We wanted to give Tanglin Trust’s film studies department an Oscar! Whether you see yourself behind the camera or in front of it, there’s a Foley pit where students can design sound effects and soundtracks; a visual effects studio for adding motion graphics; a Google-style Think Tank pre-production room; two film studios with lighting rigs and professional cameras; and a 40-seat screening room.
We’d only reached the halfway point of our tour around ISS’ hilltop campus when we got to the open-air canteen and caught sight of the views across Telok Blangah Hill Park. We didn’t want to leave! With its higgledy-piggledy complex of heritage buildings and leafy surroundings, ISS has a rustic, homely feel that we rarely find on the international school circuit. We were told to look out for monkeys in the trees. We didn’t spot one this time, so we have the perfect excuse to go back!
The Early Learning Village (which is shared by Australian International School, Stamford American International School, and Brighton College, Singapore) completely wowed us. As well as being the world’s largest pre-school, the ELV is made for children. We loved the child-sized doors, the large round windows at child height that look into every class, the enormous outdoor play decks with bike tracks and pirate ships (and the largest outdoor ceiling fan we’ve ever seen!), and the entrance lined with musical, wooden play equipment.
We’ve seen swimming pools, basketball courts and Astro pitches aplenty, but SAIS had the first indoor golf studio we’ve seen at a school. We couldn’t resist practising our swing in one of its three golf bays, where students can play virtually at any golf course in the world and look at the metrics of their swing; parents can even watch videos of their child’s golf sessions in here.
You can’t help but be charmed by this village-style school, which is built around rainforest rather than state-of-the-art facilities. Invictus is not just close to nature, it’s within it. Outdoor facilities include a sand pit, play area, swimming pool, and plenty of rainforest to explore. Located within a black and white colonial building, it all felt so much more traditional and homely than your typical international school. And we loved the umbrellas left outside every classroom, keeping students dry in one of Singapore’s many rain showers!
We loved the nurturing side of SMMIS. We walked into the smell of freshly baked bread rolls, which are served to students every day for an afternoon snack (we were so jealous!); we passed the student friendship bench (known affectionately as the Mensch Bench); and we heard how new students wear a ribbon to ensure their peers give them a warm welcome.
How can you be anything but impressed by the 12 acres of grass fields that surround Dover Court, which must be the envy of most international schools. It is enormous given the size of the student body (there are 1,400 students here). And, as a school that is well known for its support for children with special needs, we found this to be a cosy and welcoming campus – with charming classrooms in converted 1950s British Army barracks and a calming sensory garden at the entrance.
Clutter-phobes should look away now – but we absolutely loved the SAS Creativity Centre. This fantastically messy and chaotic room gives children an opportunity to be creative with everyday items. It’s run by a parent, who is now employed by the school to run the centre after students raised a petition to extend opening hours. We enjoyed watching KG students here take part in an I-Spy challenge to spot flippers and even a piano hiding in the corner!
GEMS' passion for design and innovation really shined through during our visit. Walking through its vast Design Centre, we saw hammers, laser cutters, pottery wheels, 3D printers, forges, robotics kits and sewing machines. And there were displays of cameras, hoovers and kettles that showcase innovation and design through the ages, which had been lovingly collected from markets across Singapore by a teacher with a true love for his subject. What a place to bring ideas to life!
We’re always intrigued to see how schools with more affordable fees can offer a quality education for less. At Middleton, we really admired its ‘loose parts’ recycled playground, which has a lot of natural materials such as logs and woodchips, a xylophone made from old pipes, and obstacles such as oil barrels and tyres.
Bigger is not always better, and we were so impressed by the creative use of the small space at EtonHouse (Orchard). There’s a town square concept with a black box theatre, music area and small stage to give students a transformative space to perform in; a large, wall-mounted marble maze in the corridor, where students can use wood, sticks and plastic pipes to create a marble run; and height adjustable art benches that can be used by students of all ages.
We see many very worthy environmental projects planted within Singapore’s schools, but none as impressive as the greenhouse and plant nurseries at UWCSEA’s two campuses, Dover and East (pictured above). Students enjoyable incredible hands-on experience of rainforest conservation in after-school clubs including the Rainforest Nursery Group, which works with Singapore National Parks to grow and research endangered rainforest species from seed.
We were intrigued by a novel idea in the classrooms at The Perse that is both low-tech and low budget to run. The traffic light cup system enable students to communicate with the teacher without putting their hand up. Cups are placed in the middle of the table and students can select a cup as necessary: red means ‘I don’t understand’, amber means ‘I’m not sure’ and green means ‘I fully understand’.
Greeted by artistic murals and kangaroo sculptures, we certainly felt the 'distinctly Australian' culture of this school. We loved the school's strong sporting spirit (there were Sharks banners hanging all around the campus and some of the biggest sports fields in Singapore), the outdoor workshop equipped for HSC courses in construction, and the large 'car park' of scooters used by students riding into school.
It was the first time we’ve ever been greeted at a school by a robot – and this futuristic friend offers a hint of what’s to come. There are no paper registers, locker keys and cork boards at this technology-driven school. Instead, we found biometrics-operated turnstiles gates with facial recognition systems at every entrance, facial recognition machines outside every classroom, and librarians are replaced for most the school day by touchscreen monitors that check books in and out.