Canadian International School: Meet its New Head

Canadian Peter Corcoran joined Canadian International School (CIS) as Head of School in August 2017 and oversees the school’s Lakeside and Tanjong Katong campuses.
Canadian International School: Meet its New Head
By Carli Allan
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CIS’ new Head of School Peter Corcoran had a tough act to follow, taking over the helm from the popular and long-standing Glen Odland who was in the role for 10 years. However, our visit finds him looking comfortable in his new position. In fact found it hard not to feel inspired by his warm and friendly, very Canadian approach and character.

Having worked for 35 years in schools across South Korea, Qatar and of course his home land, Corcoran has a wealth of experience in the International Baccalaureate programme. And, as a father of two children, in Grades 4 and 10, he is deeply invested in creating global citizens on both a personal and professional level.

As well as being an IB World School, what defines CIS?

We’re a school that values language and diversity, and we’re well-known for our pioneering bilingual programme. Expat parents seek us out for that bilingual experience, where students are thriving in lessons that are taught in English one day, and Chinese the next. We offer a modern programme that’s different to anywhere else, and we offer it within the context of the IB programme. We have a great track record of fluency in our bilingual programme and it’s phenomenal to see our expat kids speaking Chinese fluently.

You will see examples of our investment in STEAM everywhere in the school. We also have a strong commitment to outdoor learning, and our new centre gives many children in Singapore the first opportunity to get real mud between their toes and feel what real grass is like. And, finally, we have a reputation for our warm Canadian spirit and inclusive community.

Further Reading: Read our reviews of the CIS Lakeside and CIS Tanjong Katong campuses.

How important is the ‘schools within a school’ model to help ‘contain’ the large campus at CIS?

Well, I don’t think we’re a large school by Singaporean standards, we’re a medium sized one. The schools within a school model works really well here, although there are lots of opportunities for primary and secondary students to interact. One of the things I love about this school, is that it’s built to be a school. It was purpose-built, so we have wide hallways, lots of classroom spaces with windows, and lots of nooks and crannies for students to collaborate in.

You’re still in your first year as Head of School here. Do you plan to make sweeping changes to CIS?

Absolutely not! Glenn Odland left me a wonderful legacy after his 10 years here.

It’s not about one person, it’s about the entire team. We’ve recently looked at our strengths and weaknesses and collectively developed a plan that will serve us well over the next three years. 

So, what changes can we expect to see at CIS?

We’re offering French immersion for the first time from next year for Grades 1-2, based on the same model as the Chinese programme. We need to invest in opportunities like this to attract those parents who may not necessarily come otherwise Also, we are investing $250,000 to bring our STEAM offering up to the next level.

CIS has a reputation for pioneering various STEAM initiatives. How are you delivering this as part of the curriculum?

If you go into a lot of the newer schools, the technology can be teacher and parent focused and is designed to dazzle rather than to direct student learning. Here, we focus on student learning – 21st-century skills such as creativity, communication collaboration, and critical thinking – and taking limited resources to solve a real-life problem. We want students to bring disparate pieces of knowledge together to create something. That’s more important than iPads and touchscreens.

Further reading: See the STEAM facilities in our tour of the CIS Lakeside campus here.

There are several new affordable schools opening in Singapore, and one is just up the road from CIS. How do you plan to compete with these in terms of cost?

We’re very mindful of our school fees as about 80% of our parents fund or partially fund their school fees now, which is a significant departure from what happened five or 10 years ago. We know that we have to be providing value for money, but we are limited to a certain degree as we still need to attract the best international teachers, provide great facilities and continue to upgrade.

We’ve tried to reduce the impact in terms of the cost of education to our parents. Our fee increase next year is 1.6%, which is significantly lower than the 3.5-5% average at other international schools here. Also, we offer bursaries to our parents who are having trouble making ends meet. Finally, we have looked at our excursions programme, which was quite expensive, as it often is at international schools. We’ve reined that back this year, and we’ve reduced the cost of those big-ticket trips. So, now all our kindergarten up to Grade 6 students do their excursions in Singapore rather than going overseas. The excursion also has to have a link to the curriculum and service leaning.

You have years of experience working with the IB programme, both in Canada and South Korea, and you previously oversaw a consortium of 10 IB schools serving a population of 5,000 students as Executive Director for Qatar Foundation Schools. Why do you believe in the IB programme as a preferred curriculum?

The research says to us that the best preparation for the IBDP is the PYP and the MYP, and the best preparation for college is the IBDP. Parents may be nervous that their child will be disadvantaged if they later move back to a national curriculum, but we tell them that the MYP is rigorous, and their child is going to do well wherever they go based on that.

As an IB World School, we’re interested in creating global citizens, not creating students who can recite facts. Colleges and universities don’t want those students. We’re less focused on the scores than we are on the outcomes.

There’s less of an emphasis on recall and memorisation, and more on understanding.

That mirrors our parents’ beliefs about what’s important in education – connected learning, using content to drive creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. 

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