Yew Chung International School's new middle school programme seeks to ease transition from primary to secondary
With a mix of Chinese and Christianity, a British curriculum and IB, Yew Chung International School is transforming its secondary curriculum
Yew Chung International School, whose origins date back to 1932, is among the schools to emulate offices and working spaces in relying on more common areas and less walls to encourage an exchange of ideas, interaction, collaboration and cooperation.
The school’s secondary campus in Kowloon Tong is being renovated with the intention of transforming individual floors into open-air podiums that create flexible learning spaces for “a range of activities, albeit in an individual setting, peer learning and group settings”.
Designed by the American architectural firm Fielding Nair International, the project started in 2016 and it is scheduled to finish in 2018. Apart from providing pupils with an extended level of learning activities, rooms for interaction and individual learning, the renovations in Block A, where Year 7 to Year 9 classrooms are situated, contain a bigger message.
The school is integrating its Year 7 to Year 9 curriculum into a new Middle School programme, in which “Learning Communities” is the DNA. “The goal in introducing the middle school is to develop a bridge from primary to the upper school in the community,” says Amos A. Lyso, vice-principal of the secondary section.
One of the key objectives is to help pupils complete a smooth transition from primary to secondary school. “In primary years, they have one to two teachers responsible for most subjects in small classes, and the classroom is their whole space. Coming from primary Year 6, however, [secondary Year 7] pupils would take 10 to 11 different subjects with 10 to 11 different teachers, and then continue up all the way through to Year 13,” he says.
Fewer teachers will be involved in the new setting, however, and “classrooms” are divided by movable partitions that allow for flexible arrangements. “Some [teachers] teach maths and science, some teach English and humanities, so there are less adults that the students have to adjust to,” the Lyso says. “They have their learning community space so they’re not going all over the school during the day.”
Due to physical differences between Year 7 and Year 13 pupils, he adds that the middle school offers a safer environment for pupils.
“The other major element of the middle school is the interdisciplinary learning - the emphasis on integrated projects,” he adds. “We’re trying to help students make connections between subjects, not just ‘I do maths and next class I do science,’ but seeing how the learning connects.”
This year, the project that every middle school pupil must take part in is under the theme “Ocean World”. They will use it as the subject for their creativity in art and design; learn relevant songs in music class; acquire knowledge about the environment of the oceans in science and, in maths. Pupils will be using the theme in the creation and design of the set.
“It really breaks down those barriers between subjects, and helps students with connections they make with the concepts, [and] results in deep learning that lasts,” Lyso says.
Yew Chung International School, an education foundation with a Christian background that started in Sai Yee Street in Mong Kok, is a “dual” school in many ways.
Yew Chung means “to glorify China” in Chinese. In terms of curriculum and mode of teaching, the school adopts Britain’s International General Certificate for Secondary Education (IGCSE) at Year 10 and Year 11, and International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) for Year 12 and 13 pupils.
“IB is recognisable in any university in the world, so it allows our kids to be successful wherever they go,” says Lycos, who spent 15 years teaching at Seoul Foreign School in South Korea until 2014. “The IGCSE complements that very well in the sense that they are both 2-year programmes, they both end in external examinations, they have a 2-year learning goal and major check of achievement at the end.”
The curriculum alone does not define a school, nor make it good. “We define international very differently; we bring the best of the East and the best of the Western culture together to create something unique that isn’t just a transplanted home curriculum in a form,” he says, adding that part of the reason for offering IB Pathways programme is to allow pupils from different backgrounds a year of adjusting to the IB style of learning and prepares them to be successful in the diploma years.
The school appoints one Westerner and one Chinese person to run the school together. The same combination of teachers is to be found in classes, ensuring that the lessons are good mix of the two cultures and balanced.
This year, two pupils in the school achieved a perfect score (45) in the IBDP. In the IGCSE results, one pupil achieved top in the World in Foreign Language Mandarin Chinese and two won top in Hong Kong in First Language Chinese and Design and Technology respectively, in the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Awards.
As a private international school, 70 per cent of the parents of secondary pupils at Yew Chung are permanent residents in Hong Kong. The balance comprises parents from China, Britain, the United States, Australia and elsewhere.