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Good Schools Guide

British education system will survive Brexit, UK international school heads say

First SCMP EdTalk discusses latest trends of UK curriculums and rise of ‘STEAM’ education

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 October, 2017, 12:57pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 January, 2018, 5:37pm

Hong Kong parents seeking a British-style education for their children should focus on that and not be unduly concerned by other factors such as the ongoing Brexit negotiations. That was the view expressed by several principals at the inaugural SCMP EdTalk, on the topic “Education Trends: UK Curriculum and STEAM” held on October 7.

Co-organised with Hong Kong Parenting, the event featured panel discussions and networking opportunities for attendees to meet representatives from leading international schools in Hong Kong.

“British-style education and the English national curriculum are offered in many countries around the world and that won’t change,” said Ben Keeling, principal of Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong. The curriculum and related values, he added, were widely respected not just because they represented a connection with Britain, but because they provided an education pathway to an extensive range of options for further study at tertiary level.

Indeed, Ann McDonald, principal of Kellett School, believed the after-effects of Brexit could even have a stabilising influence on the British education system.

“There have been a lot of recent changes to A-Level and GCSE curriculums,” she said, referring to the use of linear instead of modular grading and a marking scale of 1 to 9 rather than G to A-star. There could also be a boost in terms of the importance attached to learning different languages.

“If the little island of Britain wants to reach out to play on the world stage, modern languages need to be an even more important part of the education system,” McDonald said.

Outlining the defining characteristics of a British-style education, Annabel Davis, principal deputy head (curricular) at Harrow International School Hong Kong, pointed to the breadth, structure and teaching of the A-Level curriculum. These factors help to build resilience and determination plus communication and interpersonal skills.

“Crucially, these are talents universities are interested in and the skills young people need in an ever-changing world,” Davis said.

On the recurring topic of whether the International Baccalaureate curriculum or A-Levels offer the best pathway to top universities, the panellists were united in the opinion that each has key strengths and that every student’s education journey is unique and personal. They were also in agreement when advising parents not to focus exclusively on exam outcomes, but instead support their children in studying subjects that interest them and can lead to a fulfilling career.

One panellist, Samuel Chan, founder and managing director of Britannia StudyLink, recalled attending a boarding school in Britain from the age of nine and said the experience opened a completely new world.

“I went from being disengaged to engaged,” he said, noting the difference between participating in lessons rather than simply being expected to memorise information. “Classes involved critical thinking, discussions, and evaluating various topics.”

The importance of allowing children unstructured time to develop their creative and artistic talents was emphasised during an on-stage interview featuring astronaut Leroy Chiao, International Space Station Commander and Nasa Advisory Committee member, and Winnie Young, head of school at STEAM International Kindergarten.

“When children play, their imaginations grow, which serves as the gateway to different exciting things they might like to do,” said Chiao who spent nearly 230 days in space and is the father of 10-year-old twins. This, he noted, helped children grow up to become successful, resourceful, happy and accomplished adults.

Malcolm Kay, superintendent at Stamford American International School, said STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) education in its various forms is a good way of encouraging students to think critically and apply their learning in real-world situations.

“A curriculum must allow students to evaluate new ideas and solve problems, so they gain as individuals as well as add value to society in the future,” Kay said.

Confirming that perspective, John Jalsevac, school director at American School Hong Kong, said a main aim of STEAM education should be to help students move from acquiring knowledge to using knowledge to drive creativity.

“We can use jargon and buzzwords, but the real challenge is to help children become risk takers flexible in their outlook,” Jalsevac said. “We can do that by connecting topics such as maths, science, technology and the arts.”

Fellow panellist Natalie Chan, founder of OWN Academy, explained that hands-on experiential learning played a vital role in preparing children for 21st-century challenges and opportunities.

“It is important that they receive an education with a purpose,” she said. “That can be accomplished by showing them firsthand how industries and careers are changing, so they can decide to pursue something they will be interested in.”