Helping your child settle down to expat life in Singapore also means picking the right school for them.
Which curriculum should your child be following, do you want to give them the “local school life”, or are you relocating again in a few years’ time? These, and more, are all the things you should be taking into account when school-shopping. Ask these questions!
You’ll want to find out what systems the school has in place in case there is a disease outbreak, says Elaine Chia, senior director for education (early childhood) at Mindchamps. For instance, does the school do daily temperature checks? How does it disinfect the environment to make sure that it is safe and hygienic? Are the kids taught and encouraged to wash their hands after using the bathroom and before meals? Are the teachers always on the lookout for signs and symptoms of a disease? How would the school manage an outbreak?
It’s equally important to learn about the school’s policies when it comes to emergencies or accidents, she adds. For example, if your child falls or is injured, or has an allergic reaction, will the school call you first or take him to the doctor immediately.
Supervision is another important area to consider. Pamela Lim, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mum, says that when she was shortlisting preschools for her then 3-year-old daughter last year, she enquired about the number of teachers per class.
“It was important for me to know that there were enough teachers looking after the kids, especially since my daughter was so young. I needed to know I would have that peace of mind every day after dropping Chloe off at school.”
On top of that, Fiona says to find out how the school ensures its overall safety. For instance, is someone stationed by the centre’s entrance at all times? Is the front door secured during school hours? Is there a CCTV in the classrooms? And how does the school guarantee the safety of the kids during pickup and drop-off times, and during outings?
You’ll want to make sure that the school’s curriculum stimulates and challenges your child intellectually, socially, physically, emotionally and linguistically, says Sally Pang, curriculum manager at Pat’s Schoolhouse. This boils down to the teaching approaches used.
Fiona Walker, chief executive officer and principal of schools of Julia Gabriel Education, says it’s important to ask how well the curriculum meets individual learning styles and personalities, and how much of it is taught through, hands-on exploration and pupil-led activities, such as projects.
The teachers should monitor and track how he or she is doing and provide feedback to you on a regular basis.
Fiona adds that the school should also be able to inform you if your kid is struggling with any area of the curriculum. In this case, you’d want to know why he or she is having a difficult time and what can be done to help him or her improve.
Elaine says that the preschool’s philosophy, beliefs and values must be aligned with yours. For instance, is the centre’s curriculum more focused on play or academics? If you’re academic-oriented, a centre that doesn’t give homework would obviously worry you, whereas the opposite might concern a play-focused parent.
If you want to be involved with the school in some way, ask if parents are allowed to take on a supportive role or be part of the learning process, for example, as a guest speaker during classes, or as a volunteer during school events.
The Singapore government requires that preschool teachers have a diploma in early childhood education at the very minimum. Ask about this at the school – some may have bachelor’s and master’s degrees, which indicate that they are specialists in the field. Also enquire about the number of years of teaching experience the teachers have and how long they have been working at the school – this should give you an indication of their dedication and the turnover rate.
Besides educational qualifications and work experience, it’s also important to find out if the teachers are trained in health and hygiene, safety and so on, so you know that they are wellrounded educators, says Elaine.
The teacher-pupil ratio should be taken into consideration as well, as this would affect the quality of education your child is getting.
For Singaporean schools, the government ratios are 1:8 for playgroup, 1:12 for Nursery 1, 1:15 for Nursery 2; 1:20 for K1 and 1:25 for K2, though some schools (including many international schools) have lower ratios, which means more individual attention for your child.
Ask how many meals the kids are given, what types of food are offered, the portion sizes and if it can cater to your dietary requirements, such as vegetarian or halal food. Is there a special menu available for children who have allergies, or if this is not available, can you pack food for your child?
You should also ask the school about its rules on party food for special occasions such as Children’s Day or a child’s birthday. If parents bring in food to share, are the dishes vetted for safety and nutrition before being served to the children?
Besides the main programme, it’s important to ask what enrichment programmes the school offers, since these can also help contribute to your child’s creative, social and intellectual development, says Elaine. Mindchamps, for instance, offers a gourmet programme that teaches children how to cook, and art classes to encourage artistic expression.
Find out if they are included in the monthly fees, or if you will have to pay an additional fee.
Plus, ask if they have field trips or outings, how often this occurs, and what relevance the outings have to the curriculum, says Elaine. For example, how do the teachers apply what the kids have learnt on a field trip to the classroom activities?
Enquire if parents are welcome on these outings, or if they will be briefed on what their children can expect, says Fiona.
Whether or not your family ever “goes home,” you may want your kids to understand the culture or language from where their parents hail.
For older children who’ve already started school back home, schools such as the Australian International School, Dulwich College (Singapore), GESS and Stamford American International School offer continuity and familiarity.
“The quality of your child’s education does not relate to the money you spend on it,” says Bipasha Minocha, Group Brand Director of EtonHouse. “However, the amount of time you spend with your child is a strong contributor to success.” The schools featured throughout this issue range in price. Consider it one important factor among many.
Do you have to pay extras? Some schools’ fees are all-inclusive, whereas with other schools, you have to make extra payments during the year for activities, outings, learning materials and the like, Elaine explains.
If this is, say, your family’s third international assignment – and there are more on the horizon, consider a “globally focused” school like GEMS World Academy (Singapore) or one like Nexus International School (Singapore), which emphasises technology more than any national identity.
Alternatively, if you know you’ll return to your home country after a few years, go with an international school that follows a suitable curriculum or calendar year.
Adapted from Young Parents, last updated January 2018
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