It’s musical chairs for international schools

It’s musical chairs for international schools

 

WHEN the Canadian International School announced that it had secured a site in Jurong to house students from three of its campuses, a silent cheer went up from some other international schools.

They immediately began strategising expansion plans, including the possibility of taking over those campuses at Toh Tuck, Bukit Tinggi Road and Kampong Bahru.

 

This ongoing game of musical chairs has been played among international schools in recent years.

 

Since the spike in the expatriate population in Singapore from 798,000 in 2005 to 875,500 in 2006, popular international schools have been running at full capacity and watching waiting lists lengthen as they seek ways to expand.

 

‘When you’re bursting at the seams, you want to quickly find another campus so that you can clear the waiting list and give the students a place to study,’ said one principal.

 

Many of the campuses occupy leased sites belonging to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) or to private owners.

 

The Canadian school’s Bukit Tinggi campus, with about 500 students, received at least three enquiries in the past year from other expatriate schools and private firms wanting to start schools.

 

The same went for its Toh Tuck campus, which has 900 students and is leased from the SLA.

 

While the campus may only be vacant from 2010, others see no harm in putting their bid down for it.

 

‘It’s important to be watchful for opportunities and get your name into the game quickly. Location is of course paramount, you don’t want to have your campuses all over the place,’ said Mr Glenn Odland, principal of the Canadian school, whose newest campus opened in Tanjong Katong last year.

 

A tad too late in making enquiries was its neighbour at Bukit Tinggi Road, the German European School.

 

It would have been the perfect solution for the 30-year-old school, which was looking for a second campus to house its primary level children, said principal Gunter Boos, with a tinge of regret.

 

With a total enrolment of 1,075, it is over the capacity of 800 that its lush, green campus off Bukit Timah was built to take.

 

It has also had to keep 65, mostly primary-level pupils, on its waiting list for the past six months.

 

It may have found a solution though, in a disused school campus at Jalan Jurong Kechil, a 10-minute drive away, and will move its primary school – both German and English sections – there next month.

 

Its secondary and kindergarten sections will remain at the current site, which will allow them room to expand.

 

With a total capacity of 600 at the new school, there will be some space for growth when the current 450 pupils start lessons there.

 

This interim solution will remove its waiting list for the next three years but the principal is still on the lookout for a site nearer the existing campus.

 

Another growing international school, the United World College, has already announced plans for a second campus in Tampines to accommodate 2,500 students in 2010. Others are thinking up innovative ways to create more room in their existing schools.

 

It has been almost two years now that the German European School has been running over capacity, so it has borrowed six classrooms, an auditorium and carpark lots from another neighbour, the Institution of Engineers.

 

Given its modest cafeteria, the students’ lunch breaks are staggered into three slots to make sure that everyone has a seat for meals.

 

At the Canadian school, timetables are designed to ensure that classrooms are rarely empty. Teachers and students move around for lessons to make the best use of any free classroom.

 

Personal computers have been replaced by laptops which are put on trolleys for use in any classroom. This has proved so successful that there are now six ‘mobile computer labs’.

 

The French School, Lycee Francais de Singapour, on the other hand, has already increased its enrolment by 60 per cent over the last four years to its current 1,390 students.

 

To create 26 additional classrooms, it will demolish and rebuild its kindergarten block. The new block will

 

allow the school to take in 2,000 students in 2011.

 

In the interim, the kindergarten and part of the primary school will move to temporary premises.

 

Not many schools are like the Tanglin Trust School at Portsdown Road or the Australian International School at Lorong Chuan, both of which have enough space to expand on site.

 

The Tanglin Trust, with an enrolment of 2,250, wants to expand its senior school, with the total intake expected to hit just below 3,000 in the next five years.

 

The school has just built an additional floor onto its existing senior school to house eight new classrooms and is adding another building to house more senior school facilities that will be ready next year.

 

The Australian school, meanwhile, is furnishing its new $45 million junior school campus, built next to its existing campus in Lorong Chuan.

 

It will welcome about 800 pupils in July.

 

Source: Straits Times

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