By: Katie Roberts
Looking for an international school in Singapore with a bilingual Chinese language programme? Formerly known as the Chinese International School, Hillside World Academy (HWA) might have a new name and a new location, but it is intent on maintaining an unwavering commitment to language studies. Opened in 2006 as the Chinese International School, with links to a sister school in Beijing, in August the campus moved from Dunearn Road to a quieter location in Serangoon. The move was also an impetus to rebrand – as Hillside World Academy – and, in effect, become a brand new entity.
“We’ve really created a new school out of an old one. It’s the same mission and vision, but it’s effectively a new beginning,’ says Stephen Keegan, Principal of HWA. “We offer an alternative: a bilingual Chinese language programme, the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, and an inclusive community that we feel makes us more than just a school,”
A seasoned educator, Stephen has lived in Singapore for eight years, after moving here from Fiji to work with the International Baccalaureate organisation. An Australian, he has roamed far and wide with his family, living and working in nine locations, including Hong Kong, Switzerland, Japan and Argentina. Having been at the helm of HWA for two years, he believes that the school offers the best bilingual programme in town. “Our research continues to inform us that it is pretty hard to beat,” he says.
Stephen’s passion for language is obvious. “Learning a language and a culture opens doors for kids, and the difference between studying a language and not doing so can mean the world. It really doesn’t matter if it’s Chinese, Spanish or something else, learning another language develops your mind; it has a flow-on effect in many ways.”
“Our students become fluent in Chinese. I don’t think there is a programme that matches it. We are a two-language school from Nursery to Grade 12. From Kindergarten we are bilingual, and in Primary we have dual-language instruction in every class. In Middle and High School there’s a transition to English instruction, but every student studies either Chinese as a second language or their mother tongue. Last year, every student in the school except for two studied Chinese.”
Stephen has a teaching background – after language, another of his passions is mathematics – and he spends time in every class, at the invitation of the teachers. “I go in as an observer,” he says. “I participate, note the bilingual balance and get a sense of how the children are connecting with the Primary Years Program, the relevant stream of the IB.” Not only does he enjoy it, but the kids get a kick out of it too. This interaction and attention is only possible in schools with small classes –those with favourably low student-teacher ratios and the personal attention that goes with it.
According to Stephen, the teachers and students are enjoying the new campus, which has had an extensive refurbishment. He is particularly pleased with the new opportunities for connection between the older and younger students. “Having a common courtyard and outdoor areas allows the kids to mix well,” he says. “I can encourage the older students with their strong Chinese language skills to connect with the younger ones, and they mutually benefit from a Chinese-English linguistic relationship. It’s truly a global courtyard!”
Watch the vid’ below to see happy HWA students flashing some serious Chinese language skills!
Hillside World Academy is at 11 Hillside Drive. For more information, call 6254 0500 or visit hwa.edu.sg.