Norwegian Cultural Center in Singapore, with a new online school
Norwegian language school for children, ‘Norskskolen’, Singapore has been given a new lease of life with the creation of the brand new Norwegian Cultural Center. But there is more than just learning Norwegian. Its founder and education and Singaporean enthusiast, Mr. Jon Vikan, explains this breath of fresh air for the northern community of Lion City.
Coincidences can often have a decisive impact on the way things go. This happened not just once but twice for a newly arrived Norwegian family who moved to Singapore. And consequently the Norwegian Cultural Center in Singapore was born, with a new Norwegian language school operational in Singapore since early 2021.
First, Jon Vikan, his wife Olga and their two children, who had decided to move to Singapore and make it their Asian base, found themselves with their initial plan severely disrupted. They had already been to Singapore for their honeymoon in 2011.
âMy wife and I have always wanted to return to Singapore and South East Asia. We fell in love with the place and tried several times but it was difficult to find a job etc. â
But now their time had come, because Jon had liquidated his Norwegian real estate business, his capital company and sold all the assets. A huge senior housing project in partnership with a large French investor – with a lot of effort trying but failing to make it happen – had been the last big business engagement in Norway.
âIt takes a lot of effort to start something new and we had sold the last real estate investment in Norway. “Let’s also sell our primary residence, our car, our stuff and pack our bags and go to Singapore and see what happens!” They had thought. This is what they did and left for Singapore with their two children; then 4 and 5 respectively.
âWe decided to give it a try and go back to Singapore and use it as a hub for traveling to South East Asia. We had many countries that we wanted to visit, âsays Jon.
But no sooner had they set foot in Singapore than the country went into lockdown due to Covid-19 – along with all the countries they had planned to visit in Asia. Now they were stranded in Singapore on tourist visas. It required a change of plans if they were to stay there.
âWe really appreciate Singapore and all it has to offer – and we still do because everything is still quite new here for us. But since we had arrived on tourist visas, we only had 90 days and had to apply for extensions – each time with great uncertainty whether Singapore would approve it or not. So we thought it would be better to find something more permanent.
Second, Jon learned that the old Norwegian mother tongue learning school (operational since 1983) was closing. It would also influence things to take a different turn for his family than they had planned.
âI thought the school shutdown was very sad because I really wanted this tradition to continue and of course to enroll my own children. So I volunteered to consider pursuing him, along with a former teacher from the school.
This resulted in the creation of a business limited to operating the school, explains Jon. âBut I also realized that between Norway and Singapore the trade has been very strong, but when it comes to culture, music and artistic exchange, it has been almost negligible. That’s why I decided to call it Norwegian Cultural Center to cover a much broader program than the language course for children and to include other cultural exchanges between the two countries.
Jon teamed up with the wife of Innovation Norway director Ms. Sigrid Maria Inderberg who had the same thoughts for a few years and who in turn brought in a few other enthusiasts.
âIn January 2021, we moved to Mission of Norwegian sailors in Singapore. Previously, it had taken place in an international school. A survey we carried out in the Norwegian community showed that they prefer to have school on weekends and preferably at church, so people can also meet when they take their children to school. .
The spring semester was a success with twice as many students as the previous one and with very good feedback, Jon informs. However, other hurdles have arisen when it comes to having these physical classes. The Singapore government has ended the so-called LOC system, which allowed people with dependent passes to earn a salary, so a work permit is now required – something the Norwegian school does not. cannot accept because it only involves a few hours of work per week.
âThat, combined with the lockdowns and restrictions due to Covid-19, made it almost impossible to continue this semester. We have therefore decided to go online for the next semester, with the possibility of organizing play dates between the children, âhe continues. âWe can tap into the resources in Norway, for example graduates of teacher universities in Norway willing to teach online. “
âPeople find online learning convenient. They have had positive trials and you save so much effort that otherwise goes to getting kids into traffic to school etc. And especially when we can get back to a normal situation where people are traveling again, I don’t see why home schooling should be a problem. You can bring your kids with you and they can always learn on the go.
This online school has been named ‘Aquarius’. He encourages children to be confident and to go their own way in life. Her online classes include games and activities to help kids develop critical thinking skills and identify what they really like and want to do. Aquarius represents a learning philosophy that combines online tutoring, daily use of the app and the ability to meet offline.
âDevelopment is so rapid now that there are some great educational apps for children as young as 4-5 years old. They learn so much faster than in a traditional classroom. It’s amazing how kids are adopting these technologies much faster than our generation. I think this is the right way to go, âsays Jon.
âAt least I want to try an alternative. I really believe in this way of turning the learning process into a play scenario and encouraging kids to play and learn at the same time, instead of sitting passively in front of a teacher trying to teach them – often things. on which you can find out for yourself. Google in seconds.
âIn addition to the Norwegian language, there are more subjects. We think âMindsetâ is very useful because it encourages students to follow their own path, their passion and to be able to overcome any challenges they might face. So we’ll add that as a subject. And we will have âPhysical activity and nutritionâ to learn more about the body and how to stay in good shape, with good health. “
âWe will also be teaching ‘personal finance’ which we believe is lacking in mainstream school today. We will also have “Logic” and “Research skills”, to learn how to find what you are looking for in the digital wealth of information. “
Since Jon and Olga have children of their own, they have simultaneously started to innovate with home schooling. âWe use them as children of Guinea for our new education system. Our home schooling is now quite good, involving a lot of different subjects and languages. And we use our domestic help to supervise them, making sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Real learning is either online teaching – through some really good educational apps on the market – or with a teacher coming to us once a week.
âI am very inspired by Elon musk and the school he developed and I think it is more important for our children to try to follow their own passion and to be supported in how they want to progress and what they would like to do and become when they grow up. It’s about bringing value to people rather than having all the kids go through the same kind of funnel, with degrees. I think it’s more important what you’ve done and what ideas you have rather than just a piece of paper with a diploma, âJon continues.
âAnd it won’t be a Norwegian school per se; that’s just what we start with. Our goal is to move away from that a bit and focus more on a school that can work for everyone. We also hope to be able to include some cultural parts, including music, painting and of course the languages: Chinese, Swedish, etc. You can then choose and mix your own topics and based on that we work out a schedule, âadds the Norwegian.
âAnd the Danish and Swedish mother tongue schools in Singapore are struggling so we can be a guinea pig for them too and if that works out well I will be more than happy to collaborate with the rest of the Nordic community to let them use. the same system.
For the cultural center, Jon informs that they are planning physical events, such as dinners, once it can be cleared again.
Among the activities, an oral hygiene promotion show for families was prepared, based on the famous Norwegian toothed trolls’Karius and Baktus‘. This will be held in city-state theaters.
“In South East Asia, children don’t normally start brushing their teeth until they are 6 or 7 years old, which is quite late, so we want to encourage them to start earlier.”
Meanwhile, the center has also turned to the web for its activities. A virtual weekend took place with film screenings and an âartist projectorâ which highlights emerging artists from the Nordic countries and Singapore.
âWe want to give them a platform to reach a wider audience and be recognized because we think it is difficult for such artists to achieve that. We want to help them as best we can. We also had something called Quiz night, made like a kahoot (learning games). It creates a lot of engagement and people find it a lot of fun as an activity on Saturday or Sunday evening. We have had good feedback, so we will continue to do so. “
Other online content are chef’s master classes, where the Norwegian chef Geir Skeie, winner of the cooking competition, Bocuse d’Or Bocour Dor in France, as well as the famous Singaporean chef Jimmy chok have been presented so far.
âPeople can of course participate in this basically from all over the region, not just Singapore. And I see a lot of potential with these programs, especially these days with the foreclosure in Singapore. People stay at home and it’s cool for them to be able to learn new dishes, for example. And if you can do it in an informative and well-informed way, it can be appealing, âconcludes Jon.