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!
One World International School
Did you know that One World International School (OWIS) is the Gold Winner for Diversity and Inclusive Community Award in our 2021 Singapore Education Awards? Naturally, you can expect this to be a school that embraces diversity and imparts this value on its students.
“We strongly believe that grasping the importance of diversity is paramount for children in our interconnected world. It’s not merely about recognising ‘others’, but also understanding our shared global tapestry. Embracing diversity allows children to see both communal values and unique differences. It’s about valuing each perspective, understanding that individual views can be enriched by experiences and beliefs of others,” explained James Sweeney, Head of School at OWIS Nanyang and Suntec.
Diversity at OWIS is not just lived, but taught. Students learn about each other’s cultures through the international curricula, conversations with their classmates, and the school’s vibrant events. International Day at OWIS is a marquee event, with students participating in a grand flag parade, as well as a lavish food festival helmed by parent volunteers and the OWIS Parent Committee.
Australian International School
Global Festival is an annual event that the whole community at Australian International School (AIS) looks forward to. Being a school with over 50 nationalities, students, teachers, and staff are always amazed by the diversity of cultures and experiences represented within the school.
“Our annual Global Festival is a testament to our commitment to nurturing a culturally diverse and inclusive community. It’s a celebration of our student’s unique identities, fostering an environment where everyone feels valued and respected,” Adam Patterson, Principal of AIS said.
The AIS community is encouraged to come dressed in attire that best symbolises their deep and authentic connection to various cultures. Music and dance take centre stage, as students use it as a conduit to showcase rhythm and dance routines from all corners of the world.
Another highlight of the Global Festival is the Cultural Feast. AIS parents and parent volunteers collaborate to create an incredible culinary experience. Students and faculty have the opportunity to indulge in local delicacies from around the world, from Australia to Japan, Korea, and more! Overall, the Global Festival is a wonderful opportunity for the school community to learn from on another and celebrate the rich tapestry that make up the AIS family.
Tanglin Trust School
Diversity is at the heart of Tanglin Trust School, and it’s been recognised for it too. In 2023 Tanglin was reaccredited Gold for continuing to meet the UNICEF Rights Respecting School Award (RRSA) standard. The UNICEF RRSA is a moral framework that empowers children to be responsible, global citizens. Tanglin is also the first school outside of the United Kingdom with this achievement.
On top of having more than 55 nationalities represented in its 2,800-strong student body, diversity is instilled in Tanglin’s curriculum. Rights are explicitly linked to all areas of school life and are visibly displayed around the campus. For example, its colourful Junior School playground is themed around the UN’s Children’s Rights Charter.
Being accredited with a RRSA Gold Award for the second time means that the Tanglin community has continuously demonstrated awareness and commitment to upholding children’s rights. Tanglin’s students have shown that they have deep awareness of rights; and its staff are also committed to embedding rights across the curriculum.
Tanglin’s efforts have earned the approval of its parent community as well. One parent shared that their child is “more aware of the wider world and has passionate conversations with family and friends about how all children should know their rights”.
Stamford American International School
Teachers at Stamford American International School build welcoming classroom communities to celebrate student voices and honour the diverse traditions of the larger school community. 75 nationalities are represented at the school, making Stamford a great place for students to learn about diversity every day. It’s also an IB World School that’s designed to help students cultivate a deeper sense of international mindedness. Most importantly, it also ensures each student feels a sense of belonging in the school community. Tom Marshall, the school’s Executive Director of Teaching & Learning shared, “Stamford seeks to make learning personal for each student in our community. By creating classroom communities in which students are encouraged to be themselves, we create the conditions which encourage curiosity and deep, meaningful academic challenge.”
Students learn about diverse cultures and perspectives within the curriculum. This starts with a focus on family and community in Early Years; rights and responsibilities as a member of the global community in Elementary and Middle School; to academic research in a broader global context in High School. Cultural celebrations and storytelling are also observed in Stamford, allowing students to find their voice to share their own perspectives. There are opportunities for students to learn beyond the school gates as well. Stamford students participate in week-long Academic Field Studies to destinations like Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam to see how people from diverse communities collaborate to address economic, social, and environmental needs.
Nexus International School (Singapore)
Nexus International School (Singapore) has a truly diverse school community. Approximately 60 nationalities are represented, with no single one exceeding 15% of the student body. Nexus’ classrooms also feature a rich blend of up to 14 nationalities. This creates an enriching learning environment where students can immerse themselves in various world cultures and languages.
The school integrates diversity and inclusion into the neutral International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum it follows as well. Learners are encouraged to share their unique cultures and celebrate diversity through school events. For example, the Nexus Community Group (NCG) hosted a series of workshops for learners to explore different cultures at the Year 3 Cultural Fair.
Diversity is celebrated beyond the Nexus student body too. NCG hosts foreign language lessons and events where parents and guardians share aspects of their culture. It also runs an annual International Fair to showcase food, languages, and traditions of the countries that make up the Nexus community.
GESS – International School
With a student body of more than 65 nationalities and a staff body of close to 15 different nationalities, GESS – International School’s 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 (Singapore)
Over at International Community School (Singapore), 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 (Singapore). “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.”
EtonHouse International School & Pre-School
When asked about diversity, EtonHouse International School and Pre-School 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
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. “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.