WINNER: Best Schools Award (Singapore) 2022 for Best Bilingual Programme

Canadian International School is awarded the WhichSchoolAdvisor (Singapore) Best Schools Award 2022 for Best Bilingual Programme.
WINNER: Best Schools Award (Singapore) 2022 for Best Bilingual Programme
By Carli Allan
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Winner of the WhichSchoolAdvisor (Singapore) Best Schools Award 2022 for Best Bilingual Programme is Canadian International School.

Highly Commended is EtonHouse (Broadrick) and Singapore American School.

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.

Why did Canadian International School (CIS) win?


Strengths of the school include:

  • Overview: CIS offers a bilingual Chinese-English programme from Pre-Kindergarten through to Grade 6 at CIS’ two campuses – Lakeside and Tanjong Katong – and teaching is aligned to the IB’s Primary Years Programme. CIS also offers a French-English programme for Grades 1-5.
  • Well-established: As one of the first international schools in Singapore to offer a bilingual programme, CIS has both the experience and reputation for being a dual-language school.
  • Growth: CIS has developed a strong bilingual programme; the Chinese-English bilingual programme currently has 47 classes, and 40% of all students across both CIS campuses (Lakeside and Tanjong Katong) are in either the Chinese or French bilingual programmes.
  • The bilingual programme has been so popular it will be extended into Nursery (18 months to two years) in August 2022, meaning children can be well-prepared for moving into the Chinese-English bilingual programme in Pre-K.
  • Immersion approach: There are two qualified teachers per class; one native English speaker and one native Chinese speaker. The Mandarin and English teachers collaborate to deliver the Units of Inquiry within the PYP framework. Students attend classes in English one day and in Chinese the next, so they get full immersion in a language throughout the school day. Around 30% of students in each bilingual class are Chinese, which gives English-speaking students the opportunity to learn from their peers as well as the teachers.
  • Cultural awareness: The bilingual programme focuses on integrating culture, values, history and how to think in a respective language because, as it says, “speaking a language without understanding its culture has very little real-world value”.
  • Aligned to the IB PYP: The primary goal of bilingual programme here is not to teach English or Chinese as a second language but to teach curriculum. As the school says, it is “to teach concepts, knowledge, and skills through the language our students know best and reinforce that learning through the second language”.
  • Well-resourced: CIS’ two campus libraries are well-stocked with more than 8,000 Chinese fiction books to support the school’s focus on learning about Chinese culture
  • The programme is led by the very experienced school's principal for Chinese language and culture, Huali Xiong, who wrote the Big Apple programme, a series of books used by CIS and international schools for Chinese language classes.
  • Progress: Results in the Assessment of Performance towards Proficiency in Language (AAPPL) show 70.5% of students performing at the Intermediate level and 29.5% at the Novice level. Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) show that bilingual programme students perform on par, or above grade level, in reading and maths with their English programme peers.
  • Cost: With annual fees of $34,900-41,550 per year, the cost of the bilingual immersion programme at CIS is higher than the mainstream programme and among the highest in Singapore. However, we believe the school is offering value for money; this is a well-established and incredibly well-resourced programme that is very much part of the school curriculum – and certainly not an add-on.
  • Continuation into secondary: When students progress into secondary school, the CIS curriculum maintains a focus on Chinese in the IB Middle Years Programme and Diploma Programme. It has a specific pathway for its Chinese-English bilingual students from Grades 7-12, including bilingual maths.
  • The bilingual programme will continue to grow through the Middle and Diploma Years (Grades 7-12), and by the end of 2024-2025, students will have the option of taking two or three courses in Chinese throughout the entire MYP.
  • In 2021, 24% of the school’s IB Diploma Programme cohort went on to receive the IB’s Bilingual Diploma.

The Judges’ View


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."

The Parents’ View


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.

Testimonials include:

“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 WhichSchoolAdvisor Review


“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.

The School’s View


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

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