• Green, mature campus
• Car-free campus with underground parking and drop-off area
• Large 11-hectare site
A monastery, a village, on the waterfront, and in the mountains. These are just some of the diverse settings for UWC’s 17 campuses worldwide. In Singapore, UWC spreads its 5,500-strong student body across two semi-urban campuses, with Dover being the oldest, largest and most well-established.
Since moving into the former St John’s Army School in 1971, UWCSEA has put down its roots and developed into an all-through school with just over 3,000 students. Here’s a school that really feels as if it’s part of the landscape in Clementi, western Singapore. Surrounded by mature trees and plenty of open spaces, the Dover campus is full of natural beauty but close enough to the CBD (just a 15-minute drive away) to be well-connected.
While parts of the campus celebrate Singapore’s heritage, there are also modern – and some quite distinctive – buildings that have been added to the school as part of a five-year refurbishment project, completed in January 2017. The UWC brand is felt across the campus, from the distinctive blue and green branding to the frequent displays of UWC’s mission and guiding statements – and the UWC World Map is one of the first things to greet you as you walk into the school.
There’s no traffic on campus as all parking, bus bays and drop areas are underground, so students arrive safely and securely by car or bus at a dedicated drop off area, and then walk upstairs to their first class of the day. For students travelling to school by public transport, and there are several, there is a covered walkway from the bus stop to the school gate.
Read more about UWCSEA's Dover campus here.
• Schools within a school model
• Spacious, green and lived-in campus
• Modern facilities and shared learning spaces
UWCSEA is by the far the largest school in the group (and is one of only three campuses worldwide to offer an all-through education) so we expected the campus to be big. And it is. We did feel slightly overwhelmed at first, and it’s certainly not a school for families who prefer a cosy, close-knit atmosphere. However, there are certainly advantages to such a large campus. UWCSEA has the space and facilities to offer students a wide range of academic options at both IGCSE and IBDP level. The school has the room for large classrooms, facilities, and wide-open spaces. Also, it has the resources to run an extensive after-school programme, boasts more than 200 sports teams, has a very diverse student body, and can recruit teachers with a wide variety of specialisms. It’s not surprising really that we didn’t get an any sense of overcrowding during either lesson or break times.
UWCSEA says: “It’s such a big campus and it’s lovely because it’s grown organically. We’re really fortunate with the amount of space that we have – and all in a really prime location.”
The majority of the time students, particularly in the younger years, stay in their own ‘school’ within this school. The campus is divided between the junior (seven to 11 years), middle (11-14 years) and high schools (14-18), which are housed in several modern blocks. Each school building has its own age-appropriate classrooms, shared learning spaces, specialist classrooms, play areas and sports facilities. That said, students also have access to whole-school facilities including the swimming pool, playing fields, theatres, sports halls and canteens. When you’re paying premium fees of $30,795 per year from Grade 1, you should expect your child to have access to extensive facilities – and UWCSEA appears to be delivering on that promise.
Although the school hasn’t been purpose-built from scratch (unlike its sister campus in the East), UWCSEA has tried to improve the flow of the campus during its recent refurbishment. For example, the middle school block is located closer to all specialist blocks, “so they don’t have to walk as far as the high school students”.
A benefit of having a campus that’s more than 40 years old is that UWCSEA has a lived-in, familiar feel. It’s very green with many plants and gardens across the campus, many of which have been planted by the students themselves. Also, there are lots of open stairways and outdoor covered walkways rather than enclosed hallways between the different buildings, so students have access to fresh air, natural light and the outdoors between classes.
As we walked around the primary school we saw ground-floor K1 classrooms connected to outdoor learning spaces, and other grade classrooms all connected to shared learning spaces or ‘pods’.
UWCSEA says: “All K1 classes have discovery time twice a week, and this is when the children can decide which classroom they want to be in – whether it’s their classroom, the music room, outdoors or in the central ‘pod’ area.”
In the primary building, there are specialist art and music and drama rooms, a library and a dedicated facility for the K1’s perceptual motor programme where students “learn gross motor skills” through carefully sequenced activities using a variety of common and specially designed equipment. The primary school play areas have both ‘deliberate’ play equipment and imaginative play equipment.
UWCSEA says: “We don’t have just one prescriptive playground, there are lots of little areas for playing. The kids can even go into the gardens on campus, where they can climb ropes, explore, see birds nesting and digging in the dirt with sticks. It’s exactly what we want kids of that age to be doing.”
We also explored the new middle school block in the centre of the campus, where we saw grade-level 'pods' for Grades 6, 7 and 8 and a dedicated language department. The high school block also has classrooms and shared learning 'pods', and the students here are easily identified as they wear the white polo shirt and black trousers or skirt.
As you’d expect from one of Singapore’s largest international schools, UWCSEA is home to a wide range of specialist facilities such as a 400-seat multi-purpose hall, theatre halls, science labs, two boarding houses, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. As you enter each of the specialist departments for design and technology, science, maths, English and the arts, you walk into a dedicated learning zones that’s equipped and designed for a specific subject area.
There are two libraries – a primary and main library – both of which were buzzing with noise and atmosphere. Whereas the primary library is like a colourful wonderland, the larger, main library for middle and high school students has private study booths and modern learning pods, movable walls so that students can create their own study spaces, and a stack of board games amongst its vast collection of books.
UWCSEA says: “As well as being a resource centre, these libraries are both very much teaching spaces. Students are welcome to come into the library during break times, and we want them to be used a living space.”
The large D&T block is a dynamic, well-equipped learning hub where students “get a really good grounding in different disciplines” from food technology through to product design, which is one of the many subjects offered at UWCSEA during high school. There’s also an art department and a makerspace that’s equipped with traditional and modern facilities to create “an inspirational ideas hub”.
UWCSEA says: “All students have timetabled lessons in the Ideas Hub, and this space gives teachers an opportunity to teach in different ways and engage the individual on different levels.”
As you’d expect from a school that promises to deliver a well-rounded education, there is a huge focus on the arts. As well as arts rooms, we saw the 300-seat Andrew Bennett Theatre, the 200-seat Roy Bennett theatre and a more intimate black box theatre. Posters on the walls advertised the wide extent of performances in just one academic year, ranging from West Side Story to Hiroshima – many of which we were impressed to hear were student-led. There are also music facilities including recording studios, practice rooms, used for both individual and group lessons.
UWCSEA says: “The whole idea is to give people as much opportunity to explore as much as possible and to become a well-rounded person rather than very focused on academics. We put equal emphasis on all individual aspects of the learning programmes. When you sign up here, you sign up for everything. You can’t pick and choose.”
UWCSEA has some impressive sporting facilities including Astro-turf playing fields, an Olympic-sized outdoor pool that’s used for kayaking and water polo as well as swimming, a learn to swim pool, cricket nets, tennis/badminton courts, a fully-equipped conditioning gym with a range of resistance, cardio and functional fitness equipment, dance studios, and indoor sports halls. There’s also a new gymnastic facility with a fully sprung floor, vault, bars, beam and foam pits, a climbing wall, and outdoor low and high ropes courses.
UWCSEA says: “We had to take the very unfortunate decision to turn the playing fields from grass to Astro-turf because we were losing too many PE days and match fixtures to the weather. Even if it had been raining the day before, the field was too muddy for us to use.
“The gymnastic facility is used by all students as part of the PE curriculum. It’s a timetabled class, so everybody gets to use it. We also have a huge gymnastics after-school club, as well as a parkour club that meets here. Also, everyone on the middle school does a unit of climbing, and all students in Grades 6, 7 and 8 go on the high ropes course as part of the outdoor education programme, which prepares them for their outdoor trips.”
Other communal facilities include a 400-seat main hall, two canteens, gardens, and the Tent Plaza, a central meeting point that’s used for school-wide events. There’s also a greenhouse and plant nursery that are used by after-school clubs including the Rainforest Nursery Group, which works with Singapore National Parks to grow and research endangered rainforest species from seed.
Just a five-minute walk from the main entrance, and you’ll find the school’s boarding facilities for around 200 students in Grades 8-12. The boarding houses were surrounded by greenery, well-maintained, and very secure.
UWCSEA says: “Dover campus is in an urban location, so it gives students an amazing opportunity to be in a safe place, and to have that experience of going out into the world at the same time. The duty staff who live in the boarding houses are teachers as well, which gives students access to both academic and personal support.”
What a school chooses to display on its walls can tell you a lot about what the school values most. In the corridors leading to each grade, there is floor to ceiling displays of students’ project, written and creative work. Throughout the campus, there are consistent messages about the different units of study in the UWCSEA programme, colourful murals, whiteboards listing key events happening that week, and inspirational quotes on both walls and ceilings. There are photos of the many outdoor education trips, which take students from Chiang Mai to Nepal, as well as displays about the different service activities completed by each grade.
UWCSEA 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.”
• Practical learning opportunities
• Technology is well integrated in the classroom
• Strong community spirit
We saw several examples of practical learning in the school. During our visit to Grade 2, students had just finished doing some loom work and using sewing machines in the pod area, and they were returning to their classroom to download an English project on the iPad. A Grade 2 teacher walked us through how she had set up a writing workshop on the iPad, which her students could easily access and import for a class the next day. We heard from the teacher that as well as using a variety of very child-friendly apps like iMovie, Padlet, and Squeebles for spelling, they use Seesaw to allow students to share their work with parents.
All classrooms are equipped with a library of iPads or laptops, and there’s a central IT helpdesk on campus to help fix any bugs.
UWCSEA says: “They each have their own iPad or laptop which they use for the whole year but is stored here in the classroom. From Grade 6 onwards, they can take the laptop home. The cost for this is included in the tuition fee.”
Students were happy, confident, and comfortable in their learning environment. We saw a class of K1 children returning from a break and helping themselves to cups of water in the classroom, and a Grade 1 class voicing their ideas in a group session on the carpet in the pod area. We also watched a Grade 4 dance class rehearsing on the stage in the Andrew Bennett theatre.
During break time, we felt the school’s community spirit really shine. We saw ‘play buddies’ (high school students who volunteer to play with primary grade children at break), children climbing and swinging in modern, well-maintained play areas for all age groups, and students exploring the outdoor gardens.
UWC South East Asia (Dover Campus) is a Best of school, a ranking determined by parent surveys on the site. It can be found in the following Best of rankings:
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