While it’s important to do your online research, you also need to visit the school and meet staff before you can make an informed decision about your child’s future. And, with schools remaining closed until at least May 4, there are now virtual tours and online assessments to help you make a decision without stepping foot on campus.
In these unprecedented times, schools are using virtual tours to offer families the next best thing. There are 360-degree tours where you can ‘tour’ facilities such as the sports hall, library, playing fields, science lab and theatre. Many schools had these on their website already and, while they can offer an immersive experience of a campus, there can be technical glitches and delays.
Schools have also launched one to one video meetings with admissions managers and principals, Zoom information sessions and webinars, and online assessments to help manage the applications and admissions process.
For example, EtonHouse offers online face-to-face consultations for all its schools; GEMS World Academy (Singapore) offers one-to-one Skype conversation; Stamford American International School, Singapore offers live virtual tours with its admissions manager showing you around the school and answering questions; and Singapore American School will send a link to its virtual tour on application. These schools are not unique: Dover Court too offers Virtual Discovery Meetings for a personalised tour of the school; GESS hosts admissions meetings on Zoom, and NLCS Singapore is hosting online coffee mornings with the founding principal Paul Friend.
School tours are also becoming more innovative. For example, students at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have built a virtual campus on Minecraft so that students can experience a virtual open house.
There are some pros to virtual tours. They allow you to include all your family members in the decision-making process from the comfort of your living room. But there are cons, obviously. It can feel a bit impersonal and lacks the same experience as an in-person tour; you won’t be able to see if children seem happy and engaged in lessons, or personable and presentable; and you may not be able to tell on a pre-recorded virtual tour just how well maintained a campus is.
Before or after visiting a campus, read our independent review of the school by searching here. Also, read our round up of Singapore’s top 20 schools, where to find a scholarship, and Singapore’s top affordable schools.
Read on for WSA’s top questions to ask during a virtual school tour.
• Can I have a one-to-one meeting with the principal?
• How can my child be assessed online while the campus is closed?
• If my child joins while the school is still temporarily closed, how will you manage their first day/week at school?
• How are you currently delivering distance learning?
• Are you offering any fee waivers or discounts?
• What curriculum does the school follow?
• How does the school encourage and monitor students' progress?
• How is technology used to support teaching and learning at the school?
• How do the arts fit into the curriculum? Is there a school choir, band or orchestra? A school production? Art classes?
• How does the school teach Mandarin?
• What is the school’s homework policy?
• How does the school support students who have academic, social or emotional difficulties? Does the school have a well-staffed learning support department?
• What extra-curricular activities are available? Can students play competitive sports against other schools?
• What is the school's approach to children’s behaviour and safety?
• Is there an active Parent Teacher Association (PTA)?
• How does the school keep parents informed of news and information regarding the school faculty?
• Where do most of the students live?
• How many children are in each class?
• How many different nationalities of children?
• What are the nationalities of your staff?
• How do you recruit your staff?
• What is your staff retainment rate?
• Is the school well maintained? International schools can sometimes mask their shortfalls behind state-of-the-art facilities and a contemporary building design. You should always be looking for a tidy, clean and well-maintained school that focuses its efforts and its funds on the education of the pupils rather than the latest gadgets or modern interior design.
• What outdoor facilities are available for learning and play?
• Is it a large campus? If so, are the breaks and lunch staggered? Are the younger and older students separated from each other?
• What are the school start and finish times, breaks, and academic calendar?
• Does the school offer hot/cold meals, or do students need to bring a packed lunch?
• What is the ratio of applicants to acceptances for students?
• What are the age cut-offs? This can vary between schools offering different international curricula, so do check.
• If visiting a primary school, where do students continue their secondary schooling?
• How far away is the school from your home?
• How do children travel to school? Is there a bus service?
• Is there adequate parking?
• How are pick up and drop off times managed?
And finally… trust your gut instinct. It is usually correct, so if you feel comfortable with the school, trust your intuition and go for it.