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In the Know
Tara Jenkins visits French International School to learn more about the holistic strategy of its International Primary Curriculum
Visiting a chocolate exhibition, using QR codes for virtual travel or studying tomb raiders doesn’t sound like a textbook approach to learning, but it’s part of a holistic new educational strategy adopted by the leaders of the International Primary Stream at the French School, which is garnering impressive results.
“IPC – the International Primary Curriculum – is a total shift from teachers talking, and students listening,”
explains Ross Armitage, Head of Primary, International Stream.
“It’s a multi-layered, interactive process, where the teacher is more of a facilitator. Each unit has an entry point or a ‘wow’ moment where the child is hooked into learning, and students gain knowledge, skills and understanding through a combination of activities, experimenting, designing, presenting, talking and researching”.
Introduced just this year, IPC is proving popular both with children and parents. Armitage cites the Brainwave unit, recently completed by primary students in the International Stream, as a good example. In Year 2 children examined and were able to touch brains made out of jelly, while Year 5 students created working circuits for home-made brain models. Parents came into school so students could enthusiastically showcase their learning.
“We try and find out what the children already know, and then we shape the unit around what they need to know, or don’t know. We also ask the children, what would you like to find out?”
“It’s a successful process. IPC helps our children become more independent and articulate, and ensures they – along with their parents and the school – are firm partners in their own education.”
IPC, which was established ten years ago specifically for expatriates, is a curriculum based on UK principles, but modified for international children. It has three distinct goals: subject learning goals which are linked to the British curriculum; personal goals around resilience, co-operation, morality and thoughtfulness; and international goals to help children think about different cultures and backgrounds.
It’s a progressive approach, and characteristic of the French International School, which is fast approaching its 50th birthday in Hong Kong. What has always set it apart, believes Armitage, is the bilingual element. While children enter either the International or French stream, the school endeavours to create a naturally bilingual environment where students switch effortlessly between French and English. Creating that environment is about to get even easier, with the opening of a brand new campus at Tseung Kwan O in September 2018, and the pioneering new ‘villa’ concept for Primary.
“Like an old Roman-style villa, there’s an open, communal area in the middle of each year’s learning space called the Agora, and around it, classrooms with retractable walls,”
explains Armitage. While the three French and two International Stream teachers will continue to follow their own curriculums, they will align their long-term plans for topics as much as possible, so they can prepare the Agora to match the learning. If Year 2 International Stream is learning about ‘Live and Let Live’ – animals and living things – and the French stream is learning about plants, for example, everything links in the shared space. Moreover, every two weeks, two hours of instruction will be dedicated to shared projects, so children will work collaboratively in dual language aspects on topics such as Chinese New Year, Christmas, or the International Dimension.
“It’s the first time we’ll have integrated the two streams, and we’re trying out the new concept in our Jardine’s Lookout and Hung Hom campuses at the moment,”
“We already teach the French language, the children mix together at lunchtime, and we have joint projects like Science or Art Week, but the vision for Tseung Kwan O is that the understanding of different cultures comes with shared projects and shared space”.
Aside from the innovative villa concept for Primary, the new campus design is as state of the art and sophisticated as you would expect. The 8,200m2 site has been designed with sustainability in mind, using eastern winds for ventilation and making much use of green spaces, including an Eco-Garden (maintained by the students), Experimental Roof Garden, and a Green Field area. Of course, there’s an ultra-modern swimming pool and gymnasium, an outdoor running track, three playgrounds, a large auditorium and a smart canteen that serves a nutritionally sound three-course lunch.
“A good school is a school that can improve itself,”
“There are several new schools opening in Hong Kong, and it’s our duty to ensure what we’re providing is current, consistent and what the current market expects. But I think the school’s longstanding position in Hong Kong and our focus on ICT and IPC make us a good forerunner. Even before IPC, we had a holistic approach to education: not only are we focused on ensuring the children are academically successful, but we also develop them in areas of sports, art, drama, personal and social. The children leave well prepared for high school and for life in general; and that’s what any school should be aspiring to”.