Evie Burrows-Taylor takes a tour.
Nestled among the leafy hills of the New Territories, International College Hong Lok Yuen (ICHK) is a world away from the bustle of the city. Here, kindergarten and primary aged children are able to complete their early education in the peaceful surroundings particular to this area of Hong Kong’s ‘dark side’. With an additional campus for secondary students in Sha Tau Kok, the school aims to make students resilient, confident risk takers. This is an aim supported by the small school environment and PYP curriculum, which aims to inspire students with physical and intellectual independence.
“We run an inquiry based curriculum but I think our children develop a natural curiosity because they’re in such a warm community,” says headteacher, Ruth Woodward. “All the children know each other.” With a low staff turnover – the school even counts an alumni member among its team – ICHK offers students a level of stability hard to achieve in a city known for the transience of its residents. To support this feeling of stability, the school always makes an effort to make space for ex-pupils who are returning to Hong Kong. “If they leave, you generally find that they want to come back to our school. We try and make it so that at some stage we can take them back,” says Woodward, who has been with the school for over 15 years.
“We try to pick up on what our parents need. This year there were a few first time parents and we realised that they were a bit anxious, so we held a workshop where they could discuss what they were worried about,” she explains. It was 35 years ago when ICHK, like many of Hong Kong’s international schools, was launched by a group of parents looking for something different from the choice of education available. In this case, they wanted their children to learn Chinese. As one of the first schools to offer a comprehensive Chinese language programme, today the school teaches the language five days a week.
The children, who learn using traditional characters, which they see in their everyday lives, learn to speak Mandarin. Naturally, the students are streamed for these classes, with the native level group also given the chance to prove their bilingual muscle during drama sessions run in Chinese. While the majority of lessons are held in groups of up to 26, Chinese classes are no bigger than 14.
ICHK’s respect for Hong Kong’s culture can also be seen in its work with the city’s charities. In particular, the Home of Loving Faithfulness, a residential house dedicated to those who suffer physical and intellectual challenges, located close to the school in Fanling, which receives a percentage of any profit made by the school. Further afield, the students recently raised enough money to rebuild two schools in Nepal. As a result, two earthquake-proof schools have been built out of bamboo and stone, and the school will continue to follow up and send resources.
While this might be indicative of the school’s IB outlook, students do not need to look far to learn about other cultures. Around 35 nationalities are represented by the student body, with 50% of the student body accounted for by Hong Kong Chinese pupils. The remaining half of the school is made up of Australian, American, Spanish, German, Russian and French students, to name a few, as well as a strong Dutch community. As a result the school runs an after-hours Dutch school two days a week, and keeps Dutch language books in its well-stocked library. In terms of staff, while the majority are from the UK, there are also teachers from Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
The lively community spirit of the school was recently seen in evidence during its Party in the Park event, which saw over 1,000 people turn up to enjoy family fun games, music and performances, in both English and Chinese, from the children. While there is currently a waiting list for the school, Woodward stresses that the school makes room where it can. Younger students are also able to attend playgroup, accompanied by a parent or helper, which allows them to become familiar with the school environment before attending the nursery. The group is run by one of the nursery teachers, who can advise on daily routines, toilet training and the introduction of language.
The school’s facilities nod to both the benefits of modern and traditional teaching methods and equipment. Recently purchased Macs and robotics technology are accompanied by an impressive school field, and outdoor space, including a garden where children have boxes they can use to plant vegetables and flowers.
“There’s a great saying: “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow”,” said Woodward, referring to the quote from American educational reformer, John Dewey. “We’re all about a balance – it’s not all about children being in front of the computer, but on the other hand, it is their world.”