Quality over quantity
The German Swiss International School (GSIS) will mark the opening of its renovated and expanded campus at Guildford Road on The Peak with a special celebration on November 11. The celebration will be an opportunity to show off the upgraded facilities to parents and other guests, reaffirm the school’s mission, and highlight current initiatives and plans for the years ahead.
“The decision was made in 2008 to redevelop and extend our learning environment,” says GSIS principal Annette Brandt-Dammann. “The aim was purely to improve quality standards, rather than increase numbers. We can already see the benefits for teachers and students.”
In total, the school now has close to 1,300 pupils. There are both German and English streams running from kindergarten through primary and secondary levels. The former teaches a German curriculum throughout, and students graduate with the German International Abitur (Deutsches Internationales Abitur), which is recognised around the world. The latter runs the IGCSE during the middle school years and then finishes off with the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) in the final two years.
Both systems are meeting needs and expectations, and graduates are going on to study at top universities around the world. The curriculum choices support the school’s guiding philosophy, which is to offer an education that combines academic excellence with the opportunity to take part in an extensive range of sports and extracurricular activities.
To that end, the redeveloped campus now boasts first-rate science labs, professional-quality areas for music, a new arts room, and a “black box” theatre for student productions. There is also a year-round indoor swimming pool, a rooftop AstroTurf pitch, and two large multi-purpose gymnasiums.
“We took the chance to rearrange and modify our programmes, and we have fitted more of them into the existing structures,” Brandt-Dammann says. “We are known for our good academic results, but our goal is to provide a holistic education. So, we wanted to offer more options and projects, and add space outside the classroom so that students can develop different talents and competencies, and follow their own ideas and ambitions.”
The extracurricular activities are a way to bring students from the different streams together. That can be in sports teams, rehearsing for shows, or volunteering for community-based initiatives. For the upper classes, there are more academic joint projects in maths and science. Teacher-led overseas trips can provide lessons in mutual cooperation and general awareness.
“Inclusion is an important topic for the school, and we know that children benefit a lot from cultural diversity,” says Brandt-Dammann. “Getting to know and understand each other provides an education in tolerance and respect. It also means our students will be prepared for some of the challenges related to globalisation, which are likely to come up in their future careers.”
GSIS recognises that it can be difficult for incoming students to settle in quickly, particularly if their families are transferring from overseas, and has programmes in place to help them adapt. More generally, teachers pay close attention to the atmosphere and dynamic in the classroom. If individuals have specific concerns, a school counsellor is on hand to listen, assist, and offer sympathetic advice.
Practical support is also available for parents. They may be unsure about protocols and procedures if, for instance, their children are moving to GSIS from a local school. Or they may want to talk about the issues related to growing up which will inevitably occur during their child’s teenage years.
“We like to have close contact with parents, and we want them to work with us if there are any problems,” Brandt-Dammann says. “We see them as partners in the education process. We communicate with parents regularly, directly and via our dedicated system, so that we understand what is happening from their side. I think that is necessary, and it’s something that leads to success.”
Taking the time and trouble to foster the talents of every individual is also important. A close eye is kept on all-round personal development, with the aim of broadening horizons, encouraging self-motivation, and giving scope for creative talents.
Roughly one-third of the school’s students learn an instrument, or take part in a music programme. Many others are involved in drama, debating, and fashion design projects. Others may compete at inter-school competitions in activities such as chess, hockey, or football. There are student-led clubs focusing on everything from architectural drawing and photography, to environmental protection.
“We put a lot of effort into achieving a balance of activities, so students can try anything they want,” says Brandt-Dammann, who also teaches art classes. “The other huge priority is involvement in charity and age-appropriate discovery programmes to support learning outside the classroom.”
This can mean something like helping to build a school in Nepal. But GSIS ensures that those who travel complete a relevant classroom project first, so they are not simply engaging in “charity tourism”. Before leaving, students would be expected to raise funds for community needs in Nepal, for instance. While abroad, they might teach some classes, or help install new wiring and light fixtures in a school building.
“With these trips, the kids get to do things they don’t normally get to do in Hong Kong,” Brandt-Dammann says. “It gives them a different perspective, and they have fun, too.”
“We take our responsibility to the wider community very seriously,” Brandt-Dammann says. “To show our gratitude for the land we have here, we plan to open our buildings outside school hours to the public for sports, reunions and to host conferences for teachers from around the region.”
When it comes to issues like the use of technology and digital devices in the classroom, GSIS looks at what is necessary and sufficient for the subjects being taught. Teaching staff from different departments collaborate to ensure they are up to date, and to compare notes on what is most effective in a classroom setting.
The school arranges regular IT training sessions for teachers. There are presentations for parents which explain the benefits of it. But Brandt-Dammann emphasises there are clear and strict policies at school regarding when and where mobile devices can be used.
“We believe parents are very happy with the learning situation here, and we feel they are impressed by how self-motivated and confident their children are,” Brandt-Dammann says. “In other respects, we have close and productive communications with the Education Bureau, and they know we do a good job. Our staff are always working on professional development and curriculum content, and there is a reasonable balance between numbers in the German and English streams. There is no pressure on us to increase our intake, so we can continue to focus on quality over quantity,” Brandt-Dammann says.