As a melting pot of cultures, international schools not only value but celebrate diversity every day. Here, several top international schools share with us why diversity is so important to their schools.
Parents, isn’t living in Singapore with the kiddos so great? We love partaking in festivities throughout the year, learning about different traditions and cultures, and of course, feasting on the delicious cuisine from different ethnic groups around the world. It’s only possible because Singapore’s a multicultural city that prides itself on diversity and inclusion for all – our kids are so fortunate to grow up here! Well, if you’ve ever wondered how international schools teach their students about diversity and why they think it’s so important, we talked to several of them to find out why they value diversity so much. Read on below!
With a student body of more than 65 nationalities and a staff body of close to 15 different nationalities, GESS students learn from firsthand experience that there are so many kinds of people, cultures and beliefs in the world. As Ares Tan, Head of Mother Tongue at GESS, shares: “We want to educate our students to become global citizens. To truly succeed in that, we need to have a diverse school environment where students learn to respect and appreciate differences, and understand how to reconcile different world-views with theirs. Diversity is what makes our school a rich and eclectic learning environment. Our students learn to not only be tolerant but accepting of differences, preparing them to be competent future leaders and contributors in the world.”
And, GESS has fun, regular intercultural activities to boot, too. “Our school has annual exchange programmes with the local Singaporean schools,” adds Ares. “We also celebrate local festivals like Deepavali and Chinese New Year to enable our students to understand the local multicultural Singaporean society better. Plus, we celebrate Friendship Day with other international schools and organise events like International Language Day, International Food Festival and more, providing avenues for cultural dialogue between students.” As student Miguel Niziolek says, “I really appreciate the fact that I can go to school and feel like I fit in. GESS has a culturally diverse and accepting community where any student can feel right at home.”
International Community School (ICS)
Over at ICS, the school believes it is vitally important to celebrate the diversity of its community. “The beauty of an international education is that you begin to see the world through the lens of a global citizen rather than from a monocultural perspective,” shares Dr J.P. Rader, Director of ICS. “We believe it is our responsibility to teach our young learners how to live and work in a society where every individual is valued for their uniqueness.” And it does this through a variety of ways. “Our school is staffed with a diverse team of educators who provide environments that are conducive to learning,” says Dr Rader. “For example, we closely examine our teaching material to ensure a wide range of voices in the curriculum. We also celebrate the many cultures that are represented on our campus, and help our students develop a more global perspective on learning. As such, they develop the creativity that comes from listening to, understanding and appreciating different viewpoints.” The school also holds a zero-tolerance bullying policy for behaviour that is hurtful, disrespectful or intolerant of others.
“Lifelong learning is a must for everyone – including our teachers,” adds Dr Rader. “We actively seek out and support ways for our teachers to develop their cultural competencies by fostering and encouraging professional development opportunities.”
Stamford American International School (SAIS)
With more than 75 nationalities represented on campus, and an academic body of more than 30 nationalities, it’s fair to say SAIS has a diverse make-up of both students and staff. Then, of course, there’s the curriculum. “As an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, celebrating diversity is fundamental in our approach,” says Avreeayl Womack, Deputy High School Principal at SAIS. “The IB Program promotes the importance of international-mindedness and intercultural understanding, while emphasising multilingualism and engaging on a global scale.”
The school community also benefits from the opportunity to learn from one another. “We are grateful to have a true appreciation for not only different perspectives, but also rich cultural experiences, exchanges and traditions,” explains Avreeayl. “The school’s rich and diverse cultural environment also urges a robust creative and intellectual exchange and stimulates open minds and viewpoints. Students have an opportunity to connect on a deeper level as they are preparing for global engagement as current and future leaders.
“Additionally, our classroom without walls (Field Studies) provides our students with global opportunities of service within Asia and other parts of the world. The PTA, too, has done a wonderful job of creating diversity and intercultural understanding through numerous annual activities that involve the whole school and in all grades – like organising the International Fiesta annually for our students (pictured above).”
EtonHouse International School
When asked about diversity, EtonHouse is proud to be worldwide to its core – and loves it. “Globalisation is reinventing many cities and households, making them more diverse than in the past,” says Tina Stephenson, Executive Director of Pedagogy at EtonHouse International Education Group. “Our schools have wonderfully diverse groups of families with expatriate children of more than 50 nationalities across all of our EtonHouse campuses, as well as our community of parents, children, teachers and administrators. Then there’s our local population, which has a strong global mindset, too. As such, international-mindedness is something we invest in.”
So how does EtonHouse teach diversity in its classrooms? “EtonHouse has a strong in-house pedagogy team who conduct workshops to help teachers with curriculum and planning,” shares Tina. “Our teachers are also exposed to working with staff and students from different nationalities. Not only that, but the school celebrates different cultural events to promote education and diversity of culture. We love cultural and national celebrations – not just Singapore’s – but also European, North American, Japanese, Chinese and Indian. We also love cooking food from all over the world in our cooking atelier!”
Overseas Family School
It’s easy to see why Overseas Family School (OFS) values the importance of diversity in its school – its students come from more than 70 countries! So, you can bet the school works hard to ensure that this mix of nationalities continues. “OFS students and teachers are constantly learning, often without even realising it, through frequent, natural interaction with people from cultures and languages not their own,” shares Suzanne Bentin, Head of School at OFS. “Without having to teach special classes, students and staff assimilate global perspectives, comprehension and respect. That is why we offer 14 Mother Tongue languages up to Grade 8, and have incorporated Model United Nations into our entire curriculum from Elementary to High School. And, all programmes at OFS are internationally based from Pre-K to Grade 12, from the International Early Years Curriculum up to IB Diploma.”
There are also numerous intercultural activities throughout the year. “Our biggest and most spectacular are the four United Nations (UN) Concerts, where Kindergarten, Elementary, Middle and High School students take part in festivities and food tasting from the cultures represented at our school,” says Suzanne. “A student exchange also takes place each year between some of our Grade 9 students and a local Singapore school, so that the students can be better informed about life and education in our wonderful host country. In addition, our Parent Association organises a Global Picnic each April, which is attended by more than 5,000 people who enjoy food, music, dances and games from around the world.”
Blue House International School
You might be wondering, how do preschools tackle diversity? “Diversity is a continuous approach to working with parents, children, families and colleagues every day,” says Shona Sanosi, Founder and Director of Blue House International School. “We continuously strive for authenticity in our practice, so although we do acknowledge different cultural events at certain points throughout the year, we ensure that each day remains a learning opportunity. We surround ourselves with the right people in the right environment by creating and welcoming a diverse community. In doing so, our children’s learning will be continuous, authentic, immersive and relevant, and not just confined to a period of time as determined by a traditional timetable or curriculum.”
Community is a valuable resource, too. “Having a diverse group continues to challenge stereotyping, whether it be gender roles, religion, ethnicity or ability,” says Shona. Huda Hanapiah, Blue House Pedagogista, adds, “Our emergent curriculum gives children an opportunity to explore their own thoughts, feelings and behaviours toward and about their peers who are similar and different from themselves. For example, we use children’s literature to help children gain and seek perspectives of others.”
Blue House International celebrates cultural festive events like Deepavali, Hari Raya and Hanukkah, and invites parents, grandparents, friends and family to share more about their culture with its community. “This is one of the true pleasures of being part of a diverse community such as Blue House,” adds Shona.