‘Act Local, Think Global’ has been an unofficial motto of many institutions across the world. May it be educational or not, the concept of globalization has taught us that the actions taken on the ground can bring effective change in the world.
Today, the world around us is changing at a very high speed. From technological advancements to the ever-evolving quality of lifestyle, change is seemingly the only constant concept we have witnessed.
The younger generation that will be Tomorrow’s future needs to learn to adapt, mould to the change and excel in order to be the leaders of this global village. With the ideology of ‘Act Local, Think Global,’ the concept of international schools was incepted.
With globalization, the idea of international schools was embedded in the education system worldwide, aiming to bring everyone around the world together. With the vision of bringing the world together and preparing the future generations for the upcoming challenging life, Renaissance International School Saigon was established.
Spearheading the education objectives while transitioning the school to its new heights is the Head of School, Mr. James Coulson, and his team of two senior members: Head of Secondary, Ms. Sarah Campbell, and the Head of Early Years and Primary Division, Ms. Jennifer Longmuir.
In an endeavour to search for the most valuable schools in Vietnam, The Knowledge Review crossed paths with this innovative educational institute. In an interactive conversation with the heads of the schools, we learned how this school trains, grooms, and trains students for the future.
Let’s slide into the inspiring journey of Renaissance International School Saigon!
Building Academic Excellence
Academics have been the bedrock of every educational institution. Academics is the structured process where a student learns important subjects encapsulating all the basics of learning—loosely translating to experiencing the art of learning. Inculcating this idea of learning in the minds of budding citizens of Tomorrow through the structured frame, the Secondary Division Head of the School says, “Its original inception was based around the concept of building a school of academic excellence which also put equal emphasis on the whole child. Renaissance was always conceived as a medium-sized school because it did not want to become a large one. Here, we believe that no child should be invisible. There are no cracks to slip through, no way of passing by without being seen and known and listened to. In massive schools (as I previously experienced as a Head), people get lost. They can disappear into the crowd: their problems unnoticed, their pleas for help unheard. Here at Renaissance, that simply does not happen.”
The ideas and the inception story have defined the school’s journey and placed itself as a vital part of the community. Explaining the school’s service to the community, the Head of the Secondary Division of the school says, “Renaissance is a place with extremely high expectations of all our community: of our parents, guardians and families; of our staff and leadership; and, of course, of our beloved students. We want the best for everybody, whatever their individual best may be. Unfulfilled potential is one of the saddest things to witness, and here, it is not permitted.“
The Three Support Pillars of Renaissance International School Saigon
Unlike other schools where the responsibility is shared with the positions assigned, Renaissance International School has three support pillars that have shaped the school into what it is today.
Ms. Jennifer Longmuir, Head of Eary Years and Primary Divison
Ms. Jennifer Longmuir, commonly referred by the students as Jenn, has been associated with Renaissance for seven years. After years of demonstrating her vast knowledge of contemporary Education, absolute passion for young people, coupled with her outstanding personal qualities of warmth, creativity, dynamism, optimism, and an unshakeable sense of humour, everyone who has ever known Jenn agrees that she is a genuine force of nature! Jenn is a deep-thinker and has an inquisitive, striving, innovative nature. But she is also very much a doer who makes things happen and keenly understands the difference between a dream and a plan and what it takes to convert the former into the latter.
Ms. Sarah Campbell, Head of Secondary Division
Ms. Sarah Campbell comes all the way from the United Kingdom. After teaching for several years in Thailand, she joined Renaissance. Being an experienced teacher with roots in IT background, she brings creativity and strong ideas to the leadership team and has been instrumental in Renaissance’s adoption of the MYP as its future programme for the middle years section of the school.
Mr. James Coulson, Head of School
Being an international student from Spain, Mr. James Coulson has lived abroad for almost a quarter of a century. He started his career as an English professor in Greece and then moved to the Czech Republic, Spain, Chile, and Argentina before joining Renaissance in Vietnam. He is also a proud father of two Renaissance students, and his daughter is an IB DP graduate from the same school.
Talking about James’ leadership skills, the school management says, “James believes passionately in the transformative power of a truly international education and subscribes completely to Renaissance’s model of a family-focused, familiar, personalized learning space where no child is invisible.”
“Are we pushing them hard enough?”
‘Are we pushing them (the students) hard enough?’ is the question that the school leaders ask themselves before taking any decision. Including this in their philosophy, the school management says, “However, at Renaissance, we also understand something else: all of this learning, studying, working has to be for something more than just grades. If we produce a generation of students who score 45 in the IB Diploma, achieve places at Ivy League universities, and get great jobs; but who are burnt-out, jaded, and unhappy. In that case, we will have failed. Failed the most important people to us: our students. Here, happiness matters. Well-being matters. Health in all its forms matters. These are not just words; they are reflected in our daily actions.”
“Are we pushing them too hard?”
Balancing out the answers derived from the previous question, ‘Are we pushing them too hard?’ is another question the management takes before acting on the decision. These two questions have become sort of an unsaid philosophy of school before taking any decision. The school has developed these two sides with a desire for academic excellence and the determination to develop happy and well-balanced youth.
On a Visionary Mission: Be Excellent, Be Happy, and Belong
Renaissance with the changing needs of the world and modern Education has encapsulated a new vision for the school to Be Excellent, Be Happy, and Belong.
- Be Excellent: Recognize and fulfill one’s true potential and push them towards excellence.
- Be Happy: Health—physical, social, emotional—is imperative. The school works tirelessly so that the student comes to school happily in the morning and go home happy every afternoon. ‘Happy people learn better!’
- Belong: The sense of belongingness is embedded in the school’s culture. At Renaissance, students are taught to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
Maintaining Global Quality Education Standards
Special care is taken to maintain good quality education standards at the school. Recognizing the main purpose of Education, the school grooms students to be excellent in academics and prepares them for life.
Taking about the education standard maintained at the school, the Head of the school, Mr. James Coulson, says, “Education is designed to prepare young people for life, for the world, and in order to do this, schools must mirror the world around them. This implies dexterity, openness, and flexibility as we seek to keep up with an increasingly changeable world. Schools have to have a strong identity and know who they are, but we cannot remain tied to the past or held back by our own traditions. We must be brave and open to experimentation, to trying to do new things in new ways, to the beautiful act of failure. Failure is not the opposite of success; on the contrary, it is a vital ingredient of it. At Renaissance, we are innovative and constantly changing while never losing sight of our core beliefs. This is a school which knows who it is, where it is going and why.”
Initiatives to Maintain Global Education Standards
To maintain the quality of Education as per the international standard, the school takes great efforts to find quality staff and faculty. Most of the school’s international faculty have at least a master’s degree. Moreover, all the faculty are from a native English-speaking community. Talking about the maintenance of quality education at the school, Mr. James Couslon notes, “In spite of being a largely non-selective school, Renaissance consistently scores well-above IB World Averages in the IB Diploma and at Cambridge IGCSE examinations. We pride ourselves on the excellence of our teaching across the board, and many of our faculty stay with us for many years.”
Emphasizing the learning pedagogies of the school, the Head of the School puts, “learning can be very hard work. It should be challenging, and it should take students out of their comfort zones to where they can truly grow academically and personally. To support this type of modern learning, Renaissance already has the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme and is currently in the process of applying for accreditation in both the Primary Years Programme (PYP) and the Middle Years Programme (MYP), which, together will make us a full-IB Continuum World School. The IB is recognized in international educational circles and among top-ranked international universities as the gold-standard educational programme in the world today, and we are proud as a community to embrace it as a central part of our culture.”
“Another central part of our culture is our membership of the prestigious international educational body, Round Square: Renaissance is the only Round Square school in the whole of Vietnam. Round Square is part of our institutional DNA, and we embrace its ideals of Leadership, Environmentalism, Democracy, Adventure, Leadership & Service. Its strong focus on student voice & agency and its values-driven development of young people informs everything we do here at Renaissance. We are not content just to produce good doctors, good lawyers, good engineers, good artists; here, we also produce good people!” added Mr. James Coulson.
Inculcating 4Cs of 21st Century – Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking
The school has the vision to prepare students for the 21st century. Talking about the 4Cs of the 21st century, Mr. James Coulson says, “We have clear that we are not preparing our children for the world which we came from; that world no longer exists. Like many current parents, I come from a far-away planet where there was no internet, no mobile phone technology, no google translate or Spotify or Grab or Amazon or Netflix or Twitter or Facebook or so many other things that our children are just part of their world and always have been. We are preparing them for the world of the 21st century, and amidst so much uncertainty and while accepting the impossibility of seeing the future, we still believe that we can predict several key things: our children are not going to spend nearly as much time memorizing the same amount of things as we did; just being able to reproduce information passively and uncritically – as we were expected to in the 1970s and 1980s in the UK – is no longer very useful in the modern world. Now, children need 21st Century learning Skills: Collaboration; Communication; Creativity; Critical Thinking: the 4 Cs.”
Embedding the Sense of Belongingness
Belongingness is one of the core values on which the school’s inception is based. Emphasizing and sharing how the school embeds these core values in students, Mr. James Coulson says, “No one is invisible at Renaissance. This is a school in which we all look out for each other: families, faculty, staff, and—of course—our amazing students. During the long, dark months of Covid and the attendant lockdown, we managed to keep our own spirits up by constantly checking in on one another, remaining fiercely optimistic, focusing on the positives—and there were many—and celebrating the small improvements and green shoots of progress as we inched our way through the long tunnel towards the light. By acting as a community—sharing, giving, helping, listening—we were able to weather this tremendous storm, pass this most demanding of tests and come out the other end closer, stronger and better. Even during the darkest hours, Renaissance always managed to be a happy place. That is because we believe in this school, we believe in one another, and we believe in ourselves.”
Building a Glocal Community
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
Following this philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi and being a prominent international school in Vietnam, the Renaissance International School Saigon is on a mission to build a global community. Initiating the starting point from themselves, the school has chosen to be a ‘Glocal’ school.
Explaining the global influence on the Vietnamese culture and envisioning the possible future of the school, Mr. James Coulson says, “We are “glocal”: global and local. Everyone here knows that they do not belong only to a city or a country; they also belong to the world. But conversely, we are proud to live and belong to the rich, vibrant, and admirable culture as that of Vietnam. Its rich culture is ever-present in the daily life and calendar of our school as we delight in celebrating Moon Festival, Tet, and so many other wonderful events throughout the year. Its wonderful food, literature, music, architecture, and fascinating history permeate a child’s learning here. Culture is part of who we are, part of what makes us, part of what decides our future and here, we embrace the host country which we love and respect so much.”
“Renaissance is a special place. On a personal note, I was first attracted to Renaissance as a parent. The school unified all the attributes which I was searching for as a proud father of three children: student-centred; family-oriented; large enough to have fantastic facilities but small enough for no child to be invisible; a place of very high standards, a strong belief in excellence in all things and a keen desire to push ourselves and one another to fulfill our potential – whatever that potential may be; but also a human and humane place where children feel safe and noticed and loved and where families feel they have a voice and that doors are always opened to them. A school is a stool with three legs: staff, family, and students. All three legs must work together, communicate, support one another, and understand their own inter-dependence. If not, the stool falls over.”
“I believe in Renaissance. It inspires me to hear my children talking at dinner time about how they did a Sports & Health lesson learning about the concept of resistance by spending half an hour in our swimming pool with our teachers; or how the concept of supply & demand that they just discussed in Economics has made them understand certain things about the absence or presence of Covid vaccinations; or talking about the podcast they have just recorded for the school magazine, Talk Town. They return home inspired and excited by what they have spent their day doing in class. They are also tired! But it is a good kind of tired, the right kind of tired.”