What's New at Singapore's Latest Value School

Elena Berezhnaya, founder of Singapore’s newest affordable school RISS, talks about how a small, community-based school can “change the face of international schools in Singapore”.
What's New at Singapore's Latest Value School
By Carli Allan
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There is a growing need for more affordable international schools in Singapore, and the latest to help fill this void is Razum International School (RISS). With Singapore’s increasingly competitive schools market comes greater choice, and a school with annual tuition fees of $14,900 is going to appeal to many families here. RISS offers a competitive package that rivals other affordable schools including Invictus International and Middleton International (Tampines) and offers parents a cost-saving alternative to premium schools such as Tanglin Trust and Dulwich College (Singapore).

But can an affordable school such as RISS deliver the same quality of education as Singapore’s more expensive schools, especially when its school day is only four hours long? WhichSchoolAdvisor.com asks co-founder Elena Berezhnaya how RISS can offer parents the best value education, why smaller is better, and how children can get the very best education in a shorter school day.

With a choice of more than 70 international schools in Singapore, why was there the need to open another one?

As parents we identified a need in Singapore for an international school that provides affordable education, a strong curriculum and shorter hours, in line with research on child development. Most international schools are big, expensive and inflexible and are run by corporations. In these corporations, the school is just one entity in a profit-oriented portfolio. Singapore still lacks quality affordable international schools, and particularly lacks schools that are small and community-based.

This may be, in part, because of the heritage of large expat packages that are much less prevalent today. We saw a lot of our friends leaving Singapore because they could not afford to put a second or third child in international school. There is no reason education should be outrageously expensive. It should be available to every child, and we are working to change the face of international schools in Singapore.

How can RISS keep its fees at an affordable $14,900?

There are four main areas where RISS saves lots of money compare to large international schools. They are facilities, marketing, human resources and size of the school.

One of the biggest costs of other international schools comes from facilities such as football fields, swimming pool and etc. We have eliminated these costs entirely. We have made intentional decisions to build facilities that meet the needs of our students. Together with our classroom design, pod areas and jungle, our school meets learning needs of our students without expensive facilities that inflate costs and provide for only a few learners. We are working with external providers to develop soccer, swimming, and other sport classes that are offered to our students.

By intentionally keeping our school small, we have developed a leadership structure that helps to build a strong community whilst saving a lot on unnecessary human resources. Big schools have heads of grade, heads of primary, deputy principals, heads of curriculum, school principals and so on. Our structure has only two layers: a principal and teachers. It allows us to keep organisational structure simple and communication between school, parents and management clear and transparent.

We are small and planning to stay that way. Razum will stop at 200 students and then open new campuses. This will ensure that we remain community minded whilst reducing costs.

What are the advantages of a shorter, four-hour day for the students?

For the children, research shows that a shorter school day provides many benefits to young kids, such as: less stress and as a result improved learning outcomes; more rest and free time; more time for activities outside school that help to nurture talents and develop the child’s interests; and the promotion of responsibility and independence.

Finishing school at 1pm allows kids to choose how to occupy their afternoon. Children these days are over-scheduled and thus, in many cases, they don’t learn how to make good decisions on how to spend their time. Long school days compel parents to make an “all-or-nothing” choice for their children. In our experience, the most diligent parents want to take their children to non-school based activities, or occupy the children themselves, or allow them free play time. We offer this flexibility.

And what about the advantages for your teachers?

Research shows that teachers in schools with shorter hours are more satisfied with their job. They have more time to spend with their families and more time to “decompress” after a busy day of face-to-face teaching. This allows them to be calmer and more effective in their management of classrooms and, as a result, they deliver better teaching outcomes. Our teachers have more time than others after busy school days to work on lesson plans, training and peer interaction.



How can you offer children the same level of primary education in fewer hours than other schools?

We have selected an outstanding curriculum and hired exceptional teachers to deliver it. We have integrated arts, music and physical education into the main curriculum and eliminated them as standalone subjects. By teaching arts and physical education within the classroom we have been able to make authentic links to the full inquiry curriculum and have ensured that all subjects are taught in a focused, child-centred and authentic manner.

We provide over an hour more of mathematics and literacy learning per week, compare to other international schools in Singapore, whilst providing opportunities for more creative links and student ownership.

Our focus is on an inquiry-based holistic education matches the reality of the world we live in. It equips students to be adaptable life-long learners. By finishing at 1pm we have given parents the power to choose languages, sports, instruments, arts and ‘interest led’ lessons and activities that best suit specific needs of their child from our ECAs or from external providers . Parents have the ability to curate their child’s educational pathway without having to succumb to a ‘one size fits all model of education’

Apart from affordability, what are RISS’ strengths?

RISS is a truly holistic school that sees the child as an individual and thus we strive to provide tailored education to every child. By staying small, we can run a community school where every child is known and valued - and not lost in the crowd.

By offering less hours in a day we give families the opportunity to curate their child’s education. We plan and teach with every child in mind. We value nature in education and bring our kids to parks and to our jungle on regular basis. We deliver a truly integrated curriculum that makes authentic links to real life experiences.

Where is the campus and what facilities will you have?

Our campus is in the Tanglin area. We have large classrooms with natural light, a library, dance classroom, outdoor play area and small piece of jungle available for kids to explore. There is an outdoor play area for sports and greenery.

Why have you chosen to follow the IPC and Singaporean maths curriculum?

IPC is one of the fastest growing curriculums worldwide. It is internationally accepted, benchmarked to the UK curriculum and offered by a number of international schools in Singapore. It is important to us that our students are able to go to other international schools into secondary school. It also provides enough flexibility to teacher to tailor education to students.

The Singapore maths curriculum is world-renowned. It gives students a great base in the discipline of mathematics, and being in Singapore we are ideally positioned to fully embrace it.

What will be the capacity of the school once all grades are open?

In the Tanglin campus we will have a maximum of 200 students. We are going to open more campuses in Singapore in the future and keep each of them small.

Does the school have a very international student body?

Definitely. This school is founded and run by people from different countries including New Zealand, Australia, Russia, and Canada. We love our multicultural staff and we definitely creating community that value every culture and embrace our difference, and being international ourselves we attract very international student body as well.

What is your background in education? Why set up this school?

Sometimes people with fresh eyes see things differently. Myself and my co-founder, Marina, have deep backgrounds in business and we have children the age that will be attending our school. We have strong views on what our children need, and decided to open this school because we couldn’t find schools in Singapore that suited them.

We have, however, surrounded ourselves with educational professionals of the highest standard, and would like to think that our school brings to its stakeholders the best of both worlds – skilful educators teaching children in a new and innovative environment.

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