The Singapore students spent five weeks on Wheelock’s Boston campus for a Summer Immersion Program, during which they became active members of the Wheelock Community by interacting with Wheelock students, enrolling in three classes, conducting site visits to educational environments, and exploring Boston’s museums and other attractions.
“What we’re doing is building on what we did in Singapore,” said Saida Omar, who plans to use her bachelor’s degree to teach toddlers in an Australian or Canadian international school in Singapore. “We’re learning a lot about communication and observation and we get to observe the American [approach] of communication and collaboration.”
Deborah Ng said the immersion program gave her a chance to learn directly from Wheelock professors who are early childhood education veterans. “They have a lot of experience and are really good in the field,” she said. “Coming to Boston really helps us relate what we have been learning in Singapore. It’s really a good opportunity to be able to link what we are learning in Singapore with real practices.”
Ng said she was most inspired by the students’ visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, where they saw the exhibit “Fresh Eyes,” a collaboration between artist Hannah Burr and a group of afterschool students. “The Fresh Eyes collaboration at the MFA uses art as a medium to learn,” she said. “It is something I would never have envisioned being done in Singapore.”
Singapore student Fathiah Osman said the “Fresh Eyes” exhibit and the visits to American early childhood centers tied directly to lectures from Whee
lock professors like recently retired Wheelock Family Theatre Founder Susan Kosoff about using theater techniques to engage young children. “It was interesting to see stagecraft used in childcare centers,” she said. “They really do use a project-based approach. We are inspired by that. Early childhood education in Singapore is quite different. Singapore says its centers are project-based, but the main focus is really academics.”
Ng said she hopes to eventually run a preschool in a third-world country. But she said the Wheelock program helped her realize that she needs to gain some teaching experience in Singapore first. “I would like to do mission work and teach English because the only way you can escape poverty is through education,” she said. “I now know that I need to understand the foundation and know how to run a preschool itself before I can just go into a different culture, a different context, and make a difference.
Other highlights of the immersion program included trips to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Harvard Square, the Boston Children’s Museum, the Eric Carle Museum, the July 4th fireworks on the Esplanade, and a field trip to the Blue Hills for the Field Studies in Environmental Studies class.
In its ongoing mission to improve the lives of children and families globally, Wheelock College launched the joint degree program with Ngee Ann Polytechnic and SEED Institute to offer a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Educational Studies and Leadership in 2007. It was the first Singapore program linking a Foreign Specialized Institution with a Singapore polytechnic to offer a baccalaureate degree in a “niche” field. As of June 2012, Wheelock has graduated 305 students from this program, part of a total of more than 2,600 students who have graduated from Wheelock College programs in Singapore. The highly successful full-time degree program will continue on the campus of Ngee Ann Polytechnic under a new ten-year agreement to offer the Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education with the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT).
All three students said the Singapore government has been investing in the childcare sector and working to expand the number of highly qualified teachers through a variety of programs, including the Wheelock partnership. Omar said Wheelock’s international perspective is a welcome addition to the Singapore education system. “I’ve found that Wheelock faculty bring an international perspective to the Singapore program, not only from America and Singapore, but from a lot of countries, including some in Africa,” she said.
Relationships built in the early years of Wheelock College’s presence in Singapore have led to a deep understanding of the social, political, and cultural factors that influence the design of early education in diverse settings. The rapid and continuous expansion of the need for high-quality child care centers has afforded Wheelock the opportunity to design and deliver innovative programs to meet the changing needs for professional development in the early childhood field in Singapore and in other parts of the world, as well as to infuse its locally offered programs with rich international perspectives – all a part of the Wheelock commitment to internationalization.