Best International Schools in Saigon

By: City Pass Guide

Find the ideal international school for your child in Ho Chi Minh City with our guide to the city's top ten. We detail admission fees, curriculum, notable features and other useful details to make the process easier...

Many people move to Vietnam without a set idea of where they will settle, where they will educate their children and how they will live. Immigration is always confusing! But in Ho Chi Minh City, where wrong is often right and up can be down, tapping into the local system can seem impossible.

As a group of experienced expats, many of us with families here we’ve been through this whole process. We’ve made our blunders already, we’ve copped the scams, we’ve asked the questions, and accordingly we’ve come up with a series of resources in hopes of making your own assimilation smoother and more pleasant!

If it is schools you are after and an education you want, look no further than our list below. These schools are in no particular order but, being professional and friendly with a range of facilities and opportunities, are all excellent options for your child’s education.


International School Saigon Pearl: Elementary & Early Years School (ISSP)

Website: https://www.issp.edu.vn/

Budget: Application fee of VND 25,000,000 VND and an annual fee of up to around VND 440,000,000. For more information please see this fee sheet.

Languages: English instruction.

Curriculum: This school is a part of Cognita Schools Group, which focuses on an American-style curriculum (American Common Core – New York State) that is based on teaching core values such as honesty, caring, respect, responsibility and wisdom.

Uniform: The school’s uniform is a red short-sleeved polo emblazoned with the school’s logo at the front. Depending on the student, the shirt is complemented with either blue shorts or a blue skirt.

Unique feature: 50% off application fee may apply in certain times of the year.

ISSP is now the only international elementary and early years school (18 months – 10 years of age) in HCMC to have the prestigious accreditation from the Council of International Schools (CIS) and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).

issp


European International School Vietnam

Website: http://www.eishcmc.com/

Budget: Administration fee of VND 4,200,000 per student, registration fee of around VND 16,000,000 - 32,000,000 depending on the age of your child, and an annual fee of up to around VND 490,000,000. For more information please see this fee sheet.

Languages: English instruction

Curriculum: IB World School. Co-education.

Uniform: Yes

Unique feature: EIS has a strong focus on individual development, taking care to appreciate each child as an individual with unique learning needs and potential. They offer a wide range of interesting after school activities, from the typical sports and arts to community service at the Special Needs School in Thao Dien, to a ‘Pod Club’ where students learn how to edit and create with audio and visual media for publishing on their own internal websites.

eishcmc


Australian International School Vietnam

Website: www.aisvietnam.com

Budget: Application Fee of $141 US per student, an acceptance fee from $1,410 US to $2,821, and then an annual fee starting at $14,703 US (can be paid in installments). See this fee sheet for more information.

Languages: English instruction

Curriculum: IB, IGCSE and IB Diploma Program. Co-education.

Uniform: Yes

Unique feature: Mostly Australian teachers work at this school. Students are a mix of over 35 different nationalities, and the school has a definite focus on preparing its students for university. Recruitment agents from some of the globe’s top universities, such as Stanford University and the University of Melbourne, visit the school regularly, and the school organises excursions to these and other universities during their student's holidays.

Australian International School Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City


British International School, Ho Chi Minh City

Website: www.nordangliaeducation.com/our-schools/vietnam/ho-chi-minh-city/bis

Budget: Application Fee of $149 US, then a Registration fee of $3,000 US per child for Primary and Secondary school children (this is a one-off fee paid on entry), followed by a security deposit of $1,000 US for Primary and Secondary children. Annual fees start at $19,155 US (can be paid in instalments) from Year 1 (Primary). See this Fee Sheet  for more information.

Languages: English instruction, Vietnamese as an extracurricular club

Curriculum: IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education), IBDP (International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme), International Primary Curriculum. Co-education.

Uniform: Yes

Unique feature: Firmly established as the international school of choice in Ho Chi Minh City, the British International School is a selective, independent and co-educational day school that provides a diverse international education measured by British standards. Their academic programmes, exceptional teaching staff, and personalised approach to learning has fostered a strong reputation for delivering world class results. Additionally, through their connection to the NAE family of schools, students of BIS HCMC are able to access unique, life changing opportunities with world leading institutions such as Juilliard, MIT, and UNICEF. The school has excellent specialist facilities including gymnasiums, music suites, theatre and auditoriums and other specific spaces for art, dance and design.

BIS


The International School of Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC)

Website: www.ishcmc.com

Budget: an admission fee of $1,109 US with an additional annual development fee. Annual school fees start at $17,806 US (can be paid in installments). Please see this fee sheet for more information.

Languages: English instruction

Curriculum: IB curriculum. Co-education.

Uniform: Yes

Unique feature: ISHCMC is the first and most established school in the city. They consistently achieve high IB results that score well above the IB World Average. Unique features include purified air systems for Early Explorers to Grade 2 to combat high pollution levels. The school has committed to providing these to all Grade levels. Students are able to innovate and create in a Makerspace, Mac Lab, Film studios, Black Box Studios and DT Suites. A new state of the art Secondary Campus will also be opening in the 2017/18 academic year.

The International School of Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) Vietnam


Saigon South International School

Website: www.ssis.edu.vn

Budget: An application fee of $450 US per student, with a following enrollment fee of $2,000 US. Annual fees start at $14,908 US (can be paid in installments), and a variety of other small fees also apply. Note that this school is a non-profit international school and all fees are re-invested in the school. In spite of this, it is one of the best international schools in Saigon. Please see this fact sheet for more information.

Languages: English

Curriculum: Advanced Placement (AP), American High School Diploma (College Preparatory),

SSIS follows a tailored curriculum based on the North American education system. Students can also study the IB Diploma Program at this school. Co-education.

Uniform: Yes

Unique feature: As mentioned above, this is the only non-profit international school in Vietnam and the school’s revenues are reinvested in the school. Over 850 students from over 30 different countries attend this school, and the student to teacher ratio is 10 to 1.

Saigon South International School, teacher and students, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam


American International School Vietnam (AIS)

Website: www.ais.edu.vn

Budget: Application fee of $142 US and a registration fee of $1,755 US. Annual fees start at $11,693 US (can be paid in installments). For more, please read this fee sheet.

Languages: English instruction

Curriculum: International Baccalaureate (IB), Advanced Placement (AP), American High School Diploma (College Preparatory). Co-education.

Uniform: Yes

Unique feature: Their High school is accredited by WASC, CIS and IB. The school has new campus in Nha Be providing well equipped facilities to support for visual and performing arts as well as variety of sport programs and co-curricular activities. The school prepares its students for success at colleges and universities appropriate to their needs and aspirations in the US and around the world.

top 10 international school in HCMC


ABC International School

Website: www.theabcis.com

Budget: A refundable deposit of $976 US per child, plus a registration fee upwards of $976 US and a tuition fee starting at $11,977 annually for a grade 1 child (can be paid in installments). Please see the fee sheet here.

Languages: English instruction

Curriculum: English National Curriculum.Co-education.

Uniform: Yes

Unique feature: This school has 37 different nationalities, and is focused on cultivating globally minded students who succeed not only in their own sphere but on a worldwide level. ABC believes in a holistic education both inside and outside the classroom for it’s students, and from year 4 upwards students are taken on regular excursions and field trips both within Vietnam and overseas.

ABC International School, Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City


The American School

Website: www.tas.edu.vn

Budget: A number of lunch and bus fees apply, as does a registration fee and annual tuition fees. For a child in elementary school the registration fee is VND 30,000,000 and tuition is upwards of VND 176,000,000 annually. See this fee sheet for more information.

Languages: English instruction

Curriculum: Advanced Placement (AP), American High School Diploma (College Prepatory), WASC-accredited school. Co-education.

Uniform: Yes

Unique feature: After-school clubs include swimming, theatre, dance and others, and both campuses have Wi-Fi. Students represent over 25 different nationalities. The school focuses on teaching vital academic skills such as communication, critical thinking, research, creativity and independent learning. It is a WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) accredited School.


Canadian International School (CIS)

Website: www.cis.edu.vn

Budget: A very complex range of fees! You can expect an assessment fee of $97 US, an admission fee of $976 US and an annual tuition fee starting at $13,396, plus a number of additional costs. Please read this fee sheet for more information.

Languages: English

Curriculum: The school uses the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) in Ontario as their school board, and students graduate high school with an Ontario Secondary School Diploma. Co-education.

Uniform: Yes

Unique feature: CIS uses a Character Education in Action program to train its students in a variety of valuable ethics, from respect to responsibility. Their focus is on preparing their students for further study, and academic excellence is their key goal. They take care to provide a culturally sensitive curriculum, and though they instruct in English they also have French and Vietnamese language courses.

Campus of Canadian International School, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam


Renaissance International School Saigon

Website: www.renaissance.edu.vn

Budget: An application fee of $177 US applies. For a primary school aged child expect an admission fee of $1,464 US and a final annual tuition fee starting at $14,639 US. For more information please see this fee sheet.

Languages: English Instruction

Curriculum: English National Curriculum (see website for specifics). Co-education.

Uniforms: Yes

Unique feature: This school is a Round Square school. This association combines 50+ schools on five continents, which share six key ideals of learning: Internationalism, Democracy, Environment, Adventure, Leadership and Service. Students at Renaissance represent over 23 different nationalities, and the school prides itself on sending its graduates to the top universities and colleges from all round the globe.


Saigon Star International School

Website: www.saigonstarschool.edu.vn

Budget: For your primary aged child you are looking at a fee starting at $10,287 US annually. Please see this fee sheet for more information.

Languages: English Instruction

Curriculum: English National Curriculum. Co-education.

Uniform: Yes

Unique feature: With a strong focus on sports, this school has a swimming pool (with lessons available for all students), an outdoor sports facility, and offers a variety of sports to keep your children fit and healthy.


So there you have it! A list of Saigon’s best international schools. When choosing a school in any city it is important to consider your own child and where they will learn best. Different children are suited to different learning environments, and luckily Ho Chi Minh City has something for everyone.

Want some more top tips for living in this crazy city? Check out these must knows:

- How to get a visa to Vietnam

- Our guide to renting in Ho Chi Minh City

- Tips on the best of the city’s street food

- The best things to do with kids in Saigon


How Does Music Help Students Grow?

By: Leroy Nguyen

Why is music education in school so important?

Learning music the ISSP way

Students at International School Saigon Pearl (ISSP) are provided with in-depth music education that helps them develop important social, emotional, and cognitive brain connections. Helping them to successfully hit important developmental milestones as they grow.

Why is music education in school so important?

Exposure to music from early childhood onwards helps children to speak more clearly, develop a larger vocabulary, and strengthen social and emotional skills. Ms. Jennifer Shine, Music and Performing Arts specialist at the International School Saigon Pearl (ISSP) shares …

“ The creative process gives students opportunities to develop confidence that they then carry into other areas of their lives. These opportunities are built around self-expression, community connection, and perseverance. In turn, students achieve greater academic success, with skills that transfer easily between subjects. ”

Most preschoolers love listening or singing along to music. Studies show that parents and teachers who create a rich musical environment do not only entertain their kids but also help them to develop essential music skills. “In our EY Music program students develop an awareness of rhythm, phrasing, tempo, movement, and other elements of musicality. It’s an incredible joy to see children play and discover the music within themselves!” said Mr. June.

ISSP

Learning music the ISSP way

At ISSP, the importance of music goes way beyond academic achievements. It encompasses all the facets of child development and lays the foundation upon which future music careers are built. Music sparks all areas of child development: language, social and emotional, intellectual, motor, and at the same time imparts the skills for school readiness. While early music education helps a child’s body and mind work together, dancing to the music helps to build motor skills and the overall coordination of the body.

ISSP

Students are exposed to a wide array of music, from Classical, Modern, Rock, Jazz, Folk, and Pop, to Global music that sheds light upon other cultures and traditions. By facilitating deep listening of other musical genres, students will develop a greater understanding of the world, its diverse community, and their place within it.

From EY through Grade 5, a wide variety of pitched and unpitched instruments are used to explore rhythm, pitch, tempo, melody, timbre, and harmony. The general music program uses drums from around the world alongside a plethora of percussion instruments, and students are lucky enough to have access to an electric drum kit, electric guitar, and bass that provide electronic sound exploration. Students explore pitch and melody during keyboard and xylophone lessons, and are taught to tune and play the ukulele in Grades 4 and 5.

ISSP

After school programs are also offered to further develop ukulele and piano skills for all ages. Additionally, students in upper levels can join choir and develop listening and singing skills in a supportive and creative community. 

Ms. Jennifer fondly reflects upon the rewarding benefits of Music Education at ISSP ...

“ In a world that is rapidly moving away from direct human connection, I’m proud of the Music and Performing Arts program at ISSP. I’m even more proud of our students who remind us daily to push the limits of creativity. Their curious, bold and joyful exploration of music and performance gives me hope for our future. ”

International School Saigon Pearl

Saigon Pearl Area, 92 Nguyen Huu Canh St, Ward 22, Binh Thanh District, HCMC.
Hotline: (028) 2222 77 88
Email: admissions@issp.edu.vn
Facebook: www.facebook.com/isspvn

Image source: ISSP


Keeping Good Counsel

By: City Pass Guide

We sat down to interview Michelle Parker, the Guidance and College Counsellor at The American School, on what it means to be a great school counselor.

How does a counsellor ensure he/she is sending a child on a path the child will both benefit from and enjoy?

They meet one to one and in groups to make assessments to get in touch with who they are. There is never a magic wand or any guarantees; the whole point is that the counsellor works with the children throughout their school career to gain an understanding of the individual's strengths and weaknesses.

To what extent should a counsellor advise a student? Is it more motivational and self-help or strictly academic advice?

Counsellors are never strict about anything. I cover social, emotional, academic and career choices. This is an holistic approach to education, we allow children to make informed choices about their futures.

How do TAS's counsellors determine what subject a student is best at and should pursue?

Their subject strengths don’t really matter, I don’t tell them what to do, ever. It’s just a case of opening up their horizons and getting them to recognise the options open to them. For example if a child wants to be a vet, I would look at their science grades. If they are failing badly then it is not a good match. If however they are adamant that this is the path they want, then it can be an opportunity to improve their science grades. That is to say, if they really want it, then they would have to buckle down to succeed in these core subjects.

Is a counsellor in some ways a child psychologist?

It runs parallel to it. In the US you have to have a degree in psychology and a masters in school counselling. It is a specialisation within the broader subject.

Do parents who meet the counsellor have a say in what the counsellor tells the student?

Parents don’t have any say in what the school counsellor does. Of course we meet with them to explain what we are doing. However it is a case of us informing them what happens and not parents telling the councillors what to do.

Is student counselling a new practice in Vietnam?

It’s not new to American schools, but it is new to Vietnamese. The Vietnamese kids which make up 50% of the school take to the role very well. Kids like to talk, to their counsellor. It is rewarding and incredibly exciting to see them open up for the first time. For them it is extremely cathartic, because they know it is completely private and the trust will not be broken, unless of course, they are in danger.

How do Vietnamese parents who may have not heard of this practice before, react to it?

Asian parents in general seem to take it quite well. They have already made the step of placing the child in an American school, so to a degree they have already taken that leap of faith.

How do Vietnamese students react to counselling compared to foreign students?

Foreign students are more familiar with it, as it is widely used and accepted in the USA. but Vietnamese children soon get used to bit and when they do the reaction is about the same.

How does TAS choose their counsellors? Do they look at his or her background to see if they themselves were a success academically and career-wise?

Obviously qualifications matter immensely, then experience. After that it is all individual to each school. They will have an idea of the style that they want and will choose someone for the role for different reasons.

Has TAS ever had a bad counsellor?

Not so much bad, but in any career field there are going to be cases of a mismatch. You cannot reach every single child, but we really try to get to as many as possible. Counsellors want to help people, they are approachable and open. But sometimes a child will simply not respond to a certain personality, that is just life.

Do you think the age of a counsellor has any bearing on their ability to identify with and enable the children to open up?

I honestly don’t think age is an issue, it’s all personality.

Do counsellors also suggest extracurricular activities for students?

Not so much suggest, but I do get involved. I love sports so I have taught tennis and play a lot of sports here. I really enjoy the teachers versus kids volleyball.

If a student is conflicted between what they want to do and what their parents want, how does a counsellor guide the student to do "the right thing”?

I always tell the child that it’s their life and their future; they must live it. With the guidance of the school we will always put the child’s best interest first. I meet with parents in groups and explain that it is of paramount importance that every child is accepted as an individual. The best thing a parent can do is to support children in their endeavours, no matter what their choices are.

What is your bottom line? What do you see as the best that you offer to the school and the children?

I see my role as more than simply being for the school and the child. The overall picture is to educate the Vietnamese community about what we offer to the children. It is so important that children get guidance and counselling to enable them to grow and be the absolute best that they can be. Support is the key word here, sometimes it is easy to put too much of one’s own opinions onto a child. Failure is not a bad thing, everyone has to fail. They have to be free to fail. Pick themselves up and say, where do I go from here?
The American School Community Service programme started this year. This is a service where all students who qualify will have to have a number of hours of community service. They simply cannot graduate without it. Such things like collecting clothes and giving them to the poor people in the area. Our children are incredibly lucky and lead privileged lives. It is important that they realise it.


Top things to do in Saigon for Kids

By: City Pass Guide

Ho Chi Minh City offers superb opportunities for people who decide to make a life here. But what about your kids? How good is Saigon life for your young ones? Here are a few ideas for activities for your children to enjoy.

KizCiti

Khu Cong Vien Khanh Hoi, Hoang Dieu, D4

Phone: +84 28 3825 3868
Hotline: +84 9 3205 9169

Opening Hours: 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Daily

This activity centre is jam packed with excellent things to occupy young minds for hours. Children participate in and learn about different professions in the adult world. They can earn KizCiti money by taking part in certain activities, then have to spend it on others. It has become popular as a school trip.

KizCiti has computer systems checking your child’s progress through each profession. It is an imaginative attraction; kids get to be airline pilots, firefighters, chefs, beauticians, paramedics and just kids! It is excellent value, and well worth checking out. There are two sessions daily: 8a.m. until 3:30 p.m., and 4 p.m. until 9:30 p.m.


Dam Sen Water Park

3 Hoa Binh, Ward 3, D11

Phone: +84 28 3963 3593

Opening Hours: Wed to Mon 8.30 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. except Sunday 8.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. Closed Tuesdays

 

 

One of the most popular things for kids to do in the city, the water park makes for a great family day out. It opened in 1999 and has been busy ever since. When the temperatures start to soar in the city, this is just the place to cool off and have fun. It is worth checking out the rides in advance before throwing your little angels in at the deep end. Some of these rides are really quite scary, waterslides that drop almost vertically and hurl you out at the bottom at quite a speed; zip lines, and all manner of things.

If you want to join in, remember that these rides were built for Asian people and hurtling your 100 kgs down a water slide at high speed is likely to result in a few bumps and bruises. But it is great fun for kids of all ages. The great success of Dam Sen Water Park is that it really does cater for all. There are gentle rides for little ones, medium rides for those who are a little more adventurous and really hair raising ones for the adrenaline junkies.


Suoi Tien Theme Park

120 AH1, Tan Phu, D9

Phone: +84 28 3896 0260

Opening Hours: Mon to Fri 7.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Sat to Sun 7.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.

Suoi Tien Theme Park was opened in 1995. It’s is a bit of a trek out of town through District 2 and on to District 9, but it is a good place for kids. Eventually the new metro will stop here and it will be more accessible. The park and gardens tell the story of Vietnam’s history and legends, like the battle between the God of the Water and the God of the Mountain, known as the Battle of Thuy Tinh and Son Thinh.

It’s a mixture of fun, facts, legends and weird stuff. Dragons and dinosaurs make for confusing bed fellows but it all works out in that strangely unique Vietnamese way. There is also a zoo, a sea water pool for bathing and cooling off when the temperatures soar, and a man-made beach complete with waterfall, on which is cultured the face of an emperor.


Snap Cafe

32 Tran Ngoc Dien, Thao Dien Ward, D2

Phone: +84 28 3519 4282

Opening Hours: Mon to Fri 7.30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. Sat to Sun 7.30 a.m. to 11.00 p.m.

It might seem somewhat strange to include a bar / cafe in a list of great things for kids to do, but Snap Cafe is a lot more than just a cafe. This is one of the best family based places to hang out in the entire city. It’s an open air, quirky, bamboo and thatch affair that caters especially for families. At the back is a large sandpit with climbing frames and other fun things to do.

The kids will play for hours whilst mum and dad enjoy a couple of beers and some comfy seats. There are a few small shops inside the complex as well, so you can come here, leave the kids playing, look at what’s on offer, and enjoy a game of pool. The kitchen serves up fantastic food as well. What more could you want?


Cu Chi Tunnels and Wildlife Rescue Station

About 1 hour out of town past the airport

The famous Cu Chi Tunnels were where the Viet Cong fighters hid out from the Allied forces in the war. There are hundreds of miles of tunnels running right across the south of the country. You can visit them and see just how grim it must have been for the soldiers back in time. Guests can crawl through the tiny tunnels, the perfect size for kids!

Whilst here drop into the Cu Chi Wildlife Rescue Station. The rangers do tremendous work rescuing animals in peril from all sorts of situations. You may get to see bears, wild cats, gibbons, turtles and many species of birds.

These are just a few suggestions among many of the top places to visit with children in Ho Chi Minh City.


What should you consider when choosing a school in HCMC?

By: City Pass Guide

The first step in choosing a school is to be clear on what you are looking for. Then, visit each school to learn more about their educational philosophy and values, and how they compare to your own. It is important to ask about the school’s accreditation, as well as the experience and credentials of the individual teachers. It is also important to ask about the school’s curriculum. Is it student-centred? Does the school provide special learning support? Are there extension programmes or other opportunities for excellence?

Photo: Playground for children at The European International School

A great way to review a school is to take a tour during school hours. Ask to visit classrooms, break times and sports lessons, and pay attention to how engaged and happy the children seem. Are the classrooms bright and welcoming? Are they well equipped? What are the class sizes? What kind of co-curricular activities are students involved in during the school day? How diverse is the student population? Are there sports programmes or clubs in which the students participate after school?

Student learning at Saigon South International School

Research shows that children whose parents are involved in their education do better than those whose parents aren’t. Therefore, it is important to find a school that encourages parental involvement and welcomes parents on campus. What methods do the teachers use to communicate with parents? Are there parent meetings with administrators? Is there a type of parent association?

Students in a workshop with actor and and motivational speaker Ben Walden at ABC International School

If possible try to communicate with someone from your home country who attends the school. Take time to look at the school’s website and read some of the school newsletters, parent letters or other publications. Talk to members of the community and see what they think of the school their children are attending.

Art class at The American School

It is also important to be dedicated to finding the best school for your child! Always consider your child’s unique interests, personality and abilities, and put these as the top priority when choosing where they should learn.

What about sending your child to an international school?

In order to receive an international education, you must be prepared financially. Tuition fees vary greatly, but schools with a more advanced English curriculum range between VND225M and VND450M per year. Discounts may apply to additional children but it’s still a lot of money if you’re not on an expat package that includes schooling - see if your employer is willing to salary-package the fees.

Music Class at Vietnam Australia International School

In addition to tuition fees, expect to pay extra for enrolment, placement, uniforms, extra-curricular activities, transportation and lunches. Even if you have no qualms about the school’s tuition and fees, there is still no guarantee that the best schools will admit your child. Keep the selection process and long waiting lists in mind when choosing.

What if you send your child to a Vietnamese school?

If you want your child to experience an authentic Vietnamese education, they can attend a Vietnamese school upon completion of a Vietnamese language test. International students who do not speak Vietnamese may participate in some master programmes available through Vietnamese universities in cooperation with international partners. The main advantages of Vietnamese schools are lower fees, a sense of hard work, respect and discipline. However, the lack of student-to-teacher interaction and extracurricular activities is often criticised along with the archaic, teacher-centred learning method that emphasises rote learning and a heavy workload.

What about home schooling?

Given the rising costs of education and the inconvenience of far-away schools, Vietnamese and expatriates alike are looking at home schooling as a possible solution. There is a wealth of information and support available on the internet for either a parent or recruited tutor to help homeschooled children succeed. Australia seems to be the acknowledged leader in the field of home-taught education.

What schools should you consider in HCMC?

 Check out Top 11 International Schools in HCMC or see the list below.

Nursery schools Primary schools Secondary schools

ABC International School
- Asia Pacific College
- Australian International School Saigon
- British International School Vietnam HCMC
- British Vietnamese International School HCMC
- Canadian International School System
- Deutsche Schule HCMC (International German School)
- Ecole Boule & Billes
- International School Saigon Pearl
- KinderStar Preschool
- KinderWorld International Kindergarten
- Little Genius
- Little-Angels International Preschool
- Lycée Français International Marguerite Duras
- Montessori International School
- Renaissance International School Saigon
- Saigon Kids Early Learning Centre
Saigon South International School
- Saigon Star International School
- Schools of North America
- SmartKids International Child Care Centres
The American School
The European International School HCMC
- Tiny Flower Montessori School
Vietnam Australia International School
- Western Australia School

- ABC International School
- American International School
- Asia Pacific College
- Australian International School Saigon
- British International School Vietnam HCMC
- British Vietnamese International School HCMC
- Canadian International School System
- Deutsche Schule HCMC (International German School)
- International School HCMC
- International School Saigon Pearl
- Korean International School
- Lycée Français International Marguerite Duras
- Renaissance International School Saigon
- Saigon South International School
- Saigon Star International School
- Schools of North America
- Singapore International School
- The American School
- The European International School HCMC
- The Japanese International School
- Vietnam Australia International School
- Western Australia School

- ABC International School
- American International School
- Asia Pacific College
- Australian International School Saigon
- British International School Vietnam HCMC
- British Vietnamese International School HCMC
- Canadian International School System
- Deutsche Schule HCMC (International German School)
- International School HCMC
- International School Saigon Pearl
- Korean International School
- Lycée Français International Marguerite Duras
- Renaissance International School Saigon
- Saigon International College
- Saigon South International School
- Schools of North America
- Singapore International School
- The American School
- The European International School HCMC
- The Japanese International School
- Vietnam Australia International School

Meet the Expert: Ellen Thompson on International School Life

By: City Pass Guide

Ellen Thompson is an American who has lived in Ho Chi Minh City for close on 14 years. She came to teach English originally, and liked Vietnam and the people so much that she stayed. Saigon Star International School opened its doors in 2006. Ellen joined two years later as Headteacher. The school is in a particularly lush part of Saigon’s District 2. The location was chosen for its open space, clean air and green environment. An added bonus is the regular encounter with the local wildlife. Not many commuters get a traffic jam caused by a herd of buffalo! Having studied and worked in several different countries around the globe has given her a broad outlook on life and a keen interest in creating a supportive international school community.

 

Ellen Thompson - Saigon Star Internation School Principal

 

I sat down with Ellen to discuss life at an international school for her, her staff and of course, the pupils.

What changes have you seen both in education in HCMC and the city in general?

As far as Vietnam is concerned, there has been a huge increase in bilingual schools. They often split the days with the Vietnamese curriculum in the mornings and English in the afternoons. The popularity of these schools is due primarily to the Vietnamese wanting to give their children a head start learning English so as to give them more choices for higher education and better job opportunities. Many state schools are also incorporating programmes like the Cambridge curriculum to deliver a more diverse programme.

As for changes to the city, it is immense. You can’t miss all the new construction happening around. The skyline and suburbs are almost unrecognisable from when I first arrived.

How do you think education at an International School in HCMC compares to schools back home?

I think an international school education is equivalent to a private school education back home. The international schools in HCMC offer a very high standard of instruction and quality facilities. This is, of course, expected when a parent or company is paying such a large annual school fee.

From a private school perspective, it certainly holds its own against an equivalent school in America or the UK. The content is the same but the main advantage is the teacher-pupil ratios, which are much better here. Statistically, children that have been with us for more than three years are working well above their contemporaries from their home countries.

What are the greatest benefits and negative aspects of expat life for children in HCMC?

The greatest benefit, I think, is the huge broadening of a child’s attitude to cultural differences. They are growing up surrounded by different cultures and languages. They get to travel and experience things that many people only dream of. Also, our lifestyles are very different from back home, where most families wouldn’t even be able to consider having a housekeeper, driver or nanny.

The main negative is the limited number and range of extracurricular activities for children in the city. Things are improving, but very slowly. Apart from a few sports, music, art and drama programs, there are no community-organised leagues for children, like a YMCA. On a positive note, at least we now have an ice-rink in District 2.

How do teachers’ experiences here in HCMC compare to their home countries?

One of the reasons teachers often choose to teach internationally is that they feel overworked in their home countries. Since we don’t have the same level of bureaucracy, teachers are able to spend less time doing paperwork and benefit from a much better work-life balance.

Furthermore, teachers have much smaller class sizes, which means they feel capable of doing a much better job and making a much bigger difference.

Overall, their experience here is overwhelmingly positive and it is very rare for teachers to return to teaching in their home country after working here. When teachers do move on, it is often to another country, for another adventure.

How does an international school education differ from a Vietnamese one?

Again, the main difference is the size of the classes. Vietnamese schools generally have classes of up to 40-50 students and the delivery is usually lecture based with little practical work. Teaching strategies in international schools are more diverse, taking account of children’s different learning styles and differing levels of ability. There is also greater focus on developing a child’s creativity, with students studying art, music and drama to a far greater degree.

I know teachers are impressed by National Teachers’ Day, is this a big thing in Vietnam?

Teacher’s Day comes as a nice surprise for our teachers each year who, generally, have never experienced anything like it before. Without a doubt, teachers in this part of the world are respected far more than in the West so it is really nice for our teachers to feel appreciated for all their hard work and dedication. Whilst Teachers’ Day at international schools isn’t celebrated to the same extent as Vietnamese state schools, many teachers do receive flowers and other gifts from children, particularly from our Vietnamese families.

I know school costs in HCMC raise eyebrows among some parents. Why is it so expensive?

Providing the high-quality facilities and professional, well-qualified, native teachers that parents expect costs a significant amount of money. Having said that, at Saigon Star we do try so hard to keep our costs down in other areas and pass those benefits onto parents, because we understand that education is a huge financial commitment lasting many years. However, in modern society, people often see the most expensive schooling as the best, although that is not always the case. I firmly believe at Saigon Star we deliver the same high-quality education for much less.

What is your opinion on so-called unconventional teaching methods? Do you stick to a rigid formula or are you more open to accepting new ideas?

There is no correct formula for teaching. As a school we do try to adopt the best methods that we have seen from around the world, for example, by incorporating Montessori as part of our early years programme, but teaching is more of an art than a science. There are many ways to achieve the desired result, and each teacher will approach it in a different way. Part of building a good team is finding teachers with different personalities and skill sets from which pupils will benefit during their time at school. 

Rote* learning still has its place when learning knowledge, but knowledge, skills and understanding are all taught, learned and assessed differently and therefore require different approaches. Our teachers know this and plan each lesson depending on what it is that is being taught. What we know about how children learn is changing all the time, which means we also need to ensure we keep up to date and continue to support our teachers with new ideas. Even as educators, we never stop learning.

Does having children of different nationalities affect discipline?

At Saigon Star behavioural issues are practically non-existent and I’m sure it is the same for other international schools. Our students tend to come from supportive families, which makes a big difference, so it is not really a question of nationality. I’d say as well that children here are not exposed to the same societal problems that we have back in our countries. Having students learn alongside children from other parts of the world actually creates cultural harmony rather than the other way around.

*Rote learning is learning through repetition and memory, i.e. multiplication tables.


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