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Ideal school for international education

Before to start talking about international education, it seems appropriate to give a definition from experienced researchers in this sector:” The interest in the field of international education has never been more intense… a rapidly increasing number of schools world-wide have been established specifically to meet the demands of those parents who, through their own global professional activities, wish to have their children educated in programmes based on international values and often in contexts other than their home country. Such schools have embraced the promotion of international education as one of their major goals.”(Hayden, Levy and Thompson 2007:1)

We also want to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that another researcher named Skelton also defines international education and international curriculum in relation to international schools.

This is obviously only one vision and one definition of international education but these are the ones we are interested in investigating with this assignment because we will analyze whether an international school, namely ‘St Andrews International School Bangkok’, is close to the ideal school for international education.

Our School

‘St Andrews International School Bangkok is, as stated in the first definition above, a school that is established (in Thailand) to meet the demand for expatriate parents and wealthy local families who want their children educated in programs based on international values. ‘St Andrews International School Bangkok’, offers the international ‘IGCSE’ and ‘IB Diploma’ programmes ( we will explain later what are these IGCSE and IB programmes), and has, as main purpose, to promote international education as its mission statement says: “Our mission is to provide an inclusive, international education in a happy, supportive and stimulating environment, where all the needs of the individual learner are met and students are inspired to achieve their full potential enabling them to become responsible global citizens”.

We will, of course further analyze the mission statement in later chapters when we will speak about ideologies, values and global citizenship education.

What will we analyze?

We defined above our focus, which is “The International Schools”. With this starting point, we must look at what are the components of an international school. We will focus on the following: the Values and Ideologies, the Curriculum, The Students, The Teachers, The administrators, the Board and the role of English language and other languages; compare and criticize all these points with what is said in the literature and our own experience in the field. What we are going to analyze is, of course, not all the elements of an international school, but those most important to analyze, in order to answer our assignment’s question.

The values and ideologies

In the syllabus, we read that Watson and Ashton (1995) point out that “Society does not wait for consensus before transmitting values, and neither do schools. They convey values every day, knowingly or unknowingly, both at the more explicit level of what is taught, and at the less openly acknowledged level of how the school is administered (…) Education cannot be value-free.”

Indeed, we believe that the official curriculum and also the hidden curriculum (what happens in the classroom, the relationship between teacher and student and how they interact) will automatically transmit values.

In our school, the IGCSE curriculum transmits, clearly, the values of the Western World and more specifically, Great Britain. Even if the IGCSE allows adaptation to the context, the curriculum is there, with the knowledge to be transmitted, and that knowledge comes from Great Britain.

The values transmitted, are humanists as we can read in our syllabus: “Humanism as an ideology places a high emphasis on knowledge. Some forms of humanism (think classical humanism, conservatism, traditionalism, academicism) advocate the restriction of high status knowledge to an elite minority: the selective grammar school/secondary modern school system of pre-1960s England, for instance, typifies a classical humanist approach. Other forms of humanism, such as liberal humanism for instance, while still placing a great emphasis on knowledge advocate that high status knowledge should be accessible to all.”

We find that, indeed, the IGCSE curriculum focuses generally on knowledge. We also feel that they want this “high status” knowledge (a knowledge that comes from Cambridge University) to be accessible, if not to all, to the biggest number of students, abroad, especially in International Schools.

Regarding the IB curriculum, it also transmits values, the values of openness, world mindedness, the child is the center of his learning, the child must be knowledgeable, balanced, Inquirer, etc. (IBO website, learner profile)

These values are clearly progressivist because we can read on the IBO website: “Progressivism as an ideology is essentially child-centered, with the emphasis clearly on the individual child. Curricula such as the International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Programme (2008) are examples of a progressivist (or constructivist) approach to education.” (Syllabus) Although we still do not teach the PYP program, these values are the same in the IB Diploma and are implied throughout the schooling of students until they pass their diploma examinations.

In the syllabus, we read: “Halstead (1996), meanwhile, argues that “The values of schools are apparent in their organization, curriculum and discipline procedures, as well as in the relationships between teachers and pupils. Values are reflected in what teachers choose to permit or encourage in the classroom, and in the way they respond to children’s contributions to learning. (…) Even the seating arrangements in a classroom convey certain values”. It is true that this transmits values as well. In our school, students are always encouraged to ask questions and to come to find the teacher after class for further explanation. The students are sitting in the classroom in a circle, to allow the exchange during the class. It is clear that in this case, the teacher is not the master of knowledge delivered to the student, but the students are encouraged to take control over their learning and there is a form of trust and closeness between the student and the teacher, to allow an optimal construction of the knowledge.

To conclude this point, we read the mission statement of our school: “Our mission is to provide an inclusive, international education in a happy, supportive and stimulating environment, where all the needs of the individual learner are met and students are inspired to achieve their full potential enabling them to become responsible global citizens”.

We note that the school wants to be” inclusive “which shows we put a high value on the acceptance of others. The mission statement also says we want our students to be happy to learn and, when learning, they receive all the necessary support from the staff. This is a value our school wants to transmit to the students.

We can finally see that we place a great importance on the individual and their learning, and we hope our students to become Global Citizens. This shows that we give importance to the individuals but also to the overall population, which gives an international perspective to the values we try to instill.

The Students

St Andrews International School has a student population of more or less 680 children. There are about 40 percents of Thai students, 15 percents of Japanese, 10 percents of Indians and a large German and French community. One of the advantages of the international schools is the teacher’s students’ ratio, which is 1:25 by school’s policy. It allows space for individual care. Anyway, by the Thai law, in an International School, there cannot be more than 30 students per class.

The Thai students

Regarding the huge percentage of Thai students, they are mostly from rich families, the country’s elite families or possessing businesses. These families have the choice of National Education (which is not highly regarded because there is a huge disparity in terms of quality) and International Education, which is very popular with families of these elites, as they want their children to have access to foreign universities in order to have more chances of success in this globalized world. These children will have an advantage over other local children. Their parents put them in these schools as an investment for the future.

Langford says concerning these students, that they may feel isolated and different, living on the local economy rather than enjoying the many benefits shared by their expatriate classmates. (…) or they may dominate the community to the extent that the school has to adjust practices to suit their interests and the expatriates are made to feel outsiders. (2002:48) This is true in the sense the Thai students at ‘St Andrews International School’, live in Thailand and many of them have never lived abroad, unlike their friends who often have lived, in most cases, in more than two countries.

On the other hand, the Thai students are so much in majority (40 percent) compared with other nationalities; that, indeed, this may be the expatriate students who feel like outsiders, especially those Thais students often come from very wealthy families.

That said, after what I saw, it seems the Thais students and those from other nationalities mix well, talk and play together, through a family atmosphere which the Head of School, Mr Paul Schofield was able to install. It should also be noted that students from our school have been there at least 5-6 years and feel, with the time, part of a family.

The Expatriate students

The expatriate students are, in the vast majority, Globally Mobile Children that Eidse and Sichel define as having parents who are educators, international business people, foreign service attaches, missionaries and military personnel. The children shuttle back and forth between nations, languages, cultures and loyalties. They live unrooted childhoods. (2004:1)

In our school, most students are from families as described above and I would add, in many cases, their parents work for NGO’s or in embassies. These children are also often better adapted to the teaching style of international schools in general. They also learn languages more easily than Thais students due to the fact they have lived in several countries and had to learn local languages each time.

The Special Needs students

Another important facet of the population of students in our school is the Special Needs students. As our mission statement says, our school is “an inclusive school inclusive where all the needs of the individual learner are met and students are inspired to achieve their full potential”.

We have a Special Needs student population of about 10 percents and we also have in place, a wonderful learning support program for these students, with qualified, dedicated teachers and coordinators for several different Key stages.

The Special Needs students are divided into two categories, those with learning difficulties and those with physical problems or syndromes such as autism or Down syndrome. It should also be noted that each student has a Special Needs’ individual tutor who accompanies them in the mainstream classroom. Our philosophy is that every child has the right to education.

At the same time, we must emphasize that to be accredited by a body such as the CIS (Council of International Schools), if accreditation is to be given, that provision is made for the initial identification of the learning needs of students and for the subsequent addressing those needs. Therefore, did the school really have a choice to implement such a program? It is clear that, from the beautiful philosophy of “we accept everyone, even if they have learning needs” and the reality, that, to be accredited, we must implement a program of Special Needs, there is a gap. The relationship between the two is not very healthy. We think there is a market issue because, nowhere else than ‘St Andrews’ we can find a school with an inclusive policy. Looking at this, we realize that International Schools, in general, are businesses with the purpose of finding a market and making money. In the case of our school, for the special needs children, it is beneficial, but it is not always the case of other International School focusing on making money and not caring the students well being.

With regard to the Gifted Children, ‘St Andrews International School’ has no program in place, which is, in my view, inconsistent with the mission statement saying that all the students must realize their full potential. How can a student with superior capabilities than others realize its full potential? We have only the differentiation as a tool to work with the brightest students.

The transition for students, from one school to another

Another area of concern for students in international schools is the “transition” from one school to another. Regarding our school, unfortunately there is no transitional program for students from other countries or other international schools. Only teachers of these students can help them to integrate successfully into their new environment with techniques inspired by the mission statement: our teachers are fully trained in teaching methods that promote an interactive approach to learning within a stimulating and structured environment where the highest premium is placed on self- discipline and motivation and our children are confident communicators where they realize their full potential in an atmosphere of calm cooperation, tolerance and understanding.

The teachers

At ‘St Andrews International School, we have a population of teachers around 90 people. From these 90 teachers, 70 are from Great-Britain, six teachers are from New-Zealand and the remaining teachers from Japan, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Thailand etc.

The reason there are so many British teachers is certainly related to the fact that ‘St Andrews’ is a British school, following the British curriculum as well. These Britannic subjects are teaching the core subjects at the school, such as Math, Science, History and Geography while teachers of Japanese, French, and Swiss etc., teach their native languages.

All the teachers though, British or from another nationalities must hold at least a Bachelor’s Degree, a teaching certificate with, usually, a minimum of a two years full-time teaching experience.

British International School, British teachers?

M. Hayden cites Richards (1998: 174) who highlights a good point about this subject in a passage from a promotional brochure of an international school. He wrote: “Over 70 teachers … share a broad international experience, coming from such countries as Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States”. “Can we infer from the above”, Richards asks, “that no teachers are employed (or employable?) from so-called less developed regions of the world? Or merely that advertising such teachers would not be a positive selling point for the school?”

When Richards says no teachers from developing countries are hired, this is almost true in our school as well, as 80 percent of the teachers are from developed countries. Maybe if the school hired teachers in developing countries, it would not have a good image for the school because it is a British School.

We think that one of the reasons is the parents from local families would not appreciate paying an expensive international school instead of a local school for teachers to be hired from less developed countries than theirs. At the same time, it is in contradiction with our philosophy of internationalism to show a good example of tolerance and openness. We teach our students to be people with a global vision of the world, tolerance and a world mindedness, and the school sets a poor example by discriminating against the hiring of teachers, choosing only teachers from so-called ‘developed’ countries because it ‘looks’ good. Others will say it is normal for a British school to hire a majority of British teachers and that is what parents expect. Both views can be justified but there should be a right balance between pragmatism and ideology.

The expatriate “overseas hired”, the expatriates “locally hired” and the host national teachers

Another point we want to address here is, at ‘St Andrews’, there is no segregation between the expatriate teachers hired overseas and expatriate teachers recruited locally. There is no difference in contract or salary, or extras such as return flights and health insurance, which does not create jealousy among teachers and we think it is a good thing. On the other hand, host country national teachers are paid two times less than teachers from other countries, which sometimes creates a feeling of injustice because they teach the same number of hours as teachers who are expatriates and they are paid less. Again, this is a pity to notice that we, as an International School should promote equality between citizens of the world and, in practice, we do not really do what we say. Some will say that if there was not an advantageous package for those expatriates, they would probably not leave their home country to come to teach abroad, when, for instance, host country national teachers do not have to leave their families behind and the comfort of their own country. So, again, the two views can be justified.

The penelopes

I just wanted to add that, at ‘St Andrews” there are a lot of “Penelopes” (who have been at the school for more than seven years), as Hardman says they are “those teachers who remain faithful to the country they have adopted”. I think it is a good thing for the students as a gage of stability, where in some other International Schools in Thailand, teachers cannot stay more than seven years.

The induction

Speaking about teachers, we must also mention the phase of induction of new teachers when they arrive at an international school.

M.Hayden said: « Any teacher who moves from one school to another within the International School’s system could reasonably expect some form of induction in at least the early stages of a new appointment. » (2006: 82)

Regarding ‘St Andrews International School’, the induction is four days. The Head of School spends four whole days with new teachers, explaining all aspects of the school and the culture shock that awaits them from the Thai culture. This allows a smooth start in the new host country.

However, the induction is not going further. Never again, one’s organizes any meeting with new faculty to ensure that everything goes well. To conclude this point we cite here Hayden who says that “The question of how best support new recruits in a new cultural environment is by no means an easy one to answer.” (2006:83)

The teacher’s appraisal

Dimmock and Walker say “Teacher appraisal is a contentious and divisive issue regardless of the context within which it operates” (2005: 143). It is true there is no recipe to make a good appraisal, it is a difficult process to implement.

At ‘St Andrews’, the appraisal system is fairly simple and does not put too much pressure on the shoulders of teachers. Once a year, the head of department comes to visit the classroom for two lessons. At the end of the observation the head gives his feedback to the teacher and they set two targets for the following observation, the year after. The head of school come to observe the teacher once per contract to give his consent for its renewal.

The method is simple, do not stress too much the teacher, but at the same time, is it a good tool to evaluate the staff? Coming to observe a lesson and give two targets for next year means that everything else is not important; the teacher will focus only on one aspect of his teaching.

The Turnover

In our school, the latest statistics, which date back two years and cover a period of five years, show that teachers remain at ‘St Andrews’ about five years. There are about four to five teachers, from a number of ninety, who leave each year. We think this is a good sign because if a teacher stays five years in a school, we think it shows he is happy to work there. Another factor may be that the teacher cannot find a job elsewhere or he is married to a Thai person and therefore has no choice but to stay at the school, but our experience and discussions with teachers at ‘St Andrews’ have shown us that teachers are generally very satisfied with working at this place. To be more complete, we should conduct a survey on why teachers stay but it would be difficult to the lack of time.

The Administrators

At ‘St Andrews’, there is a British Head of School who administers the school of a budgetary standpoint and oversees other heads such as the Head of Keystage1, the Head of Keystage 2 and the Head of high school with his Deputy. These people belong to the so-called Senior Management. In the Middle Management, there are the heads of departments.

Under the Thai law, the sole Head of School must be a Thai national. This is indeed the case at our school. There is a Thai Head whose role on paper is very different from its role in practice. On paper, she has to take academic and budgetary decisions but in reality she does only take care of the Thai teachers and the Thai curriculum. We find that it is not fair because the law states that a person in charge must be a Thai Head of School. Our school lies on paper to meet the Thai law and to meet the demand of parents who want to see a foreign Head of School. On top of that, the Thai Head is also paid as a local teacher, that is to say, four times less than the foreign Head.

The Board

Littleford writes ‘Schools with healthy boards do not have crises’, and we must agree with him regarding our school. In our school, the board is only composed of a family, Thai and very rich. They are the only ones to make big financial decisions for the school development. They always follow the recommendations of the Head of School and never intervene in the daily running of the school. There never was any crisis between the Board and the Head of School since the inception of the school and we welcome that fact.

The Accreditation

‘St Andrews is currently accredited by CIS (the Council of International Schools), the Thai Ministry of Education, and is in the process of being accredited by CFBT. The fact our school is accredited by the Ministry of the host country and by an internationally acclaimed body shows that we are in the standards of international education.

We read on the website CFBT “Accreditation with CfBT shows that your school demonstrates high standards of student achievement with an effective curriculum, good use of resources, a successful leadership team and strong partnerships with parents.” CFBT therefore focuses on quality of student achievement, curriculum and relationships with parents. We may wonder whether the failure to look at the results of pupils is not just elitist. Should not International schools give students a chance to improve? Another aspect that CFBT looks at is the curriculum, which is normal, but they should also look at internationalism, the values, etc. The last point CFBT looks at is the relationship the school has with parents. In our school we have a very active group of parents who organize events of all kinds at school and are much supported by our Head of School.

To return to accreditation with CFBT, we feel that our curriculum deputy encourages us to only look at the CFBT criteria to satisfy them. We can therefore ask whether the accreditation system is not a little hypocritical. Yet we do a great job, professionally, but we offer something completely prepared to CFBT, just to satisfy their criteria, which does not seem very ethical or honest. On the other hand, accreditation can be useful tool, to give us the time to reflect on our practices.

The English as a Second Language and Mother-Tongue languages

English as a Second Language

Hayden says: ‘Many International Schools offering an English-Medium education provide language support for non-native speakers of English (…) the extent and nature of support clearly vary.’ It is true that in our school, support comes down to putting these students in an ESL class a few times per week, while other students have classes in French or Japanese, and these ESL students follow the rest of the courses in mainstream class where they understand almost nothing.

In my old school, Hanoi International School, we had ESL classes and on top of that, for mainstream courses, an ESL support teacher came into class to help students understand the instructions or what the teacher explained. We believe this latter approach is more effective because students receive constant support and feel less stressed towards the English language because there is always someone to help them understand what is said in class. After a while, of course, if the students made significant progress, they join the mainstream class, without any ESL support anymore.

Mother-Tongues

About the provision of other languages, Murphy is in favor of a greater provision of support for the child’s first language in order to support cognitive development in that language, which would make the second language less difficult to acquire (Murphy, 2003: 36-7). That is exactly what our head of School think about the fact that a student cannot have a good cognitive development with a language he does not control at all if he does not master his own language. Children need intellectual development in their own language before they can grow intellectually in a different language. In our school, that is why we have an extensive program of mother-tongue language. It is obvious that such a program is not easy to implement, especially for smaller schools that have limited financial resources.

Carder said: ‘There are certainly scheduling and administrative problems in mother-tongue in finding teachers, and financial difficulties about whether to add it to the payroll or to the parents to pay extra’. At ‘St Andrews’, it is certain that it is not easy to administer the program of mother tongue and foreign language as it creates a lot of ‘clashes’ in the timetables. It is not easy either to find language teachers for French, Japanese and German in Thailand.

From a financial standpoint, the school request parents wishing to enroll their children in the first language program, a supplement to the school fees of about 300 U.S. dollars. This program meets over the years, more and more success because kids love to speak their mother tongue at school, a few hours per week; and parents are reassured that their children can more easily reintegrate school in their home countries if they move back there.

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The Curriculum

In the world, there are several international schools curricula. The most common are the British connoted ‘IGCSE’, and ‘IB’ which claims to be more international. Before considering in more detail the two mentioned curricula, we will dwell a moment on some definitions of curriculum.

Hayden cites Bulman and Jenkins in her book “International Education, International Schools and their communities”, which describes the curriculum, following three aspects: “The academic curriculum” or what is formally taught in schools, the “pastoral curriculum ‘which includes social skills, study skills, careers and counseling for the “hidden curriculum” that all these practices are not explicit in the official curriculum, such as teacher-student relationships, the rules in the classroom, the structures rewards etc.

We will come back to these aspects later on this chapter.

At ‘St. Andrews’, the academic curricula are the ‘IGCSE’ and the ‘IB’. Our Head of School says that we teach the IGCSE in the middle school because it gives more importance to academic skills and therefore prepare well for the IB which has an approach to the whole child and preparing students for university and has a globalized world. To corroborate these claims, we will read what the ‘IGCSE’ and ‘IBO’ say on their websites:

The IBO:

On the ‘IBO’ website, we can read: “Our challenging Diploma Programme assessment is recognized by the world’s leading universities.” The IB diploma is not recognized in all universities, but by the “world leading” Universities. Does that mean, as some people think that the IB is elitist?

They also write: “We encourage international-mindedness in IB students. To do this, we believe that students must first develop an understanding of their own cultural and national identity. All IB students learn a second language and the skills to live and work with others internationally-essential for life in the 21st century.”

At ‘St Andrews, we encourage students to learn their culture and their first language. We have a large program such as First Language: Japanese, German, French and Thai, which allows these students to stay in touch with their languages and cultures within the international school. On the other hand, we do not provide first language courses for all nationalities, creating a division between the languages called ‘important’ and others, which results in a risk of partitioning students between ‘important’ and ‘not important’ languages, which can cause frustrations. At the same time, all students, without exception, learn a second language. They can choose between Japanese, Chinese (very popular with Thai students), German, French and Thai. The range offered is wide enough for second language courses, allowing students to sample a different culture or language of their choice, enabling them, as stated by the IBO, to live, to communicate, to understand and to work with others, internationally.

At ‘St Andrews’, we organize an international day, which allows students to see how their friends from other cultures dress (thanks to the international fashion show), what are the typical dishes of other countries (through the international buffet), which languages are spoken, and thus learn to know each other, which leads to some form of international friendship and tolerance. On that matter, we believe that our school reflects well the values of international IBO.

On the IBO website we can also read: “We encourage a positive attitude to learning by encouraging students to ask challenging questions, to reflect critically, to develop research skills, and to learn how to learn. We encourage community service because we believe that there is more to learning than academic studies alone.”

The curriculum is, as stated above, child-centered. The child is responsible for their learning, encouraged to ask questions, think critically, research, and to learn how to learn. All this forms the “learner profile” that the IBO tries to promote. This approach is progressivist, as described in the syllabus.

The IBO also encourages community service through the program, “CAS” (Creativity, Action and Service), since the IBO says that academic studies are not enough and we have to consider educating the child as a whole, it is therefore, without a doubt, different from the IGCSE which just consider the academic side of the learning process. We personally believe that the ‘CAS’ programme is beneficial for students because it allows them to be more open t

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