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A Modified UK Education Model is the Key to Student Success at BIS

The United Kingdom was recently ranked the #1 country in the world for education.

The British International School, Ho Chi Minh City (BIS HCMC) in Saigon follows that nation’s education models and standards while creating a flexible, inquiry-based curriculum reliant on clear development benchmarks. The system produces students that not only excel in standardized tests, but also well-rounded alumni with the skills and character for lifelong success.

BIS HCMC graduates posted an impressive 100% pass rate on the IB exams last year with previous alumni going on to a range of prestigious universities including Oxford, Cambridge, London School of Economics, UC Berkeley and Stanford. Such achievements might suggest that the school is singularly focused on test scores and rigid memorization. However, quite the opposite is true. Those accomplishments are merely a reflection of the value of an inquiry-based system that stresses practical, balanced skills and a passion for learning.

To ensure that students are on track to compete with peers around the world, BIS frequently assesses their progress in formal and informal ways, in-line with typical British metrics. The academic team have developed broad “Learning Lotus” goals for each student related to communication, collaboration, critical thinking, independence and reflection. Teachers use a student’s work, classroom behavior and activities to analyze how each pupil is meeting these goals and, if they are not doing so, what changes need to be made.

While BIS HCMC uses the same tests and assessment methods as in the UK, because they are not officially governed by UK Department for Education, they have greater flexibility in designing their lesson plans and curriculum. Teachers have the freedom to inject their own interests, ideas and experiences into the classroom. This means, for example, that one teacher may discuss global exploration through the lens of the history of chocolate, while another’s assignments could be strewn with Harry Potter references. They can also design more projects where students interpret and respond creatively to assignments in ways that match their interests and foster enthusiasm. Academic teams frequently meet to ensure that their curriculums connect and build on one another. This means, for example, that students learn about a particular topic concurrently in science, math, English and art classes.

Regardless of the lesson, or the teacher’s presentation style, a key element of all learning at BIS HCMC involves making mistakes. Students are encouraged to embrace failure as a step in the learning process. The teachers themselves underscore this principle through their own actions. While the majority of their lesson ideas succeed, students occasionally witness a classroom activity gone awry. Observing how the teacher recovers, adapts and learns from the mistake provides them with a positive model for embracing risks. Understanding that setbacks are part of learning is critical for a curriculum built around inquiry and exploration.

The autonomy BIS HCMC gives to its faculty necessitates a stellar, devoted group of teachers. Educators at the school come from all around the globe, and many have advanced degrees in their fields. To aid in their continued growth and introduce them to the latest teaching and technology discoveries, BIS HCMC has established a robust professional development program that involves in-house teacher days and meetings, attendance of overseas conferences and even support in the pursuit of masters degrees at King’s College London in England.

BIS HCMC is concerned with not only students’ abilities to pass exams, but also their maturation into balanced, global citizens. Students involve themselves in dozens of clubs, volunteer groups and extracurriculars including sports, music, drama, academic competitions and even niche activities such as Rubik’s cube challenges. Lee Falconer, Secondary Assistant Head Teacher, explains to Saigoneer that what really stands out compared to other schools he has taught at in the UK and around the world is how accepting and welcoming the student body is to these pursuits. Interests that might otherwise invite bullying or ostracism are not only accepted, but championed, at BIS HCMC.

Extracurricular experiences have positive effects that reverberate well beyond the ballfield, concert hall or club room. Ian Battersby, Head Teacher at BIS HCMC Early Years and Infant Campus, has observed that students are relaxed as tests approach because their many outside interests put exams in perspective. Similarly, student success stories that include students who have performed at Carnegie Hall and swum for the Vietnamese national team provide examples of where dedication to hobbies can lead a student. Everyone at BIS HCMC understands that a person’s interests, skills and values are what matters in the long-run, not just their test scores. Mr Falconer explains that the true test of their education comes not at graduation, but later, when looking at what all they have achieved by the time they are 80 years old.

BIS HCMC serves as a model for how a school can feature a flexible curriculum with ample attention to extracurriculars and still continue to achieve great success according to standardized metrics. By taking the core assessment methods and goals of the British education system and allowing their highly qualified academic staff to modify the lessons, the school offers an education devoted to inquiry, perseverance and an enthusiasm for learning.


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BIS HCMC, SECONDARY CAMPUS | 246 Nguyen Van Huong Street, D.2, HCMC


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