27 Apr The challenges of moving to Singapore as a mumpreneur
By Gemma Manning
This month, I embarked on one of the most challenging chapters of my career so far: relocating to Singapore to launch Manning & Co’s sister company, Gemstar’s, first Young Entrepreneur’s Program in partnership with Murdoch University.
On my last day in Sydney, it was such a strange and surreal feeling, leaving my house and knowing that this is the beginning of a whole new adventure. I can hardly believe that I’m now here in Singapore, settled in my new home and routine, and working from the Gemstar Innovation Centre of Excellence.
As the mother of two young girls, I couldn’t imagine a more educational, cultural and inspiring experience than to bring my daughters to Singapore with me – and they’re already loving it. The girls have visited Singapore with me on previous Gemstar Trade Missions, but this is their first time living overseas – and my youngest is only seven. It’s a huge change, and the journey that led our family here hasn’t been easy.
The challenges of finding affordable and accessible schooling in Singapore
When I first seriously considered the move to Singapore, I knew I would need to find a good school for my girls as quickly as possible. I made several phone calls to Singaporean schools and discovered an uncomfortable truth: it was a choice between a hugely expensive international school, or sitting an exam conducted by the Ministry of Education, which doesn’t guarantee a spot for your child, or a choice in which school she can attend.
For me to send the girls to an international school here, it would cost me between $60-$90K for both of them. As a business owner running two businesses including a start-up, there is no way I could justify the cost, as I’m not a big multinational employer.
I briefly considered the local schooling option, but unfortunately, you can’t just move to Singapore and enrol your child at the local school as you can in Australia. Being a small nation, Singapore reserves very few spots for international children. So if international schools aren’t an option, like in my case, schooling is very difficult to access.
An additional barrier to local schooling for foreigners is that you need to be a permanent resident to qualify for one of the very limited international student spots allocated (a status that takes years to get). Even then, you can’t choose the school, as local children get preference on the best schools.
SDEP distance education is a best-kept secret
Challenges with schooling for my girls has been one of the most stressful aspects of moving to Singapore. I knew I had to be here to propel the business forward and give it every chance to succeed, yet it would be simply unimaginable to relocate without a schooling solution in place. What to do?
To make my move happen, I have had to go down the path of home schooling the girls through distant education. If it wasn’t for me finding SDEP (http://sdeps.net/Portal/) of my own accord, I don’t think I would have been able to move over here for the business with my girls (something that I couldn’t even comprehend).
SDEP is a distance education school based in Surry Hills. I think they are the best-kept secret and should be celebrated. By the girls participating in this program, they are still enrolled in the NSW curriculum and for only $150 per student per year, they have amazing resources at their disposal.
Each of my daughters is enrolled in a class (we met their teachers before we left), they have an iPad (which we had to purchase) for a digital learning program, and they will complete most of their learning online but will also have access to weekly face-time with their teachers. I’m truly amazed by the quality of the digital learning materials (they have production facilities at the school and create all of their own online learning materials), as well as the resources that they provided us with – readers, chapter books, art supplies, maths materials such as counters and blocks, etc.
Can a mumpreneur have it all?
Although I’m very excited about the move to Singapore and the opportunities yet to come, it has been quite a journey to get to this point. I have faced so many challenges and hurdles to get here. Thanks to the SDEP distance education program, I have found a way to make this all happen.
Still, there are some key questions that this situation raises. Can a busy business mumpreneur truly have it all? How can we ensure that international schooling is more accessible and affordable for other mumpreneurs?
If I didn’t have children to consider, the move here would still have been tricky but nowhere near as prolonged and difficult. I know people who have moved here for their business, but they are men – not women. I don’t know one other woman in my situation who has managed it.
In fact, something I found very surprising was that when I phoned the Australia New Zealand Association here for advice, they couldn’t offer me any – they said that they haven’t heard of many situations like mine. This is because most mothers come with their husbands who are allocated expat salaries that include an international school package.
Those women who do run businesses in Singapore typically start the business here once their children are in school (catered for the expat salary of their husbands). Clearly, there aren’t many female entrepreneurs who move overseas for their own businesses, have school-age children, and must face the difficulties this presents in a country like Singapore.
It appears that I am a rarity in this respect. Many people are shocked when they ask which international school my girls are going to and I reply, “They aren’t. They will be home schooled.”
It’s a bit daunting, as on top of everything else, I’m also the girls’ teacher, but I will get some help here to be able to assist the girls with tutoring and homework. So far, they are responding really positively to the SDEP program.
Meanwhile, the Singapore Government is beginning to introduce more reasonably-priced international schools (i.e. $15k a year per student). However, these schools are typically new and only cater for Kindy and Year 1 – not Year 2 and Year 5 as I require.
Change is slow, and I hope that by drawing attention to this issue, I can help other female entrepreneurs with children to achieve their dreams and aspirations regionally and globally.