Bilingual programmes in Singapore's international schools
There is a small but rapidly growing number of international schools in Singapore that offer a bilingual education in Mandarin. They offer bilingual programmes for students aged two to 11 years that are focused on the needs of native English speakers – and are in response to a growing demand from parents looking for bilingual programmes as part of their child’s education at an international school.
The time spent learning through each language varies from school to school. Some offer immersion programmes in which children are solely exposed to one language for a session or day; others may have two teachers speaking different languages in one classroom and students interact with both of them throughout a school day. Also, there is a choice of the UK, IB and IPC curricula, and a hugely varying cost with tuition fees ranging from $19,000 to over $51,000.
But what makes an international school’s bilingual programme truly outstanding?
In this Award category, we were looking at how a school’s bilingual programme is closely aligned to its main curriculum – and how it can justify the (very often) higher tuition fees charged for a bilingual education. We looked at student performance and progress, how the school integrates cultures, values, and history into its bilingual curriculum, and focused on whether the school develops the students’ bilingual skills as they move into secondary school.
How are the Winners and Highly Commended schools decided?
Our panel of expert judges selected the Award winners based on their strengths; feedback from parents, teachers and students in WhichSchoolAdvisor surveys; information in the Award entries submitted by schools and parents; and reviews by WhichSchoolAdvisor (Singapore) editors.
Strengths of the school include:
The judges were impressed by the longevity of Canadian International School’s (CIS) bilingual programme. The growth of the programme, which now has 47 classes and over 870 students within its community of 3,000 children, is testament to its success.
CIS was praised for its alignment of the bilingual programme to the IB Primary Years Programme. Judges drew attention to its fully-immersive approach to learning, which underpins the school’s belief that “the acquisition of an additional language facilitates international mindedness and arguably, bilingualism, if not multi-lingualism is the hallmark of a truly-internationally-minded person”.
The school was also recognised for its focus on maintaining the delivery of Chinese throughout secondary – there are specific pathways in Grades 7-12, Chinese maths in Grades 7 and 8, Chinese language and literature options, and the delivery of the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) in Chinese for the IBDP. The judges were encouraged to see that further subjects (Individuals and Societies) and the MYP maths in Chinese will be added over the next three academic years. Other strengths include the school’s excellent IBDP results (not the highest in Singapore but well above global averages), and the large number of bilingual diplomas (24%) within a very large cohort of students.
Chris Short, Executive Superintendent, NACIS Shanghai, said:
"The CIS bilingual model has, over many years, provided an excellent model to develop children’s English and Mandarin. There is a clear demonstration of impact both within the programme and when students transfer to Secondary, many go on to complete the bilingual diploma of the IBDP.
"The mapping of the programme to the PYP gives full flexibility for students as they progress through and out of the programme. The growth of the programme and parental comments support the success of the programme, which uses some inventive ways to ensure mastery of both languages."
The judges’ feedback highlighted the relatively high proportion of Chinese-speaking students in each class (30%), which “enables peer learning opportunities in addition to teacher-led learning”. It also praised the collaborative efforts by Chinese and English teachers to ensure “a seamless delivery” of the PYP in both languages.
Lyn Soppelsa, Reviews & Community Editor, Which Media, added:
"CIS has invested in an experienced Chinese school principal who has personally created resources for students at the school together with fully qualified teachers in each language, which helps to justify the additional fees for the programme. The appointment of Chinese literacy coaches to the positions of Literacy and PYP Co-ordinators and Vice Principals clearly demonstrates their integral roles within the school."
There’s a strong feeling amongst parents that CIS has the best bilingual programme in Singapore, or as one parent says it is, “The only international school in Singapore with the most complete Chinese-English bilingual education”. It’s definitely seen as one of the key reasons for parents choosing the school, and an overwhelming majority (87%) say they would not consider moving their child from CIS.
“CIS has caring teachers and a strong bilingual programme, as well as an inclusive environment and diverse community."
“The Chinese-English bilingual programme was the primary reason for choosing CIS and we have not been disappointed. Our children are really enjoying the Chinese classes."
“The bilingual Chinese-English programme is aligned with the IB’s Primary Years Programme, which means that students can easily transition from this bilingual programme into the English-only IB Middle Years Programme at the school; it’s the only international school in Singapore where students can study the PYP in French.
“There are two qualified teachers (one native Mandarin speaker and one native English speaker) in each classroom. Students have equal exposure to both languages as they attend classes in either English or Chinese on alternating days. While most schools offer daily lessons in Chinese, this programme fully immerses students in learning Chinese for longer periods of time. With this level of exposure to learning Chinese, you can expect your child to become more fluent and confident in using the language.
“The programme is working for both English and Chinese native speakers, with all nationalities making friends with native speakers in their weaker language and learning the language this way. Also, the Chinese classrooms have bilingual materials such as pictures and puzzles as classroom decor, which helps to create an environment that celebrates dual-language learning.”
Read our full review of CIS (Lakeside) here.
In its nomination for this Award, CIS said:
“In 2014, the Canadian International School of Singapore began a journey to build a world-class Chinese-English Bilingual Programme. While we are still on that journey, we are much closer to the destination than ever.
“Using English and Chinese equally as the medium of instruction and PYP Units of Inquiry as the instructional framework, our teachers build cultural awareness, foster critical thinking, and promote conceptual understandings. In doing so, we create confident, articulate bilingual learners ready to take their place in an increasingly complex, interconnected and multilingual world.”
Read more about bilingual education in Singapore
Which Schools for a Chinese, Bilingual Education? Click here.
French-English Bilingual Schools in Singapore. Click here.
Next: Highly Commended