Choosing a School in Singapore
Whether you’ve been in Singapore for some time and your children have just reached school age, or you’ve just arrived, finding the right school for them will be one of your major priorities. To help you make an informed decision, we asked some of our employees and clients, as well as school principals to give their advice and point of view about choosing a school.
Expats are old hands at goodbyes, but that doesn’t mean they get any easier, especially for children, says ITS Clients Services Manager, Vandana Rao.
I honestly have lost track of the number of farewell lunches hosted for expat friends who have left the country. It sometimes seems like we make friends, build relationships and make an effort to integrate into a new community, only to feel the heart wrenching pain of separation ever so often. Such is the life of an expat. Love it or leave it – it is just the way it is. When we as adults go through such angst, how do children cope with this?
The only constant thing in life, as they say, is change. And an expat life teaches a child exactly that. Gone are the days when the same bunch of neighbourhood kids went to the same school for years and remained in the same town for the rest of their lives.
Today’s globetrotting expat child has to deal with the relocation of a special friend quite often. Take the example of my son. He was best buddies with Charlie, an Australian boy with almost identical interests and temperament for three long years. To a five year old, three years is a lifetime! They swam, built Lego for hours, watched movies and spent time together in school and were happiest when playing soccer together. A dark haired and a blond boy were seen all over the condo and they considered themselves ‘best friends’. Unfortunately, Charlie had to leave for Seattle and it was left to me as a parent to break the news to him.
A parent’s reassurance is extremely important at this stage. It is up to us to understand what they are going through even if they might not be able to articulate their feelings. We need to ensure that our children get a chance to say their proper farewells and get to talk about their feelings. Once they have digested that the move will happen, gently make it sound exciting that their friend is moving to a new place. We should make sure that they learn about the positive aspects about the move – the opportunity to visit their friend, the new things their friend will experience - and that they will again meet one day soon.
For older children we need to ensure they stay connected with various social networking sites, Skype and email, texts. It also helps the child very much if we gently ease them into activities that allow for group interactions like enrolling them into an art, tennis or summer camp. It does not feel as brutal as pushing another friendship down their already heavy chest, but gives them a space in which to meet and interact with other kids. Another way to deal with this is to ensure that they maintain their existing friendships, and make an effort to set up playdates with those they are already familiar with to soften the blow somewhat.
At the end of the day, no matter what you do to help your child, it is avoidable that the child will go through some stage of trauma. In extreme cases they suffer Expat Child Syndroms or ECS, a type of emotional stress in children due to relocation. This usually happens when children leave their friends and move to a new environment, but also affects those who feel ‘left’ behind when their friends move. While most children settle in after a few weeks or months, some children may find it much more difficult to fit into life in the host country and may develop psychological issues over a longer period of time.
If they are unable to fit into a social circle in their new country this may lead to negativity with making friends and fitting in with social groups and they may also harbour longer term resentment towards their parents for making them move.
The positive part to the whole expat lifestyle is that come a new term, there are new faces in the school eagerly waiting to make friends, not knowing that they are filling up the void left behind by those who have left. Schools usually ‘buddy’ up a new entrant with a child already familiar with the school. In later years, these times are always remembered fondly. Schools also host coffee mornings for new parents and condo driveways are filled with moving vans bringing new people to the community. Invites are sent out to class parties welcoming new children and new mums are invited to take part in volunteering for projects thereby making new friends. Barbeques by the pool, ‘friend of a friend’ coffee meetings and a chance meeting at the gym lead to friendships that will hold your life together while you are in your new environment. Until it is time to move. Again!
Katrina Gisbert -Tay, relocated to Singapore in 2008 with her husband and 3 children. She talks about their experience in choosing a new school.
It is definitely great to know that our children are getting a good education, but even better is knowing that our children love and look forward to going to school. This is something that every parent wishes for when kids start at a new school and hope that it will continue for all their schooling. We are lucky that we got accepted by a very reputable school when we relocated.
‘A key consideration for any parent seeking an international education for their children, whether English speaking or not, is the infrastructure that has been built to support learning needs.’
Research in the field of international education acknowledges the demographic shifts that are occurring in many international schools and the challenges and opportunities that this provides. From the original mission of providing a ‘home style’ education for students from a given nation or region, temporarily based overseas, many schools now find that the demography of the school population has changed into one that reflects changes in the world economy and shifts in wealth distribution.
Students in English medium international schools now come from many different nations, often arrive with limited English, sometimes have gaps in their educational career due to several family relocations and often have different value systems and religious beliefs. This diversity offers some significant challenges to international educators as well as a plethora of unique learning opportunities. Key to a positive educational experience is the school’s ability to support this diversity and to effectively capitalize on the wealth of opportunities that this diversity provides.
In terms of English language support, it is critical that the school not only provides additional support, perhaps in withdrawal classes, for emerging speakers but that it also provides in-class support to aid language learners access other areas of the curriculum. The teachers delivering the specialized support need to be fully qualified in this area in order to provide the technical expertise that such a programme requires. Importantly, teachers responsible for delivering non language classes, such as science, mathematics, humanities and other subject areas also need to be trained in how to effectively reach emerging English speakers within the classroom and to help them experience success.
This training equally benefits English-speaking students as this training enhances a teacher’s ability to support different student learning styles and to help students understand the strategies needed to be successful learners. This is a wonderful gift that can be applied during school years and can be carried forward to studies at college and university.
University counseling and pastoral counseling are becoming increasingly important to international education. Family relocation to a new country provides enriching opportunities but can provide stressors for students. Family, friends and pets are left behind, new relationships need to be formed and a new cultural environment needs to be negotiated. Savvy international schools turn these potential challenges into wonderful opportunities by embedding the development of intercultural competencies and international mindedness into classroom and out of classroom experiences. In addition, they invest in a cadre of qualified counseling personnel - often working in languages other than English -that can help students make sense of these new experiences and turn them into character building outcomes that will support them for years to come.
As an international school Mum, educator and long term expatriate wife I believe that choosing the school that is right for our children is the cornerstone of a successful overseas posting. A non-negotiable piece of this equation is ensuring that the student’s learning needs are supported and met, the student feels physically and emotionally secure in the new environment and that the school can provide learning experiences - such as the development of a world view - that more than compensates for the challenges of leaving the security of the home country. Remember when the kids are happy, Mum is happy and so is the rest of the family!
Dr. Alvarez is currently Head of ISS International School, Singapore. She has over 25 years of experience in international education. Prior to her current headship she worked for in international school quality assurance.
My husband, Martin, came home one evening last July 2013 with 'great news!' He had been offered a position with his company in Singapore. Martin was very excited, quite rightly, about the job, the prospects, and the amazing adventure that we and our two daughters would have.
GEMS WORLD ACADEMY
If this title is of interest to you, it is most likely because you are one of the many expatriate parents who have children living outside their home culture. Third Culture Kids (“TCK”) is a phrase that refers to children who have spent most of their growing-up years away from their parents’ culture. These children experience the world of a different culture, (sometimes two, three or more) without any full ownership of a particular one. TCKs assimilate elements of the culture to which they live even though they don’t really belong to it. TCKs grow up everywhere!
The actions which good schools adopt, based on this understanding, makes a significant difference to an effective transition for the child, in and out of their school life. An effective transition recognises that culture is one way a child gets to learn about different parts of the world. It is an active engagement of what and who the individual is, within communities and nations. Students need to find their own lives reflected in curriculum, but as TCKs, they should also be guided to acquire different views of the world and other ways of thinking and being. Good schools with holistic, integrated curriculums that purport multiculturalism assist in making these transitions from one country to another much smoother for the child. A solid orientation programme, including a buddy-system, guidance counsellor, support and compassionate teachers are just a part of an effective transition to a good school.
Being a TCK is not a handicap. Actually, it is a privilege which parents have provided for their child. TCKs have the opportunity to not only observe a great variety of cultural practices with their parents, but with a directed integrated school curriculum, TCKs also learn some of the underlying assumptions that are behind them. TCKs develop strong cross-cultural skills, even in the classroom, to increase their inner awareness of this exciting and culturally diverse world.
There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them