Located just south of Hong Kong (HK), Lantau Island is, with its lush greenery and diverse range of flora and fauna, like one might imagine the Garden of Eden. On the south side of the island, children can play on the beautiful seashores in surroundings that are nothing short of blissful. However, in the 1990s, these kids were missing one thing on Lantau – an international school, and had to travel long distances to go to a school in HK.
The parents on Lantau did not like the idea of making their children commute long distances into town to go to a school in a building, especially when they lived on a picturesque subtropical island with no high rises. They employed a teacher to teach the children in their homes and this eventually led to the establishment of Lantau International School (L.I.S.) by Serge Berthier, who was one of those parents and is still the Supervisor of the school. Serge only entered the education sector because he wanted his daughter to learn in a natural environment such as the one offered by Lantau. He set up a school so that other children could also benefit from an education far away from the noise, stress, and pollution of the city, surrounded by trees and with swimming lessons in the sea.
L.I.S. was thus established in 1995 and is one of the best schools in HK. Surrounded by the scenic sub-tropical splendour of Lantau, the school is now spread out over three campuses in lowrise buildings, in Cheung Sha (4,500 sq. ft), Tong Fuk (12,000 sq. ft), and Pui O (9,000 sq. ft) and currently operates 13 classes from Reception class to Primary 6 with over 200 students.
The L.I.S. Model – Learning, Inclusivity, and Support
L.I.S. is dedicated to its principles – Learning, Inclusivity, and Support:
Learning: L.I.S. believes in creating strong foundations for essential academic skills, including literacy, mathematics, and science. The school also believes that children should be at the class level that is right for their needs, not necessarily the one dictated by their age. Homework is given at the discretion of the teacher and detailed feedback is provided on all work that is handed in by students.
Inclusivity: L.I.S. is a private, secular, apolitical, and unaffiliated school. It stands for tolerance and respect, and is proud to have students from over 30 nationalities. The school takes a firm stance on bullying, and this may lead to extreme cases of suspension.
Support: Working with parents, L.I.S. does its utmost to accommodate all students’ needs where it has the competency to do so. It also provides education with affordable fees relative to other international schools and may consider requests for financial assistance in exceptional circumstances on a case-by-case basis for parents who are undergoing hardship.
Balancing an English Education with Mandarin Classes
The school boasts a unique balance between an English education following the British curriculum combined with extensive Mandarin classes. Its bilingual Reception class has a full-time English, and a Mandarin teacher.
The school immerses its students in Mandarin throughout the curriculum by giving them multiple short classes a week (four 30-minute classes a week plus additional Mandarin lunchtime clubs in primary). Mandarin classes are also organized by level within a given year group in order to ensure that the curriculum can be designed to best help the students.
Lighthouse in the Journey
L.I.S. was founded by Serge Berthier, a French citizen who began his career as a civil administrator in the Ministry of Transport in Algeria. In 1999, he was selected by the Chinese Government to be one of the 65 experts to establish the Boao Forum for Asia, which was set up in 2001. He founded the quarterly geopolitical magazine ‘Asian Affairs’ in 1999 (in publication until 2012) and was a regular lecturer at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies’ annual conference in Malaysia and has published several books in English and French.
L.I.S. is still very much a family-run business, as Serge is still the Supervisor of the school and his daughter, Anouk Berthier, is now the General Manager. The day-to-day running of the school is ensured by the Principal – James Lambert, a British citizen born in Liverpool who gained a Master of Science before moving to HK and into the field of education. James is a popular and approachable figurehead at the school who successfully supported students, teachers and parents during the challenging COVID-19 period.
Learning Experience in a Pleasant Environment
The school has created a warm and relaxed learning environment, with well-lit, brightly decorated classrooms and numerous classes outdoors, on the beach, in the forest, or in the fields amongst the buffaloes, all located within 5-20 minutes of the campuses on foot. This is done in a secure environment, with two adults always supervising any children outside the classroom.
While all the classrooms at L.I.S. are equipped with an interactive board (Active Board) and every student from Primary 4 to 6 is provided with a computer in the classroom for educational use, there remains a big focus on learning through reading and writing on paper at the school, as the administration thinks this is the best way to develop children’s learning and core motor skills, as well as awareness of the environment and memory.
All L.I.S.’ teachers are native English speakers and are permitted or registered with the HK Education Department Bureau. Further, they all regularly undergo first aid training so that the school can guarantee the best education in the safest environment for its students.
L.I.S. offers a range of after-school clubs during school term (these have included soccer, Mandarin, theatre, homework, history, chess, dance, cooking, and hiking), and is also happy to consider hosting clubs on the school’s premises that are run by external persons and/or are open to non-LIS students in order to support a vibrant community on South Lantau Island.
At L.I.S., children receive a well-rounded education of the highest academic standard that combines classroom and outdoor learning, allowing them to flourish both socially and academically. Its student-to-teacher ratio that does not exceed 24:1 contributes to a highly effective learning environment. As a result, the amount of one-to-one tailored attention that students get from their teachers is maximized.
L.I.S. believes in helping children develop their full potential. The school is always striving to develop ways to teach that are tailored to their needs and capabilities, and monitors academic progress and the school’s high standard via annual testing using written National Framework for Educational Research (NFER) tests in the classroom.
L.I.S. is proud of the achievements of its students some of which have been finalists in local creative writing, mathematics, and art competitions in HK. Many of its alumni have achieved excellent academic results in secondary school. Several have gone on to top universities around the world.
The beauty of the school is that several of its alumni have made the trip back to see the school many years later and still talk fondly about their happy memories of childhood. Some of them have even enrolled their children in the school.
Braving the Pandemic
When schools closed in 2020 due to COVID-19, L.I.S. acted swiftly to set up printed work packs for students. By means of Seesaw and Zoom, online classes were also carried out to cater to both parents who wanted their children to continue learning on paper and those ready to try the online teaching model. Teachers worked tirelessly for over a year to keep online lessons interesting and stimulating for the students, and also personally delivered work packs to parents when required.
While it is challenging to follow all the hygiene requirements laid out by the HK Education Department Bureau, L.I.S. is currently able to provide full-time onsite teaching, thanks to the high COVID-19 vaccination rate amongst teachers. To ensure that the school can remain open full-time, the school has adopted new health and safety protocols.
Beyond the Horizon
L.I.S. believes in stability and is looking forward to continuing to offer high-quality primary grade education in a unique and unforgettable landscape. The school is also continuously developing and improving its Mandarin teaching to help students become proficient, having introduced a bilingual reception class in 2019.
L.I.S. has applied to the HK Government to lease a derelict school campus in a historic site on Lantau Island in order to rehabilitate it and open a secondary stream. The success of this project depends entirely on the government’s goodwill, as the former school is owned by the government. The outcome of demand should be known around March 2022. If a lease is granted at acceptable terms, L.I.S. will develop six new classes. The secondary stream would aim to become International Baccalaureate registered, offering the Middle Years Programme for students aged 11-16.