Thoughts on Overseas Learning Journeys of Singapore schools

At Google, Nov 2006
At Google, Nov 2006

To become a better education consultant, I decided to expand my horizon beyond top schools, beyond ICT and to take on different roles in helping schools – to do some sort of community service in terms of helping to lead trips out of Singapore during the peak travel periods of Nov/Dec. It started some time ago when I designed the Silicon Valley trip for Nanyang Girls’ High School, supported by IDA Singapore.(Mar, Nov 2001) I guess I must have done a decent job for the itinerary as I understand from the education travel agency that subsequently every Principal who joined NYGH went on the Silicon Valley trip 🙂 When I left the school, my “expertise” was sought by STA Travel to help them lead groups going there. Thereafter, I became good friends with these travel consultants, who were once my vendors. From a vendor-client relationship, it went onto become partners for education. Almost 4 years down the road since I started OURF(2008-present), I have helped to lead 2 Silicon Valley trips(2008, 2009) 1 trip to Perth for CHIJ-OLOP, a primary school netball group (2010), 1 trip to Hong Kong for Ai Tong Primary’s school choir exchange (2011) and 1 trip to Barcelona for St Joseph’s Convent – a secondary school arts tour (2011).

It has been an interesting journey as I never thought of myself as a tour leader, much less expected myself to go to Silicon Valley 5x!

In Suzhou, house visit
In Suzhou, house visit

When I was in NYGH, I have led a trip for the inaugural batch of bicultural scholars for immersion in Suzhou and Wenzhou(2005)

Here are my thoughts after leading these trips:

a) In doing overseas learning journeys for students in schools, what is the optimum age?

I have seen how the teachers are stressed out when they have to bring very young children overseas. The fact that they have to be accountable for every child’s safety and learning weighs heavily on every responsible teacher!!

My personal experience in leading the bicultural scholars at Suzhou was to visit every single home which my students stayed in (yes in winter with the local school teachers, which was a very dedicated team) to see that the girls are safe and post the pix up onto the blog (at that time, only travelblog was available – no facebook etc) This was not “required” by my school then, but it was my small way to assure the parents that the girls are well taken care of.

The same happened when I was at Silicon Valley in 2006. I posted almost daily updates to help parents keep in touch for I believe a pix says a thousand words. This small action actually helped and I have really nice parents who came up to thank me as they have seen me on the pix:)

When I was with Ai Tong Pri this year for their choir exchange, the 4 teachers, being very responsible were seen counting the students at every place we went. The group comprises of very young students – from 8 years old to 12+. Similarly, CHIJ-OLOP had a parent helping out with the group which also comprised young participants – P3 onwards.

It is heartening to see such overseas learning journeys conducted for primary school students, but really is 8 or P3 too young for such trips? What are the gains? How can the school engage the parents? Is the Ai Tong way better or the CHIJ-OLOP way or…?? One school has the parent come on board the trip and helped looked after the group, another was not keen to have parents on board and went as far as not telling them where the hotel location is until the last few days.

For Ai Tong, there were several parents who went on the trip on their own expense though the parents were not told of the hotel arrangements until a few days before the trip. Is this a wise decison by the school? Can more be done to engage the parents?

I was fortunate to be able to play the role of tour leader and help lead the trip my niece was on (Ai Tong choir). But my sis-in-law and brother were not able to know of the hotel arrangements until a few days before the trip. Is this move helpful to the growth and education of the child to be more independent?

For the school trip which I led for St Joseph’s Convent, the students were on an art trip. The itinerary included many sketching sessions, at the art museums, at the artists hometown and at beautiful places like Park Güell.

SAC Students sketching at Park Güell
SJC Students sketching at Park_Güell

The students immersion were total and I can see them enjoying the beauty of the pieces, being enthused and enticed to work and improve on their art much so that I also got caught up in the beauty of the place and started sketching🙂

The art teachers, especially the lead teacher, Iris were also happy to share with me some interesting points about art education, renaissance city and I was presented with my first sketch book by Amanda, the young art teacher accompanying the Barcelona trip.

As schools increasingly plan overseas learning journeys, perhaps some questions we need to ask ourselves are:

a) What is the optimum age for these students when they go overseas for learning trips?

b) How should the school partner the stakeholders? parents, education travel agencies?

c) What is the primary role of the education travel agency? To provide a good itinerary? To source for good partner schools or should this be the role of the teachers and the schools? Should a travel agency be the one to do the worksheets or the school teachers? And then again, should learning journeys have worksheets? Are worksheets really effective?

d) Can we learn if we have no worksheets?

e) What are the roles of the teachers when they travel overseas with the students?

f) What are the real gains for the students? the teachers?

As we grapple with 21st Century learning and competencies, the school boundaries become blurred. More and more are heaped on schools and learning. Can we do more with less?

These are not easy questions but overseas learning journeys are here to stay. Rather than bury our heads and pretend problems do not exist, how can we proceed bravely on, bearing in mind the increasing workload of principals, teachers and students in Singapore schools 🙂

SAC students sketching at Picasso Museum
SJC students sketching at Picasso Museum

Useful links: 

Ai Tong Primary School

St Joseph’s Convent

Nanyang Girls’ High School 

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