Other Singaporean parents complained about how "slack" the schools here have been for their children and how "they will never catch up" if they move their kids to a school in Singapore one day."

    So when the Ozzie boy/girl graduated and go to Singapore, guess who the employers will hire? LOL. I detest the Singaporean education system and the parents that made it so.

    I love that K is enjoying his learning and that he is happy every day. Some things AM are really DK at.

  2. I have 5 children - 4 daughters and a son. My daughters were in top schools in Singapore, and one of them was in the GEP. We attended talks where MOE officials referred to our "gifted"children as "our children" and claimed them for their own and promised to spare no effort in developing their potential.

    My son was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. There was no help or support in Singapore at all. When we applied for primary schools for him, we had principals asking us to please not apply to their schools because they had no resources to help him and he would "drag down" the standards of the school. Australian International School Singapore accepted him, and he thrived.

    We have been in Australia 6 years now where my older children attend the same school and my youngest is in a Catholic primary school. They are all happy and enjoy going to school everyday. They are well-read, are able to analyse information critically and have time to explore their various interests in music and sports. My son has topped his level the last 2 years, been given the opportunity to play the leading role in the school musical, and has taken part in rowing at the school nationals.

    People here appreciate excellence in all fields and not just in science and maths. The person who excels in Art and Drama and Hospitality is as much appreciated as the person who excelled in Physics or Chemistry. The idea is to develop each person to his or her full potential. Not everyone needs to study medicine, law, accounting or engineering. And there is no life "timetable" to follow. Young people take gap years to travel, work, volunteer at overseas charities before starting university. A lot of people make mid-career changes. Not graduating at a particular time of one's life or getting married or having children within a certain timeframe does not make a person a failure.

    Yes there are schools in Australia which aren't very good and there are teachers who aren't very good, but it's a big country and by and large I think they're doing things right. There are some schools that teach to the test and there are selective schools (you will find a lot of Asians in those schools) and some schools that subscribe to a more balanced method of education. It's up to you to decide what sort of education you want your children to have.

    1. Hi Anne,

      I am writing with the hope of reaching you as I am encountering similar events of yours and I would like to get some advices from you based on your experiences. I have a daughter, 3, who is now diagnosed as ASD with support needed and we had had Australian PR since 2018 but some circumstances prevent us from moving there. I hope I can reach u to talk more about it. You can email me at Hope to hear from you soon.