International education with intentionality: The Australian International School, Singapore

From its roof-top tennis courts to its innovation labs, Singapore’s Australian International School has built its success on purpose: to create well-rounded individuals.

Singapore is an undisputed international centre of excellence in education. The city state is number one in the world in the OECD’s global education Programme for International Student Assessment - PISA - rankings for reading, maths and science skills.To add to this achievement, performance by Singapore’s 15-year-olds on their ability to understand and act on intercultural and global issues saw them also take the top spot in the OECD’s PISA Global Competence Test.This combination of cultural awareness and academic achievement is a hallmark of education on the island. Among the schools delivering this important blend is the Australian International School (AIS).

Secrets to success in education in Singapore

One of Singapore’s most prestigious and well-established international education establishments, the Australian International School has been nurturing the next generation for the past 25 years.Infants from as young as two months can join their siblings from nursery on a seamless education journey through the primary, elementary and secondary schools from one self-contained campus in the heart of Singapore.This truly international education begins with the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IB PYP) from Preschool to Year 5, Australian Curriculum for Years 6 to 8, Cambridge IGCSE in Years 9 and 10, and the Higher School Certificate (HSC) or International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IB DP) for Years 11 and 12. Every year, students go on to secure admission to some of the world’s best-regarded universities, including Oxford and Stanford.“I often reflect on what is the essence of what enables us to be the best that we can be,” says Head of School, Andre Casson. “I really boiled it down to three things. First, it’s the people in the school. We pride ourselves on recruiting the very best people, be they operational staff or academic staff, who allow us to support the educational journey of our students.“When we get them to the school, we induct them into our culture of what we are as a school and what we aspire to be. We then provide them with good training, which is structured to allow them to be the success they want to be.”
AIS education results

Intentionality in international education

“The second thing I’m proud of is our tradition,” continues Andre Casson. “We are a school that does have a strong tradition here in Singapore. We know who we are, we are comfortable with who we are and proud of who we are.“We have positive academic results, which come from our strong tradition in our quest of allowing every child to be the best version of themselves. That is supported by a pastoral programme based on the tenets of a positive education. The students’ wellbeing, and more significantly their academic wellbeing, allows them to succeed in the classroom.“The third thing is when we go about trying to achieve anything there is intentionality,” continues Andre Casson. “We carefully sit down, work out our strategic goals and work collaboratively with our staff, students and parents to make sure we are meeting their needs. Then we put appropriate structures in place that support our ambitions.” 

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Choosing an international school – a child-centred approach

For internationally mobile families, school choice is also a vital part of the relocation jigsaw puzzle and a major factor in the assignment lifecycle. School selection informs accommodation choice and is fundamental to making a smooth transition for every family member.“Our children are gifts to our lives and we want to make sure they succeed,” says Andre Casson. “Education is an important part of that journey. When you are looking at a school, parents need to ask, ‘is that school going to meet my child’s needs?’“Does it have a track record of success? Are there opportunities to undertake a variety of activities rather than be pigeon-holed into one? Do the facilities match and meet what the school is trying to achieve? How will a school meet their child’s educational needs no matter what their child’s needs are? These are things people should consider when choosing an international school.“Every aspect of a child’s personality and every aspect of a child’s education is central to what we do here at AIS. A well-rounded student is someone who is going to have so much more success.”AIS students in face masks Students at AIS Singapore

Bringing out the best

Success comes in many forms, not just academic. It is inevitable at international schools like AIS – especially in Singapore where its dynamic economy and favourable geography combine to attract businesses and internationally mobile families from all over the world – that the average length of study for students is about 4.5 years.Building friendships with children from other backgrounds and cultures and developing global awareness is one of the many special aspects of an international education – particularly again in Singapore, given its top-OECD ranking on these measures.The ability to move and settle into new schools and communities builds cultural intelligence, confidence and resilience. These are significant learning achievements, especially when it comes to supporting the development of well-rounded individuals.“It’s about embracing opportunities and making a success of your opportunities here,” says Andre Casson, who is in his ninth year as Head of School at the Australian International School.  “It is my greatest lament and my greatest excitement all at once that we have these students for this length of time.“My greatest lament is that we don’t always get to see them grow and become young men and women. It is also my greatest excitement. Because of the transient nature of international education, we are blessed that there is an opportunity for new people to bring their skills and talents into AIS. They enhance the experiences we all have while they are here.”
AIS Singapore students playing violin

Taking transitions seriously

To ensure these transitions are made as seamlessly as possible, and the full benefits of an international education are secured, AIS has an expert admissions team.“The wonderful people who work in our admissions team are not only experts on AIS, but experts in transitioning into and out of life here in Singapore as well,” says Andre Casson. “Our admissions team tend to be the first point of contact for questions like ‘can I get Vegemite in Singapore?’”During the Covid-19 pandemic, the admissions team have continued their important work capturing what makes AIS special and supporting families settle into life in Singapore. “The one thing I say about our school is when you are here, you know what the culture is about,’ says Andre Casson. “It’s palpable. Where we are in the world, how we embrace each other and the way teachers and parents interact – that’s really hard to capture in a virtual forum.“But our admissions team have been really innovative about getting around the school and capturing those moments of brilliance. We’ve engaged with our teaching staff who are amongst the most talented and passionate educators I’ve worked with in my years in Asia. They are sharing their stories.“People can get online and see what is happening around the school. Parents new to the school may want to extend that a little and have those virtual one-on-one conversations where we can unpack and address specific issues for your son or your daughter.”
AIS Singapore students in a classroom
Once in school, AIS has also set up a network of communities so parents can “find their tribe” and connect with people who can empathise with what might be uniquely challenging aspects of an international move. Children joining AIS are also paired with a carefully chosen buddy who shares similar interests or backgrounds.“It’s one of the first things we do and our students love it,” says Andre Casson. “I can remember being the new kid on the block and the anxieties that come with that. Buddies can empathise and know what someone new joining the school needs to know.”

Multilingualism at AIS and future focus

Another important aspect of the transition programme – especially as an inclusive global community of learners that embraces diversity – is how AIS takes languages and multilingualism very seriously throughout the school and from an early age.All students from Preschool to Year 5 study Mandarin daily. Students in Year 6 and Year 10 can choose to continue studying Mandarin or have the option of studying French or Indonesian as an alternative. Students’ other primary languages are also well supported, with a Mother Tongue Coordinator (MTC) assisting students in their development.These and other aspects of the AIS international curriculum, with flexible pathways for the Australian HSC and IB DP, as well as IGCSE and IB PYP, have continued online throughout the pandemic. With students now back in school, learnings from the period of home-based learning are being integrated into post-pandemic school life.“What we have learnt from home-based learning is that the world is opening up,” says Andre Casson. “We still have students who are back in their home country or in quarantine, so we have established robust and really significant online learning platforms so students can access their education and we can get them back to campus as quickly as we can.“There are also opportunities, like having a graduation ceremony beamed throughout the world. Parents and grandparents used to be able to see students graduating Year 12. We can now beam that to a wider audience. These are new initiatives we won’t change.“Parent-teacher interviews online are also something we won’t change,” continues Andre Casson. “No matter where a parent is around the world, they can be engaged with their children’s learning. That’s something really important to us.“When we engage with their parents, when we engage with our students and when we engage with our teachers, we get much better outcomes.”
The Australian International School, Singapore, contact details

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