Saigon South International School (SSIS): Fostering Innovation in Ho Chi Minh City
“We’re excited about the prospect of what we can do better and differently. We're excited about the fact that the leadership at the school is really committed to staying on the forefront of changes. We're not just current on innovation in education, we're emerging as a leader!,” said Katie Rigney-Zimmermann, Admissions Director at Saigon South International School (SSIS).
It’s well accepted now that the traditional model of teaching, which relied on a teacher lecturing in front of a class and assigning reading in a text book, has become all but obsolete. After all, what happens when the child gets out of school and starts working? As Rigney-Zimmermann pointed out, “a boss doesn’t want you to memorise a bunch of facts and then repeat them. He’ll have a problem and say, ‘Here, solve it’.”
The first order of business for SSIS is finding a way to instill a culture of problem-solving in every classroom.
The minds at SSIS approach that through project-based learning, a method that starts as early as the first grade. Say the teacher is reading kids the popular Western fairytale “The Three Little Pigs”, in which three pigs build three houses made of straw, sticks and bricks to try to withstand an evil wolf’s attempts to blow them down with his mighty breath.
After finishing the story, the kids are tasked with working in teams to create their own wolf-proof houses. If a fan can blow the model house down, the kids analyse the problem and figure out a solution. This process of analysis and improvement is the best way kids can learn – through tactile exploration. Even better? By learning this way, kids are far less likely to forget the story, the application or the results.
SSIS builds upon the complexity and scope of these projects, and it leads to extraordinary accomplishments. By the time they graduate, seniors are able to code, create apps and build prototypes of complex and ingenious designs. These projects all fall in line with the general scope of SSIS: doing everything they can to encourage innovation in the classroom.
Learning by Doing
Letting students do projects rather than solely focusing on textbooks promotes and encourages innovation. Technology has been a big asset in this regard, although Jeff Nesmith, Digital Marketing Producer at SSIS, is careful to note that the school avoids relying on technology as the be-all-and-end-all of modern education.
“It’s not just about how we can do something by using a new device,” he says. “It’s about finding the best, most productive way to solve a problem.”
While sometimes this involves using the 3-D printers, state-of-the-art makerspace and Dash and Dot programs that the school enjoys, just as often children are encouraged to solve problems with hard work and creativity.
Another example that has worked well with students is video production. Students work in teams to create their own documentaries that explore different issues taking place in the world. These range from a profile on Vietnam to climate change, and require students to interact and grasp the subject well enough to delve into specific details and describe those to an audience. And of course, students have fun doing it.
Innovative by Design
Students at SSIS enjoy a world-class set of learning facilities and highly educated and qualified teachers (70 percent of the teaching faculty have an MA or PhD). SSIS is also a not-for-profit school, and is able to put all proceeds from tuition right back into the school to continually improve its campus and faculties. This business model has also allowed Saigon South International School to focus on the professional development of its teachers: each teacher receives a fund every year to either travel to conferences overseas or pursue further education in Saigon.
Walking around the campus, a visitor can’t help but be drawn in by the energy and excitement of the faculty and students.
People are happy to be there, Katie smiled. “The only problem is, there’s so much to do here, nobody wants to go home!” Clearly, it’s a good problem to have.