Published in Mizzima Business Weekly in April 2014
The British International School Yangon will open its doors to pre-nursery and primary aged pupils in August 2014. It is governed by the UK-based, not-for-profit British Schools Foundation (BSF), which operates a network of nine British international schools in 10 countries. Mizzima Business Weekly talks to headmaster Adam Johnston.
Why did the British International School Yangon feel that the time was right to come to Myanmar?
Members of our board had been coming to Yangon quite regularly to get a feel for the market and we were aware that there was a strong demand among expats. Some families have a mum or a dad working in Yangon and flying back on the weekends to Bangkok where the children go to school, which isn’t ideal. A similar sort of thing happened in terms of the demand for international schools in Kuala Lumpur. BSF opened a school there in 2009, using exactly the same programme we are in Yangon: we’re moving into an already refurbished building. [The school plans to expand into a purpose facility will be completed by 2016-17]. Within 12 to 16 months of that opening we had 180 children enrolled and another 50 banging on the door, so to speak. A year later we were able to move more than 200 pupils into the new campus.
What are some of the features of Yangon’s campus?
We’ll have maximum class sizes of 20, and Mac laptops will be connected to interactive whiteboards – the largest ones available. We’ll also set up an iPad programme that begins from Year Four. Part of the latest learning assessment material is conducted through an iPad, and children will be able to use this technology for photos, downloads and all sorts of things. But we’re not going to go crazy on technology. We’ve had a lot of training from experts who have come out from the UK and have helped us to create the best methods of utilising iPads for educational purposes. We’ve heard about what other schools are finding difficult and what not to do.
The campus building itself has a huge amount of natural light – it has two sections which are made completely of glass and all of our classrooms have large open glass sections. This will also allow parents to be shown around and to see what’s being done. I want them to see the kids enjoying their work and our teachers in action. Teaching is a bit of a drama performance – you must engage students. And without a doubt, some of the teachers I have coming from our Kuala Lumpur campus are entertainers!
The Early Years classrooms will all have doors leading to an outside learning area, which will be undercover from the sun and rain. This will allow for continuous learning to progress from the inside to the outside of the classroom.
Can you please describe the British national curriculum?
There’s a focus on a certain amount of academic rigour, but we also have the flexibility to incorporate extra elements into it. As a British school, we want to get beyond the regular curriculum. It’s not that it would be wishy-washy though. For example, I’ve just spoken to two companies who are in the process of creating 10 cellos, 10 violins and 10 violas which will be tailor made for children from Year 2 to Year 6, along with saxophones and trombones.
Another aspect is that international schools adapt their curriculum to suit their environment: sometimes too much. When schools try to run two different curriculums side-by-side, for example, possibly along with bilingual learning, you don’t often hear success stories coming out of that.
I am, however, looking for a Myanmar language teacher and we may also offer Chinese, and we do want some local staff in our team. I’m not 100 percent sure at this stage, as it will all depend on who turns up on that first day. At the moment, 99 percent of the interest we’ve had in enrolments has been from Europeans.
Will all the school’s employees be British?
We require our staff to hold British qualifications, or qualifications that are of the same standard and level as that required to teach the British curriculum. I myself hold an Australian passport, but I’m more experienced in teaching the British national curriculum than any other. I’ve received hundreds of CVs, however the minimum level of experience in teaching the British curriculum we require is four years.
Do prospective students need to be fluent in English?
No. All students do some pre-entry assessment tests, which gives an idea of what level of English is spoken. It will be possible for one of our teachers to provide one-on-one literacy lessons for an hour during regular English lessons, working on phonics, grammar and sentence work. Yes, there would be additional fees but after the term is over we can then reassess whether a child can access a full hour of literacy in the classroom. You’d be amazed how a child can improve their language skills when they’re immersed in a one language environment.
Fees: Primary school fees are USD$19,300 per year plus a $5,000 enrolment charge, ($1,500 of which is refundable if three months notice is given of departure).