There are many ways to learn and teach, but when it comes to understanding what makes a good learning environment it becomes tricky to measure efficiency. So, what makes a great learning environment? To give you a perfect example, we present to you St. George’s International School (SGIS).
Founded in 2014, SGIS is a not-for-profit institution, offering the best of education in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It was set-up in response to a demand for a school with high academic standards and international recognition.
The school’s mission is to provide a student-centered curriculum through which its students are given the foundation for becoming lifelong learners. It also aims to enable students to become creative and critical thinkers.
SGIS teaches the core values of caring, responsibility, and honesty. Hence, the students develop an open-minded world view, which will enable them to help their local and global communities in the future.
A Culture-Loving Leader
SGIS is under the ownership of Oun Phearom. As a Cambodian, Phearom is immensely proud to be a Khmer and believes that it is important for people to learn and respect their culture and language. Her three daughters also attend the school with the hope of graduating and attending University in France. For them, the goal is to teach the students that no matter how life progresses, they shouldn’t lose their heritage and culture. It is important for the students to remember where they have come from.
Graduating with the Cambodian Baccalaureate diploma is what Phearom believes parents should want for their child, as it is something to be proud of. She has a team of teachers, TAs, and Support Staff who share her vision and have helped her to choose and adapt the curriculum to suit her students. Phearom’s selflessness, kindness, and respect for the environment continue to play a significant role in the development of the school.
A Healthy Environment
SGIS offers a caring environment, catering to the development of the whole child. The school employs staff with experience teaching and an understanding of child development. “Our aim has always been to provide students the best education possible. We understand education as something that shouldn’t have an excessive cost, and we do the best we can to provide that,” says the Principal.
Currently, the school has one campus, but it plans to begin construction in early 2020. The campus currently has eight classrooms, a library, a music room, and a special education room. It also offers outdoor play areas, natural grass, and landscaping, making inquiry-based learning easy. SGIS’s English and Khmer Principals work together to adapt the programs, with the goal of higher learning by each curriculum supporting the other. Adding to that, most Khmer teachers work during the day as a Teaching Assistant which greatly improves their teaching practices and helps with continuity as the student’s transition between programs.
The owners of the school are also involved, as their children are also students. Principal Justine Carlyle is from Canada but has been with the school since it first opened in 2014, and the head of the high school is from Australia. With their combined knowledge of teaching strategies and curricula, they are able to create an English program that suits the needs of the Cambodian students but also provides the creativity, critical thinking, and analytical skills which are much need for the future.
In the beginning, the school followed the Cambridge English Curriculum but made the decision to change the curriculum in early 2018. The reason for the change was a result of discussions on how best to ensure students would graduate with both an English and Khmer diploma.
SGIS found the answer in the currently adopted curriculum i.e. the Ontario program. According to the school, it is more flexible in the higher grades, and allows students to focus only on the subjects they will need in the future. As a result, SGIS is the only school that is able to offer two full diplomas at the same time. “We were very deliberate in our decision to choose Ontario as our English curriculum, as we see a need for more critical thinking in our students,” states the Principal. Now, SGIS has become inquiry-based and student-centered. It has moved away from term and semester testing, which is still prevailing in Cambodian international schools.
In primary school, students learn according to their age and level of prior schooling. In high school, students learn at the appropriate grade level for each subject. This way they can remain with their peers as much as possible. “We do not penalize a student in one subject, because they have not done well in another,” says the Principal. The school streams the students in high school based on their academic levels. “It is easier to make accommodations for students who are new to English. Also, we follow the placement system of Ontario schools,” she further adds.
SGIS school accepts students from all backgrounds and ability levels. The school believes that it is important for everyone to receive an education, but also for others to learn kindness, patience, and adaptability. Further, the teachers differentiate their lessons to help those students who may not speak English well.
Tests at SGIS have become only a proportion of assessment and student results are based on individual unit assessments rather than semester exams. High school students have a final exam, worth 30% of their final grade. This provides them opportunities throughout the year to prove their learning. Created and marked by the teachers, the Principal checks and oversees all of these examinations. The Principal says, “It is important to make sure students are learning, but for more than just passing a test. Learning is a process, not something that should be assessed once on a test.” She further adds, “We care about the well-being and education of each student. We understand that each student comes from different personal and educational backgrounds and we do our best to help them in any way we can.” Upon graduation, SGIS students have research and analytical abilities which have prepared them for what will be expected of them in their post-secondary education.
Being student-centered, SGIS goes beyond traditional means to prepare students to be lifelong learners. The school achieves this by implementing:
Daily Club-Time: This program allows students to try new activities and learn new skills. It helps create a closer school community by making students and teachers develop relationships with others who are not in the same class. Some of the clubs that have been offered at SGIS include sewing, football, mindfulness, knitting, STEAM, gardening, Green Team, and leadership. Many of the students develop leadership skills because of the varying age groups.
Initiatives and Student-led projects: These activities are based on climate change and social welfare awareness. Students have taken part in recycling projects and worked with and supported NGOs in small projects. They have become aware of issues that will affect their future if no one acts. The Ontario curriculum complements these themes well, and students are taught to think about and analyze the human impact in their science and social studies classes. Students must also complete 40 hours of community service, volunteering their time to support local initiatives, before they can graduate in grade 12.
Free-play outdoors: Outdoor games are highly valued at SGIS. Students spend time in the beautiful schoolyard learning by themselves. They create opportunities to practice their social and problem-solving skills.
Not-for-profit school: All the income earned by the school goes back into its development. The school invests in building, buying resources, and improving the quality of teaching and learning.
Student-centered environment: Students have significant independence to foster leadership and trust. They learn through projects, outdoor play, and independent research. They also have free-will and choice regarding their learning environment and styles.
A Bright Future
Along with the planned construction for 2020, the school will begin to separate the primary from the high school. As the school continues to develop, it will be able to provide a co-operative education program to assign students credit for completing work experience. The school also hopes to expand its special education department, which includes the integration of exceptional students into mainstream classrooms. SGIS hopes to provide families in Siem Reap with an option to educate the children who have difficulty in more-traditional environments.
SGIS is also preparing for CIS accreditation, which it hopes to achieve within the next four or five years. “We are still a new school and are implementing new programs and structures each year,” concludes the Principal.
For more information, do visit: www.sgis-siemreap.com