IPC in Singapore

What IPC in the Netherlands can learn from us

Did you know that there is a Dutch school in Singapore that teaches the IPC? Holland International School, in the past the HSL, has long been a household name in the South Asian city-state. We can imagine it being a warm bath of internationalisation in Singapore, but how do you teach children who often only know the tropics about toad migration in the Netherlands? Or about big names like Rembrandt and Van Gogh? We were very curious and spoke to Jolinda Groothedde, IPC coordinator of Holland International School. She shares what they can learn from us and what we can learn from them.

Can you tell us something about your school and your experience with IPC?

We have always been a Dutch school abroad and since this year an international school, offering an English stream in addition to the Dutch stream. We have been working with IPC for about 15 years. Of that, I am now in my seventh year as IPC coordinator. In 2013, we achieved international IPC accreditation at mastery level.

Dutch schools abroad have more and more children of different nationalities these days. Partly for this reason, we are currently linking the English-language IPC curriculum with the Dutch-language one. 

IPC forms the framework within which we offer the Dutch and English curriculum. In the English-language, international stream, Dutch also remains represented as an additional language, just as English is offered daily to pupils in the Dutch stream.

How diverse are the cultures in Singapore and at school?

You have five basic cultures in Singapore itself. These are Chinese from China, indigenous Chinese, Hindus, Europeans, Malaysians. They live alongside and with each other here. That is also Singapore's vision and we as a school are happy to adopt that.

For instance, for every International Holiday in Singapore, you have one day off. So with Christmas, you only have Christmas Day off. With the Sugar Festival, you have one day off. With Chinese New Year, you have the day off. This mix of cultures makes it easier to put internationalisation on the map and pay attention to it. As a school, we do this mainly in an assembly and by dressing up the school with displays around the various international holidays.

The children at school also come from many different cultural backgrounds. For instance, there are many mixed families and English is taught by teachers who come from English-speaking areas around the world.

How much English do children in the Dutch stream currently receive?

In the lower and middle grades, three quarters of an hour a day and in the upper grades one hour. Our pupils are all fluent in English, both speaking, reading and writing. Music lessons are also taught by an English teacher.

In Singapore, you are required by law to employ a certain percentage of Singaporeans. We, like other schools in Singapore, have a so-called 'preschool', formerly 'Jip and Janneke'. There, for instance, we have two teachers, one Dutch and one Singaporean. They talk to the children in two languages, Dutch and English.

Do you also work with IEYC at the playgroup?

Yes, here we work with the English version, so that the teacher from Singapore can also use it. The other day, the theme was 'Dinosaurs'. The children became dino detectives and went looking for dino eggs. Unconsciously, they then work on their development and learn the structure of learning from IEYC and IPC.

The children came into the classroom with the starting point and saw to their surprise that there were very large dinosaur footprints in the classroom. How big was that footprint? Which dino could that belong to? Where the classroom first had only footprints, we ended the theme with a classroom full of dinosaur resources. The children went home with a dino mask and a tied-up dino cake.

The moment those children start IPC, they immediately recognise the way of learning. Of course, the learning is a bit less playful with older children, but the starting and finishing points remain a treat. We now have cupboards full of resources from all those years. These can be very simple inflatable beach balls, but also big Chinese masks for the New Year celebrations.

We think the rich learning environment is very important, especially that it is created together with the children. That's how it becomes meaningful. We are now working on the theme 'Paintings, pictures and images'. You can see children getting more enthusiastic and excited. "Hey look, our classroom is becoming more and more like a museum." Or, "Wow look, I mixed a new colour again!" That enthusiasm is really quite contagious. You love that as a teacher anyway. 

Going further into that, what do you think is the added value of IPC for children?

You always have one topic that you look at from different angles. Children make connections very easily. If you take the unit 'Netherlands Waterland', for example, you look at it in different ways.

In history, you learn about the battle against water and the construction of dykes. In nature, you find out what materials stop water. How does that work? The pupils link all that together and eventually arrive at the Delta Works.

We also have children who have never lived in the Netherlands. They don't know what the Delta Works are. Almost all the concepts in the IPC unit 'Netherlands Waterland' are completely new to them. At the same time, children from the Netherlands also come to school here. They lived around the corner from the Delta Works, so to speak. They already know all about it. The great thing about IPC is that you can effortlessly work with all these levels simultaneously.

You can then challenge a child from the Netherlands who has already mastered most of the learning objectives with questions like: "Would such a dyke work here in Asia too? There are constant floods here in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand." The child can work on this and do his/her own research using the enquiry circle. This way, he/she works on the goal at his/her own level. Thus, there are always opportunities to challenge children further.

You also keep all children focused. If you work with methods per subject, it is much harder to make the connections. With IPC, pupils even start to see connections between the themes. Then, for example, they spontaneously link a timeline from one theme to a timeline we made earlier. "Hey, wait, but that was also at the time the aeroplane was invented!"

How do you retain IPC knowledge in school, in the face of staff turnover?

That is definitely a big challenge. We take out the Bottom Line Nine* once every few years. Then we look at the level in school at that time and pay attention to the basics of the curriculum.

As teachers, we naturally also learn from and with each other. When a teacher is new here at school, he or she is also given time to get used to it. Getting used to it is necessary anyway if you are not used to the weather and climate here in Singapore. We pair someone like that with an experienced IPC teacher.

Of course, every IPC school has its own background and vision. We have the same at the Holland International School. That is also something you discover as a new teacher. We have formulated our vision in focal points and that is the core of what you do as a teacher. I think your IPC also stands or falls with that.

For instance, we have linked the eight personal goals to the school rules. So these come back daily. They hang on the walls. We mention it on social media, in newsletters and address it during the conclusion of an IPC theme.

21st Century skills are very important to us. Many children will later go to big international schools. They need to know how to work with certain materials. ICT skills are obviously relevant. Doing research is an important skill at our school. You really don't need to know where all the countries are, as long as you know how to look them up. 

Drawing up a research question, formulating a hypothesis and drawing a conclusion is done by applying the research circle. We mainly carry out these assignments in the makerspace. We also regularly use the technique-design circle to learn and experience how to design something. We think it is important to offer both in connection with progression to international (secondary) education where this is widely used.

We familiarise children with our school's focus goals from an early age and display them extensively on our report card. For new staff, whether they have IPC experience or not, we take them through the school's vision and show them how we teach from the focus goals. These are guiding our IPC teaching precisely because there is a lot of turnover.

* The Bottom Line Nine is the theoretical foundation for learning and working with IPC.

Can you perhaps explain what 'Dutchness' is for you?

It's not a term we necessarily call it, but as a Dutch school abroad, you have an extra challenge, something schools in the Netherlands don't have. In the Netherlands, for example, you have street names of famous Dutch painters. Children go to the museum and then see the works of famous Dutch painters. Here, we have to do more to explain who Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Vermeer are.

In preschool, for instance, we work with the theme 'Animal mess', which involves all kinds of farm animals. This is not at all in the perception of children in Singapore. There are no farms here like in the Netherlands. At the same time, pupils do know what kinds of monkeys there are and which snakes are dangerous.

Then once a child visits relatives in the Netherlands, they return in amazement: "There really are cows in the Netherlands. I've really seen them, teacher." Or: "Do you know that the leaves on the trees in the Netherlands really do turn colour?" It is always 35 degrees here, so they don't know the seasons.

My daughter saw snow for the first time when she was with grandparents in the Netherlands. She said, "Wow, this was what the teacher told me and now I have to wear a scarf." Or that she was cold in the house in the Netherlands and wanted grandma to turn down the air conditioning. I had to explain to her that the heating should instead be higher.

So that is that bit of 'Dutchness' that we really need to teach the children. We also watch the Jeugdjournaal together every day so that the pupils pick up important concepts and current affairs in the Netherlands.

Many things are different here than in the Netherlands, such as monkeys stealing the Sinterklaas garlands or taking the cleaner's things. That is very normal for the children here, but for a Dutch child it would be very strange. There, you only see monkeys in the Zoo from a distance.

Do you have an example of an IPC theme that is very different in Singapore?

In the IPC unit Chocolate, we could just plant and grow a cocoa bean outside, because the climate here is perfect for it. The children then keep an eye on how much water needs to be added. With examples like that, it is actually very easy for us to connect with children's perceptions.

How do you approach Dutch history education and its knowledge targets in Singapore?

We keep the history canon of the Netherlands handy. You actually see those knowledge targets recurring all the time in IPC, both in milepost 1, 2 and 3.* That's why I always tell teachers, "You don't have to worry about missing knowledge." The VOC, for example, recurs in several themes in various groups. It also comes up on the Youth News from time to time. And it also comes up when you grab a pack of coffee in class and talk about it a bit more.

I think it is often a fear of teachers in general that they miss a knowledge target. It's hard to let it go, but children remember a lot more than you think. As long as they come into contact with it often enough and have the opportunity to make connections.

For example, we have all the time subjects visible on the walls at school. We sometimes link back to previous years. Do group 5 pupils still remember what happened in prehistoric times? If some don't remember and others do, they learn from each other again. There is enough base and they score fine on the final test.

*IPC works with mileposts. A milepost covers 2 groups. Milepost 1 is groups 3 and 4, and so on.