An article by the International Primary Curriculum: Leading a change in learning.
October 30, 2011
Leading a change in learning. Vietnam, now Bangkok
An article by the International Primary Curriculum
David Lowder is a Headteacher who is leading change. As Head of An Phu, the largest Primary Campus at the British International School Vietnam, David led the very first international school in Vietnam to introduce the International Primary Curriculum. With it, he adopted a creative and internationally-minded approach to learning relevant for all children within the school; both the locals and the expatriates who were not just from Britain but from all corners of the world. Not only did this establish a new curriculum choice for parents in Ho Chi Minh City, but it put the IPC on the map for other international schools within the FOBISSEA group (Federation of British International Schools in South East Asia and Asia) looking for an up-to-date and more engaging curriculum for their primary age children.
Since moving to St. John’s International School in Bangkok, David has led the field again; becoming the first school in Bangkok to adopt the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) and, as Chair of TISAC (the Thailand International Schools Association Committee) in Bangkok, he looks set to drive a curriculum rethink here too.
“It all started because we needed a change,” David says, explaining why he originally introduced the IPC at the British International School Vietnam. “The curriculum had become quite stagnant. Not only that but it was too anglicised. The children were learning about the great fire of London and WWII from a European perspective. For our many non-British children living and learning in Vietnam, this was totally irrelevant. But also there was no consistency of curriculum development and no strong teaching and learning philosophy within the school. We had become too passive in our teaching; there was a lot of wasted time, missed learning opportunities and very little creativity.”
David says that, once introduced to it, he immediately saw the value of the IPC. “I listened to Theresa Forbes (the then Director of the IPC) speak about it at a conference and was inspired. So, fully supported by his Deputy, Ben Dixon who played a key role in its introduction, and with advice from Theresa and the team at IPC, David launched the IPC at BISV and saw immediate success. “It brings a more exciting, active element to children’s learning. The IPC is totally relevant for today’s children. It’s helping us to take a more global approach to learning. A good part of our IPC learning is linked to where we are living now, as well as looking at our learning from the perspective of other countries too.”
As well as making learning relevant for all students, the IPC introduces an active, collaborative and engaging approach to learning that David says made a big difference to the children in Vietnam: “No longer did we have children sitting at desks the whole time being spoon-fed knowledge. The children now learn through enquiring, investigating, collaborating together, as well as through creative approaches to learning such as painting, dancing, music, model-making and role-play; all hands-on, shared, problem-solving experiences that encourage them to lead their own learning and to think for themselves. The IPC is fun but with a clear purpose and direction. It’s making our children adaptable, resourceful and independent in their learning. Children are quite naturally inquisitive learners, and if they’re put in the right environment to do this, they become excited about their learning. Through the IPC, the real learner is allowed to flourish.”
During his three years learning with the IPC in Vietnam, David saw several other FOBISSEA schools follow suit. “As a result of our success with the IPC, we were able to show other schools within the group what a difference it was making to the school and to the children’s learning,” he says. “Our staff was great at speaking about the IPC to other FOBISSEA schools and were eager to talk about the impact it was making on the children. In fact, we were so convinced of the power of the IPC that we hosted a regional IPC conference to show other schools what we were doing.” Not only did David share the IPC with other school leaders, he also shared it with his parents. “During its introduction, we hosted a number of parent workshops and open days to show parents how their children would be learning. It was important for us to know the parents understood what this change was all about. As a result, we had the full support of the parents who could see that their children were getting a very exciting and rigorous curriculum programme.”
David says that as other schools in the FOBISSEA group adopted it, so the IPC “became an educational currency. Relocating expat families would move from one international school to another and they would start looking for a school using the IPC so that there was a common learning approach that meant the transition was much easier for their child,” he explains. David expects the same to happen for families moving to Bangkok and it’s not just because of the engaging and creative curriculum. “It’s the standards that the IPC is helping us to achieve too,” says David. “In Vietnam, we received great references from CIS accreditation on the high quality of learning witnessed throughout primary and CIS also paid a lot of attention to our international dimension which the IPC helped us to deliver.”
It is the global perspective within the IPC learning which, David says, has made a significant difference to both BIS Vietnam and is now also doing at St. John’s. “The IPC has helped to lead both schools out of a blind Britishness and in its place has introduced a more refreshing, exciting, far-reaching, up-to-date and international ethos.” Needless to say, knowing that the IPC meets the requirements of the English National Curriculum has still been a very important marketing tool for both schools. “We are still providing an English education but in a more internationally-minded way,” says David. “Our parents relate to Britain’s academic standards and see it as a pathway to a good education, leading to excellent university possibilities. It’s important for them to know that the IPC delivers all the learning of the English National Curriculum but with a relevant and up-to-date approach to the learning. For the children in Vietnam, the IPC enabled and actually encouraged us to explore the Vietnamese culture in a meaningful and learning-focused way, at the same time, helping to develop their understanding of their place in the world. And for the children here in St. John’s, the same is true for the Thai culture. It’s a significant part of the IPC and it’s a key priority for many parents, particularly of the local children here.”
So does David see himself as a pioneer? “Not at all,” he says. “All I’ve done is tried to make a change to a situation where both children and staff were restricted as far as the learning was concerned. I think it’s just about having confidence to make that change. Now what I see is so exciting. It’s taken the British International School Vietnam to another level and I believe it will do the same at St. John’s. There is a real buzz about the place. I just know that what we’re doing with the IPC is the right thing. You can see it in the children and in the teachers. It is a dramatic benefit to the whole school.”
International Primary Curriculum