UWC South East Asia is a seriously big, and seriously impressive K-12 school. Whether your child is academic, sporty, or artistic, UWCSEA offers something for pretty much every child.
Traditionally a school nearly all expat parents would target on arrival, UWC South East Asia (UWCSEA) has two campuses, with around 2,400 at its East campus, and another 3,000-plus students at its Dover campus.
Of (private, international) schools in the city, only Singapore American School (SAS) and perhaps Tanglin Trust have traditionally competed with UWCSEA in terms of parent affections. SAS is clearly US focused however, while Tanglin Trust more UK centric – although both claim to be international in outlook, and the latter now also offering IB. This has left UWCSEA as the international option in the middle.
Aside from its strong positioning in one of the most international cities on earth, the school is enduringly popular because it delivers results, reliably and consistently almost since its founding in the early 1970s. And not just academically.
UWCSEA is almost as rigorous in pushing an external life and activities outside the classroom as it is academic success. Its mission is to link five elements: academics, activities, outdoor education, personal and social education and service. This focus has grown from its origins, from it being part of United World College (UWC), a school group founded by one of the world's most influential educationalist, Kurt Hahn, who had previously founded Schule Schloss Salem in Germany, and Gordonstoun in Scotland. Hahn is also largely responsible for the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme.
Hahn's philosophy clearly seeps through into the school's current thinking, and it fits very well where the only constant is change:
"At UWCSEA we believe it is dangerous to revere the learned at the expense of the learners. Too much is changing too quickly for self-congratulatory insularity, and it is all too easy for even the best qualified adults to inadvertently educate young people for the recent past instead of the students’ future.
That is why, at UWCSEA, we are unambiguous in our mission: we provide a values driven education in which five elements—academics, activities, outdoor education, personal and social education and service—are fused so that students are equipped with the skills, ambition and compassion to impact ethically and significantly in a global context..." Chris Edwards, Head of College, UWCSEA.
A UWC school
In terms of teaching and curriculum, UWCSEA is committed to the UWC's mission to "unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future". Both campuses are focused on equipping students with the skills "to become compassionate, engaged global citizens who seek to make positive differences towards peace and a sustainable future". It's an education that goes well beyond the classroom and will certainly appeal to families looking for learning experiences in 'real' situations.
The school says:
“Our whole learning programme is guided by the UWC Mission. Every part of our curriculum, including the academic side, service, outdoor education, and personal and social education, links back to the Mission. It’s at the core of everything that we do.”
UWCSEA offers a concept-based curriculum that has been developed from the UWC Mission and, in high school, students study for IGCSEs and the IBDP. As a co-founder of the IB programme, UWC remains a strong advocate of its learning methods and practices; however, all UWC schools follow a co-curricular model where students divide their time between their IB studies and wider activities, service work and outdoor education on and off campus.
The school says:
“We all work towards the same mission and we’re all IB Diploma schools but we all have slightly different models.
"A family’s values have to be aligned with ours, and you have to be committed to the style of education here and committed to taking part in everything. You can’t cherry-pick the academics and say you don’t want to do the outdoor education or service because it’s all part of the programme here.”
The learner-centred and inquiry-based programmes at UWCSEA cover literacy, languages, Chinese (or Spanish from Grade 1, Spanish, French, German and Dutch are offered in higher grades), humanities, sciences, maths, the arts, PE, and design and technology (from Grade 6). There are specialist subject teachers from kindergarten in PE, music, languages, D&T, and English as an additional language.
While the school has no traditional IT or computer labs, it has integrated technology into all parts of the curriculum. Every classroom has a trolley of iPads or laptops and there's a Bring Your Own Device policy for Grades 6 and above; there's also modern technology such as 3D printers in the school's makerspaces.
The UWCSEA learning programme leads to the UK's IGCSE in Grades 9 and 10 and the IB Diploma in Grades 11 and 12. This is increasingly the combination in many international private schools. Those that identify themselves or serve a more British demographic are sticking to A Levels. Some (only Tanglin in Singapore) offer both curricula.
Results are consistently excellent. UWCSEA had an average IBDP rating of 36.7 in 2017, 36.4 in 2016, and 36.5.
In May 2018, IB students across the Dover and East campuses celebrated an average score of 36 points, which is considerably higher than the global average of 29.78 but is its lowest in three years by a very slight margin; the overall pass rate was 97.6%.
UWCSEA had a large IB cohort of 572 students; 318 of these students studied at Dover.
At IGCSE, again results are broadly in line, however the larger Dover campus tends to pull in marginally better results - 33.2% A* at Dover as opposed to 29.9% A* at East for example. The better results at Dover have been consistent for the last 5 years.
Click here for more details on the examination results at UWCSEA.
As a result of a) the volume of students, b) their grades and c) the nature of the school, each year over 200 university representatives from highly-regarded institutions visit one or both campuses. Reps come from Australia, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, the UK, the US and a number of European institutions.
Beyond the classroom
Sport is an integral part of school life at UWCSEA, and one of the many benefits of having such large campuses is that the school has the facilities to train in so many different activities. Stats on the website tell a good story – 818 students participate in gymnastics, 958 students in school swimming and the school boasts over 200 sporting teams. There are teams on the Dover Campus in badminton, basketball, climbing, cross country, cricket (boys), football, golf, gymnastics, hockey, netball (girls), rugby (boys), sailing, softball, swimming, tennis, touch (girls) and volleyball. East Campus runs representative teams in badminton, basketball, climbing, cross country, cricket (Junior School and Middle School boys), football, golf, gymnastics, netball (Junior School and Middle School girls), rugby (boys), softball, sailing, swimming, tennis, touch (girls) and volleyball.
Dover and East senior teams compete in all the tournaments in the South East Asia Activity Conference (SEASAC), and there's a healthy dose of competition between the Phoenix on the Dover campus and the Dragons on the East campus. While the Dragons have a reputation for their outstanding swim squad, the Phoenix gymnastics teams are equally strong.
Outside sport, the school has an impressive arts programme. Each year, around 20 drama productions will be performed at each campus, along with 15 concerts, art exhibitions and a host of formal and informal performance events.
There's a vast programme of after-school activities – more than 1,700 across the two campuses – which is divided into sports, arts (drama, visual arts and music), leadership, clubs and special interests. The majority of these are taught by teaching staff and are free; home language courses are offered for an additional cost.
The school says:
"The after-school programme is all about developing and finding your own passions, and allowing people to share them with others.”
Outdoor education and service
While UWCSEA remains very focused on a rigorous academic programme, this mission-driven school requires all students to take part in its outdoor education programme and service activities. UWCSEA runs around 35 outdoor trips every year, and in terms of service, the school works with 70 local service partners and 90 global projects.
The outdoor education programme, which starts from kindergarten, lets students choose their level of risk-taking in the learning experience in what it calls a "challenge of choice". It's an age-appropriate programme that ranges from an overnight stay at Singapore Zoo in Grade 2 to a five-day sea kayaking trip in Malaysia in Grade 7 and an independently planned trip in Grade 11. While there are plenty of other schools in Singapore offering overseas trips and camps, there are few that have it as such a core part of the educational programme. Its campuses are also well-equipped to train its students for these trips, with facilities including climbing walls, outdoor high rope courses and kayaks.
This is a school that also takes service very seriously, and all students get involved in both local and global intiatives and concerns. In this, the IB's CAS – Community, Activity, Service – dovetails perfectly with UWC's guiding principals as students have many opportunities to work with a range of people in the community, and in both local and global initiatives.
Every grade has a local service initiative and global concern that they support for the entire academic year, and this often involves a trip to visit the organisation either in Singapore or overseas. As students progress up the school, they can select which ‘causes’ they champion.
The school says:
The service initiatives are not so much about raising funds but more about raising an awareness of the development issues that contribute to a need.”
UWCSEA provides an extensive and diverse programme that offers students the opportunity to work with a range of people in the community, including the elderly, adults and children with learning difficulties and/or physical disabilities, kindergartens, after-school centres and outreach programmes for disadvantaged children, teenagers not in mainstream education, domestic workers, and adults in long-term hospice care. There are also school service initiatives ranging from student council leaders and sports ambassadors to playground buddies and green leaders.
The head of school at this not for profit school is British-born Chris Edwards, who joined the school in 2014. The majority of teachers (47%) are from the UK, but there is a very diverse teaching staff with high numbers coming from the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
There are more than 5,000 day students and 350 boarders from 76 countries shared across the two campuses. Both campuses have a very diverse student body, with the highest numbers of children coming from India, the UK, the US and Australia.
UWCSEA has campuses in both the east and west of Singapore, which are just one hour apart. While both offer the same UWC-style of education, they are distinctly different. Dover is the larger and older of the two campuses and has many years of experience. Covering an area of 11 hectares, its campus dates back to 1971 and feels very well-established. East, on the other hand, only opened in 2008 and has more modern facilities spread across a considerably smaller campus of 5.5 hectares.
Facilities at both campuses are described as world-class and include a number of theatres, tennis courts, a climbing wall, floodlit swimming pools, Astro-turf playing fields, and much more spread out over the two campuses. UWCSEA also has climbing and camping gear, as well as kayaks and other supplies, "to ensure students have access to safe and high quality equipment for outdoor education".
Read about our tour of the Dover campus here.
There are boarding facilities at Dover and East campuses for students in Grades 6 to 12, both within walking distance of the schools' facilities. Dover has 178 boarders staying in two boarding houses, and East has 164 boarders living in one boarding house.
Health and safety
There are full-time counsellors on both campuses, whose responsibilities include teaching personal education classes in middle school, offering one-to-one counselling to students, and running workshops for parents (a recent one being on digital citizenship).
Hugely important for such a large campus such as Dover, there are two medical clinics, one for the primary school and a 24-hour main one for the rest of the school and boarders. There is one medical at the centre of the East campus.
Admission and fees
UWCSEA is one of the most expensive international schools, with annual tuition fees ranging from SGD 30,795 in KG up to SGD 38,460 in Grade 12. Technology fees are included this, but there is an additional development levy of SGD 7,890 to pay (or SGD 3,960 after the first year).
Unlike most international schools, which keep a rolling waiting list, UWCSEA only opens applications to join the school one year in advance. This means that everyone has an opportunity to apply for the next academic year. Applications are assessed individually, taking into account the student’s background, experience and (perhaps most importantly) the potential ‘fit’ with the school.
The school currently has over 100 students (from 47 countries) who are supported by scholarships. The scholarships are offered from Grade 8. Click here for further details on sponsorships, and how to apply.
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