Choosing an International School in Covid-19 times: 7 Key Questions to ask

Whether you are new to Singapore or looking at moving your child to another international school, one of the most important decisions you will make is choosing the right school for your child. It is essential that you are confident in your decision and feel that the school you have selected will offer the best fit for your child. In this unusual time of the Covid-19 pandemic, there may be additional criteria that you have to take into account.

There are some important factors that will always be essential to determining your choice of school. To help you make a well-informed decision, here are seven key questions to consider when researching international schools in Singapore.

Question 1. What is the school culture like and what value system is followed?

A school should be more than just a place for learning – it should foster a sense of community. When children know that they belong, they’re motivated to fully engage with their learning and discover who they are and what they want in life whilst letting their unique personalities shine. Children should want to go to school and get involved with events. They need to feel part of a community and know that they are making a difference to the bigger picture. This helps them move through life feeling confident and feeling that they can have an impact on the world, however big or small this may be.

Also, think about the values that are important to your family. To prepare children to become caring, well-rounded leaders, schools should incorporate universal values, such as compassion, respect, integrity and open-mindedness, into every aspect of the curriculum. They should offer a multicultural environment, teach children to treat everyone equally and break down barriers. Not all schools do this.

When schools support all aspects of development — intellectual, physical and socio-emotional — students thrive. The focus on these areas of development should be an integral part of their education. Look for an international school where character development is prioritised alongside critical thinking and collaboration skills, setting the stage for lifelong learning and leadership.

Question 2. How are international schools adapting to changes during the COVID pandemic?

During Singapore’s circuit-breaker phase that was implemented from 7 April 2020 to the end of May 2020, to reduce the spread of Covid-19, some international schools were technologically and strategically prepared to start with virtual learning through video-conferencing apps on the very same day of school closures.

When checking out international schools, look at which schools are offering a full programme of remote learning or blended learning, including academic lessons, music, art, language and recreational lessons online. International schools come under the CPE (Committee for Private Education) in Singapore and hence there are no mandatory requirements in terms of the specific programmes offered through virtual learning.

While some schools offer home-based learning through worksheets, online videos and offline assignments and activities for students, it’s not the same as virtual learning with a teacher actively guiding children through online classes. It is easy for teachers and schools to lose track of their students’ educational progress when they are not offering interactive, face-to-face teaching sessions. It is also important that teachers and students stay connected so that they maintain a positive relationship with one another. It can be a daunting time for students, so having the support of their teachers is essential. Some schools have been more successful in being able to implement this than others.

With Singapore lifting its circuit breaker measures on 1 June, some international schools reopened for in-class and virtual learning while others continued with home-based learning. Schools that are far-sighted have already put in place stringent safety, social distancing and enhanced hygiene measures to start a new phase of in-class learning, with the ability to switch to virtual or blended lessons for students should the need arise.

Question 3. Which curricula do international schools in Singapore offer?

Some schools use country-specific frameworks, such as American, German and Indian. While popular among families who plan to return to their home country in a short time, these approaches have their limitations. For many expat families, their next relocation will be to another country that’s new to them. Additionally, students may settle in another part of the world altogether when they reach adulthood.

Therefore, it’s important to find schools that offer internationally-recognised curricula. This allows children to make a smooth transition to their next school. It means that they will not be behind with any work and will easily be able to integrate into whatever school or classroom they join. It also ensures that as they progress through their education, they are at an equal level with students globally.  Schools that follow curricula such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme teach children transferable skills, including life skills, that prepare them to excel in higher education, careers and other areas of life, anywhere in the world.

Question 4: What qualifications and experience do the teachers have?

When researching international schools, ask about the experience teachers bring to the table, the credentials they hold and what they expect students to accomplish. An international body of teaching staff with experience teaching students in schools around the world can bring diverse perspectives to students and help promote global awareness and intercultural understanding.

Find out if the teaching staff is fluent in the primary language of instruction, have the relevant educational qualifications and experience necessary to foster student’s development academically, socially and emotionally.

Qualified, experienced teachers, with language fluency and who have a love for teaching and life-long learning are able to help students develop on all levels and become future-ready global citizens.

Question 5. How much can I expect to pay for tuition and fees?

When checking the cost of international education, you may be surprised at the price tag of international schools. Tuition at international schools in Singapore ranges anywhere from SGD $15,000-$50,000 sometimes with additional costs for extracurriculars and the like.

But you don’t have to pay such a substantial sum for a premier education. Singapore is home to international schools that provide a first-rate education for a more moderate fee.

In the current economic uncertainty, it is wise to look for schools that have an attractive fee structure, where you are able to see the breakdown of fees and know what you are paying for. It is also important to know whether there is the option to ‘build your own package’ for your fees, for instance, if your child attends their extracurricular activities off-campus you would want to know that you are not being charged for activities at the school which they do not participate in.

Look for a school that stands by a transparent fee model while at the same time ensuring that your child gets a world-class education. You should feel confident that the school is being 100% honest with their pricing model and that there will not be any unforeseen shocks during the academic year. With times as they are, this is extremely important for many families whose finances are affected.

Question 6. Are there additional programmes offered beyond academics?

Many international schools here offer programmes in visual arts, music, sports and language. These programmes may be a part of daily school life or may be held before or after school. These activities provide balanced learning opportunities for students to gain new skills outside the classroom, boosting their physical and socio-emotional development.

When investigating international schools, ask about additional programmes and when it’s offered so you can see what the options are and if it is a good fit for your family. In this current time where social distancing is going to be the norm for the foreseeable future, check on the programmes and activities that can actually be offered during this period. Also, check to see what safety measures have been put in place and whether you feel confident with these. It is important to clarify whether you will be charged for activities that can no longer happen due to COVID-19 and whether alternative opportunities are going to be put in place.

Question 7. Do international schools in Singapore support diversity and opportunities for parent involvement?

While schools that offer country-specific curricula often have an over-representation of students from that country, there are international schools that bring together a wide variety of nationalities. The more diverse the school community is, the more your child will gain an appreciation for other cultures and perspectives. It also gives children a more dynamic education as they will have opportunities to participate in cultural events, traditions and festivals whilst at school. This furthers their understanding of their peers’ backgrounds and will give them lasting understanding and appreciation of others which they can take with them throughout their lives.

Parent involvement makes the school community more vibrant. Ask if there are opportunities to volunteer in classrooms and organise special events. Find out whether parents are integrated into the learning and development of students. Enquire whether there is support offered for parents, for instance, if they need advice regarding behavioural management or on a particular subject.

It’s helpful to visit the international schools you’re considering so you can talk to teachers and staff about the curricula, methodology and collaboration with parents. You’ll also get an idea of the school culture, and whether your child will be happy there.

With stringent measures still in place, even after the circuit breaker is lifted, it might be a good idea to schedule a virtual tour now with schools.

International Education at OWIS

At OWIS, we support all areas of our students’ development. Ours is a nurturing, multicultural environment where children feel valued. Contact us to book a virtual tour, and you can see for yourself why our students are so excited to attend class, online or in-school, every day.

This blog was originally written in collaboration with Jasween Gill, former Admissions and Communications Director, OWIS Nanyang and Suntec.