Best International Schools in Ho Chi Minh City

By: City Pass Guide

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Educaring™ in HCMC

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Find the ideal international school for your child in Ho Chi Minh City with our overview of the city's premier education providers. Scroll down to find details about admission fees, curricula, notable features and other useful details to make the process of choosing a school easier.

 Many people move to Vietnam without a set idea of where they will live or where they will educate their children! For these reasons, emigration is always a challenge, but in Ho Chi Minh City, where ‘wrong’ is often ‘right’ and up can be down, tapping into the local system can sometimes seem impossible.

Best International Schools in Saigon

As a group of experienced expats, many of us with families here, we’ve been through this whole process. We’ve done the leg work, we’ve asked the questions, and we’ve come up with a series of resources that we hope will make your experience on settling in Ho Chi Minh City much easier and less time consuming! 

If it is schools you are after and an education you want, look no further than our list below. Listed in no particular order, these schools are all premium international schools, professional, friendly with a range of facilities and extra curricular opportunities that will make them an excellent choice for your child’s education.

Montessori International School of Vietnam

Website: montessori.edu.vn

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: Fees for students vary significantly depending on age and whether they enrol for half day lessons or full day. School meals are also optional extras, as is transport to and from school. However, as a guide, fees for a full time elementary student range from VND 380,000,000 to VND 400,000,000 for a year. For full details click here

Languages: English instruction. Some classes in Vietnamese

Curriculum: MIS follows the Montessori philosophy and is accredited by the American Montessori Society. Students are encouraged to become independent learners via free exploration. 

Uniform: No.

Unique feature: In addition to following the Montessori philosophy, MIS is an advocate of ‘Resources for Infant Educarers’ or RIE®. As a result the school is very well placed to provide parental support for parents who wish to adopt the Educaring™ approach. MIS is also able to offer a variety of learning environments at each of their 3 HCMC based campuses. 

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

Website: https://www.issp.edu.vn/

issp

Budget: Application fee of VND 25,000,000 VND and annual fees starting at VND 210,000,000 in early years, rising up to VND 458,700,000 for Grade 5. For more information please see this fee sheet.

Languages: English instruction.

Curriculum: This school is a part of Cognita Schools Group, which follows the American Core Curriculum which focuses 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: 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).

Kids Club Saigon (Early Childhood Centre)

Website: https://www.kidsclubsaigon.com/

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: Fees for Kids Club Saigon vary depending on the age of the child and how many days a week they attend the centre. However, to attend for 5 days a week you can expect to pay around VND 180,000,000 for children aged below 4 years and around VND 199,000,000 for Kinder Kids (ages 5 - 6). For full details contact kidsclubsaigon@gmail.com

Languages: English instruction.

Curriculum: The curriculum at Kids Club Saigon is based on Washington State Early Learning and Development Guidelines. However, the approach is Reggio Emilia and Montessori inspired meaning that a blended approach to early childhood education provides a child-centered program of learning and self discovery. 

Uniform: No uniform. 

Unique feature: Kids Club Saigon strives to create an atmosphere that makes the centre your child’s ‘home away from home’, which is reflected in the facilities at the centre. The ‘pretend play’ kitchen area is a popular area of discovery for kids to imitate what they see at home, and to explore in a safe environment. 

APU American International School

Website: http://apu.edu.vn/

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: Annual tuition fees vary depending on the age of the child but you can expect to pay upwards of VND 198,000,000 for preschool, VND 270,000,000 for primary students and VND 357,000,000 for secondary. A registration fee of VND 45,000,000 is also applicable for each applicant. For full details visit the website.

Languages: English instruction.

Curriculum: APU students follow an American curriculum that incorporates AP elements where appropriate but is generally inspired by the Montessori approach. Secondary students are provided with a robust and diverse education through instruction in four core subjects—language arts, mathematics, science, and social science—as well as supplemental and peripheral subjects such as English as a Second Language (ESL) and computer science.

Uniform: The uniform at APU is a white shirt, navy blue vest embroidered with the school logo and a checkered tie. 

Unique feature: Older students at APU can also benefit from the partnership between APU International School (APU) and the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) which has created a unique accelerated program for high school students. Students accepted into College Bridge Program (CBP) can earn a semester, a year, or more of US university credits while enrolled in high school courses or as a recent high school graduate. For more details visit the website

Lavelle Academy (Early Years and Preschool)

Website: https://lavelleacademy.com/

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: Annual tuition fees are dependent on whether a student attends for a half day of full day, but you can expect to pay between VND 353,000,000 and VND 395,000,000 for full time tuition, depending on the age of the child. However, Lavelle Academy does offer promotional rates on tuition fees certain times of the year. For full details visit the website.

Languages: English instruction.

Curriculum: Lavelle Academy offers a holistic and flexible schedule where the curriculum is focused on supporting the child in whatever stage of development they are in. Lavelle Academy’s curriculum aims to provide real life experience (learning through play) that creates confidence, independence and creativity along with a knowledge of natural and social sciences

Uniform: The uniform at Lavelle Academy is a lightweight cotton shirt, embroidered with the school logo and light gray cotton trousers. 

Unique feature: Like many international schools in Ho Chi Minh City, Lavelle Academy offers an excellent range of enrichment programs. However, with private piano lessons, private swimming lesson and ballet tuition from award winning choreographers, registered with the Royal Academy of Dance, lessons at Lavelle Academy are of the highest quality.

American International School Vietnam (AIS)

Website: www.ais.edu.vn

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: An application fee of VND 5,000,000 is required for each child and a one time registration fee of VND 45,000,000 is required to secure a student’s place when an offer is made. Annual fees start at VND 453,800,000 for kindergarten classes, and range to VND 690,800,000 in grade 11 and 12. For more, please click here

Languages: English instruction

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

Uniform: The school uniform consists of a light yellow polo shirt embroidered with the school logo. 

Unique feature: In addition to being accredited by WASC, CIS and IB, the school’s new campus in Nha Be provides state of the art facilities to support visual and performing arts as well as the schools very successful ‘competitive sport’ program. AIS regularly sees students accepted into colleges and universities in the US and around the world.

Anne Hill International School

Website: www.annehill.school

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: For a primary student taking full day tuition throughout the week, annual fees are around VND 200,000,000 with a variety of payment options available.Tuition fees at Anne Hill International School cover the costs of core subjects, meals, uniforms and transportation meaning that they can be considered one of the more affordable options in the city. However, a VND10,000,000 registration fee still applies. See this sheet for more information.

Languages: English instruction with options for Vietnamese and Chinese Mandarin as a second language.

Curriculum: International Primary Curriculum member, pursuing Cambridge accreditation. Cambridge International Primary Programme is followed for key subjects such as English, Maths and Science

Uniform: The school uniform combines a light green t-shirt or polo shirt with neutral coloured shorts or culottes. 

Unique feature: Anne Hill International School is an independent school offering brand new facilities for their students. For those looking for a truly international school experience, the school currently has students from more than 40 different nationalities enrolled, making it one of the most varied student bodies that we have come across.

European International School Ho Chi Minh City (EIS)

Website: www.eishcmc.com
Email: info@eishcmc.com
Phone number: (+84 28) 7300 7257

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: Administration fee of VND 4,500,000 per student, acceptance fee of VND 20,000,000 - VND 40,000,000 depending on the age of your child and a tuition fees start at VND 229,600,000 for Toddler class (2 years of age) up to VND 632,000,000 in Grade 12. Tuition fees can be paid in up to 10 installments. The school has a partnership with a few banks which allow 0% interest rate by credit card payment. For more information please see this fee page.

Languages: English instruction. Additional languages: German, French, Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese.

Curriculum: International Baccalaureate (IB) Continuum. Co-education.

Uniform: The school uniform is a white polo shirt with orange details and school logo. 

Unique feature: With possibly the most convenient location in Thao Dien, EIS a boutique international school, set in lush garden surroundings, offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) continuum of studies for children aged 2-18. Despite being a boutique in feel, the school is large enough to offer a wide range of educational opportunities and the vibrant campus is a place where students, teachers and parents of all grade levels and different backgrounds interact freely with each other. EIS offers a truly diverse ‘melting pot’ of 40+ nationalities and global cultures, where students are encouraged to find their own voice, to pursue languages, and to contribute to all aspects of school life.

Australian International School Vietnam (AIS)

Website: www.aisvietnam.com

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: A non refundable application fee of VND 4,500,000 is payable at the time of application. Annual fees vary depending on the age of the student and how many days they attend school, but expect to pay between VND 432,000,000 and VND 665,000,000 each year from primary and secondary enrollment. Click here for full details

Languages: English instruction.

Curriculum: PYP, IGCSE and IB Diploma Program

Uniform: The school has a variety of uniform options all based around the school colours of blue and white. 

Unique feature: AIS houses its very own Boarding House which is the first of its kind among premium international schools in Vietnam. With space to accommodate 50 pupils, AIS’s boarding experience is available for students aged from 11 to 18 years old, both boys and girls, and both local and international families. AIS offers an extensive range of facilities over the school’s three world-class campuses, with each of its classrooms and learning environments being spacious, well-resourced, and technologically rich.

Kinder Academy International PreSchool

Website: www.kinderacademy.edu.vn/en/

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: With annual fees starting at VND 199,000,000 for a year’s tuition, fees at Kinder Academy are one of the most reasonably priced options in Thao Dien. Percentage discounts are provided for siblings attending at the same time. However, additional fees are required each year, as is a one-off enrolment fee so it is worth checking the full details here.

Languages: English

Curriculum: Kinder Academy applies Reggio Emilia inspired and EMS (English, Math and Nature Sciences) philosophies to a curriculum that prioritises STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).

Uniform: No

Unique feature: Kinder Academy focuses on keeping class sizes small so there are never more than 15 students in a class. This helps staff to provide engaging and flexible lessons where the whole campus is utilised to inspire and educate children, rather than remaining based in one classroom throughout the day.

Eton House International PreSchool

Website: www.etonhousethaodien.com

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: For annual enrollment at Eton House you can expect to pay between VND 200,000,000 – VND 250,000,000 per child. However, sibling discounts, payment plans and seasonal promotions are available. 

Languages: English instruction, Vietnamese and Mandarin available as additional languages

Curriculum: The Inquire-Think-Learn, Reggio Emilia Inspired International Curriculum from Singapore, is a well-rounded, holistic and integrated curriculum that encourages children to stretch their imagination, think independently and be inspired to learn.

Uniform: School uniform is a bright and cheerful red and green plaid dress or shirt or red polo shirts and beige shorts

Unique feature: Housed in a beautiful colonial villa in Thao Dien, EtonHouse offers a tranquil environment amidst lush greenery. Students here not only benefit from being classmates with students from over 30 nationalities at school but EtonHouse families can also connect with 12,000 students in EtonHouse 120 campuses around the world. The utilisation of the ‘Keptme’ app is a key feature at the school as this innovative platform ensures that parents are kept up to date with what their child is doing throughout the day and allows learning achievements to be shared and witnessed easily and efficiently.

British International School, Ho Chi Minh City (BIS)

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

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: Expect to pay a non refundable application Fee of VND3,500,000 and a one-off Registration fee of VND 70,800,000 per child for Primary and Secondary school children when accepting a place. Annual fees start at VND 495,300,000 (can be paid in instalments) from Year 1 (Primary) and range to VND 730,800,000 in Year 13. See this Fee Sheet for more information.

Languages: English instruction, Vietnamese as an extracurricular club. Plus French, Spanish and Mandarin

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

Uniform: The school uniform is a white shirt or maroon polo with neutral coloured trousers or skirt. 

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.

The International School of Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC)

Website: www.ishcmc.com

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: An admission fee of VND 50,000,000 is required for all primary and secondary applications. Annual school fees start at VND 524,200,000 for Grade 1, rising to VND 775,300,000 in Grade 12. For full details of fees and repayment schedules click here.

Languages: English instruction

Curriculum: IB curriculum. Co-education.

Uniform: The school uniform is a blue sweater and whote polo shirt featuring the school logo. 

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.

Saigon South International School (SSIS)

Website: www.ssis.edu.vn

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: A non refundable application fee of VND 10,000,000 applies to each student, with a VND 45,000,000 Enrollment Fee required to guarantee a student’s place. Annual fees start at VND 379,000,000 and range up to VND 685,000,000 depending on the age of the student. Note that this school is a non-profit international school and all fees are reinvested in the school. In spite of this, it is one of the best international schools in Saigon. Please click here 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: School Uniform is a blue polo shirt or t-shirt featuring the school logo

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

Best International Schools in Saigon

La Petit Ecole International School

Website: www.lapetiteecole.asia/vn/en/

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: Different fees are applicable for Nursery students depending on how many days a week they attend.However as a guide, attendance for 3 days a week starts at VND 104,500,000 per year. For preschool and elementary students, attendance of 5 days a week is compulsory and annual fees start at VND 214,000,000 vnd and VND 234,000,000 respectively. Full details are available here.

Languages: French and English.

Curriculum: La Petite Ecole follows a French National Education curriculum and has been accredited by the French Ministry of Education. The school is also a member of AEFE (Agency for French Education Abroad), ensuring a high quality of bilingual tuition.

Uniform: No

Unique feature: La Petite Ecole focuses on providing an exceptional learning environment for its students. This means that the facilities are not only well maintained and modern but classrooms are fitted with air purifiers and outdoor play spaces are fitted with pollution control monitors to ensure students stay safe when playing outside.

Aurora International School of the Arts

Website: https://www.aurorareggio.com/

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: For the youngest students attending Aurora International Preschool of the Arts, tuition fees start at VND 240,000,000. Primary students can expect to pay VND 286,000,000. For full details contact the school here

Languages: English. Vietnamese as an additional language from primary. 

Curriculum: Aurora International Preschool of the Arts follows a Reggio Emilia inspired curriculum. 

Uniform: No

Unique feature: Aside from offering a leafy, boutique campus housed in a beautifully adapted villa, Aurora International Preschool of the arts offers a robust communication system that ensures parents are an integral part of their child’s development. Teachers are expertly trained to observe, interpret and document each child’s learning journey and to communicate their progress to parents. This exchange of information between parents and teachers is an integral part of the collaborative approach to a child’s education.

The American School (TAS)

Website: www.tas.edu.vn

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: A non refundable application fee of VND 3,500,000 is required per child and a registration fee is required to confirm placement. Annual tuition for a child in grade 12 is VND 631,925,000 however additional fees for textbook deposits and school meals may be applicable. For full details click here

Languages: English instruction

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

Uniform: School uniform is a red or blue polo shirt with neutral trousers, shorts or skirt. 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

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: CIS offers a number of incentives and payment options that makes calculating thr final fees for each student quite complex. However, as a guide you should expect to pay an assessment fee of VND 2,200,000 and annual tuition fees of VND 705,300,000 in Grade 12 if you are following the IB programme.For a full breakdown of fees click here

Languages: English instruction. Vietnamese and French as additional languages. 

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. The IB diploma programme is an additional option, however, fees are higher. 

Uniform: School uniform is a white shirt with school logo and maroon details, paired with maroon trousers, skirt or shorts. 

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.

Renaissance International School Saigon

Website: www.renaissance.edu.vn

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: A non refundable application fee of VND 4,000,000 applies to each student when an application is made. A further one time registration fee is payable when a place is accepted, registration fees vary depending on the age of the child. Annual tuition fees start at VND 262,940,000 for early years (full day) students and range up to VND 689,930,000 for final year secondary students. Please click here for more information.

Languages: English Instruction. Mother tongue tuition in Vietnamese and Korean. French and Chinese as additional languages. 

Curriculum: English National Curriculum (see website for specifics), IGCSE and IBDP. Co-education.

Uniform: School Uniform is required for all students but varies depending on age. For full details click here.

Unique feature: Renaissance International School Saigon has an impressive range of accreditations including CIS, FOBISIA and Round Square but the primary selling point is that they offer an excellent range of facilities, extra curricular activities and clubs, without loosing the community feel of a medium size school. Teachers and students are all familiar with each other and students from across academic years mix together so regularly that the school feels very welcoming and friendly from the moment you walk through the doors.

Saigon Star International School

Website: www.sgstar.edu.vn/

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: For your primary aged child fees start at around VND 345,000,000. However an additional application fee of VND 2,300,000 is required, and an enrolment fee of VND 30,000,000 is necessary. Other fees may be required depending on the child's needs. For full details, click here

Languages: English Instruction

Curriculum: English National Curriculum. Co-education.

Uniform: School uniform is a light blue polo shirt or yellow and blue shirt with the school logo. 

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.

Horizon International Bi-lingual School

Website: www.horizon.edu.vn/en/

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: An admission fee of VND 25,000,000 is required for all primary and secondary-high school applications. Annual school fees start at VND 180,500,000 for Grade 1 to 5, rising to VND 248,000,000 in Grade 12. Visit the fees page for full details.

Languages: English and Vietnamese

Curriculum:

Bilingual Program: Horizon International Bilingual School is the first school to introduce and apply the Bilingual Programme in Vietnam. The bilingual curriculum practices are carried out according to Vietnam’s Education law requirements. The aim of the Bilingual Programme is to nurture Vietnamese students according to the National Curriculum. The lessons are taught in Vietnamese and English synchronously by Vietnamese and foreign teachers from K to 12.

International Program: Horizon International Bilingual School offers two different curriculum programmes: the International Programme has been designed around the Cambridge Curriculum that delivers necessary knowledge to develop students’ intellectual, moral, social and physical skills. The International Programme delivers mathematics, science, English language, chemistry, physics, biology, social sciences and ICT.

Uniform: Yes

Unique feature: HIBS has two rather unique features to consider. Firstly, it is recognised as being the oldest Bilingual school in Vietnam having opened in 2005. Second, it prioritises a modern approach to lesson delivery, utilising i-pads and a variety of apps to deliver lesson content. Maths and Science are areas of particular success to the school.

Smart Kids

Website: www.smartkidsinfo.com

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: SmartKids offers flexible programs from min. 3 mornings. For a 5 full days program (08:00-15:00) the tuition fee (lunch included) is around VND 283,000,000 for ‘kiddies’ (18 months – 3.5 years) and VND 359,000,000 for ‘big kids’ (3.5 – 6 years). Additional fees are charged for termly payments.

10% discounts are given for every third enrolled sibling (not necessarily still attending). Separate fees are charged for a variety of enhancement classes, extending the full day program till ~17:00.

Languages: English

Curriculum: SmartKids offers a child centred environment in which young children can safely develop and explore. Their holistic, play-based curriculum embraces a combination of Reggio Emilia, Montessori and Steiner philosophies and focuses on the total development of each individual child.

Uniform: No obligatory uniform, however shirts featuring the school logo are included in tuition fees. 

Unique feature: In addition to Smart Kids boutique curriculum, the school offers large & bright class rooms with an abundance of learning materials. Each class has a maximum of 18 children and to ensure a truly multicultural experience each class a maximum of 30% of any one nationality. Each class has a dedicated native English Early Childhood specialist as main teacher who attends to the class all day. Lead teachers are assisted by 2-3 qualified local kindergarten teachers.

Vietnam Finland International School

Website: https://vfis.tdtu.edu.vn/home

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: A non refundable application fee of either VND 2,250,000 for primary students or VND 4,500,000 for older students is required. Security deposit fees are also required, however the cost varies depending on which programme you enrol in. Annual fees for the International programme start at VND 457,590,000, whilst fees for the bilingual programme are significantly lower. For full details visit this page

Languages: English instruction. Some classes in Vietnamese

Curriculum: VFIS offers two different programmes, ‘International’ and ‘Bi-Lingual’. Both embrace a Finnish philosophy in early years but the ‘International’ programme develops to follow the IB approach when the student is older. 

Uniform: School uniform is either a blue or white polo shirt featuring the school logo. 

Unique feature: VFIS is the first International School in Vietnam to be established under a Vietnamese state university (Ton Duc Thang University). It is also the only school in the country to follow the philosophy of ‘Education Finland’, a programme operating under the guidance of the Finnish National Agency for Education.

Vietnam Australia International School (VAS)

Website: https://www.vas.edu.vn/en

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: With a variety of education programmes available for students in kindergarten through to high school and ‘A’ Level, full details of the annual fees for VAS can be found at this page. However, as a guide, you can expect to pay a minimum of VND 170,000,000 for kindergarten, VND 180,000,000 for primary, VND 230,000,000 for secondary and VND 376,000,000 for the Cambridge International programme in grades 9 - 12. Meal fees and transportation fees are also applicable, as are uniform fees. 

Languages: English and Vietnamese. (Cambridge International Programme: English only)

Curriculum: Until grade 8, all students follow a bilingual curriculum that combines the Vietnamese Ministry of Education curriculum with a choice of Cambridge programme (‘Academic’ or ‘English Intensive’). When students enter grade 9 they can choose to continue with the bilingual programme or move to the Cambridge International Programme (CIP) where the curriculum is delivered 100% in English. 

Uniform: School uniform is a maroon polo shirt with the school logo embroidered in gold with beige shorts or skirt. 

Unique feature: VAS was the first recognised ‘Cambridge school’ in Ho Chi Minh City. It has since expanded so that it’s 7 campuses are home to over 9,000 students from Kindergarten to grade 12. The variety of educational pathways available to students is a key feature of the school’s popularity and success as students who wish to receive a truly bilingual, international education are able to decide how their studies progress.

Ecloes Boules et Billes 

Website: https://bouleetbilles.net/

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: Registration and administration fees are applicable for each child but prices vary depending on the age of the student. French students can expect to pay around VND 150,000,000 annually in kindergarten, with other nationalities paying around VND 161,000,000 

Languages: French is the language of instruction. Vietnamese and English courses from Kindergarten.

Curriculum: Boules et Billes is accredited by the Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE) meaning that the curriculum provided is in line with te French national education system. A variety of enrichment activities are also provided from early years (6 months).

Uniform: No specific uniform unless attending an event or field trip

Unique feature: Boules et Billes priority is ensuring their students develop proficiency in French. However, primary students also study English using the ‘Emile’ educational approach. This multi award winning learning system is a game based range of resources, approved by the AEFE.

US Vietnam Talent International School (UTS)

Website: https://utschool.edu.vn/

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: A non refundable application fee of VND 3,000,000 is required for each student, as is an annual facilities fee of VND 8,000,000. Following that you can expect to pay approximately VND 120,000,000 for elementary students, VND 156,000,000 for middle school and VND 193,000,000 for high school. However, early bird discounts are available, as are payments by semester but this can increase the overall cost. For full details click here.

Languages: Vietnamese and English

Curriculum: UTS offers a bilingual curriculum that satisfies the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) requirements, but also focuses on ensuring students acquire proficiency in English. Maths, English and Science are all taught in English and provisions for achieving age appropriate Cambridge certifications are included at each level 

Uniform: School uniform is an orange polo shirt featuring the school logo with beige trousers or skirt. 

Unique feature: The facilities at UTS are certainly among the most impressive in the city. Located on a purpose built 5.2 hectare campus, the simple, modern architectural style complements the modern international standard facilities perfectly. The school’s state of the art auditorium, STEM classrooms and laboratories and ICT room are all designed to provide students with international standard access to science and technology learning. 

EMASI International School 

Website: https://www.emasi.edu.vn/en/

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: Application fees for EMASI are either VND 500,000 for Kindergarten and Grade 1 or VND 1,000,000 for all other years. A Security Deposit is payable when students pass admission tests. The Security Deposit is not refundable in the case a child decides not to attend. Tuition fees range between VND 110,000,000 for Kindergarten 1 to VND 285,000,000 for Grade 12. Other fees may be applicable. For full details, click here.

Languages: Bilingual tuition Vietnamese and English

Curriculum: EMASI’s curriculum follows the Vietnamese national curriculum, adopting modern teaching methods from developed countries is an Intensive Cambridge English programme is taught at all levels. 

Uniform: School uniform is a white polo shirt with blue collar with blue or beige shorts or skirt. 

Unique feature: EMASI has a very strong focus on 5 main subjects (in its name: English, Maths, Arts, Science, IT) ensuring that students develop skills necessary for the modern world. The two campuses also offer state of the art facilities. Excellent physical education facilities, including a climbing wall are also provided.

Saint Ange French International School and Daycare Center

Website: https://www.sa-saigon.com/en/

Best International Schools in Saigon

Budget: Registration fees for Saint Ange start at VND 9,200,000 per child in nursery school and rise to VND 12,7000,000 in the first year of Kindergarten/ Pre School. Annual school fees are around VND 172,000,000, however French children receive a reduced rate and discounts are offered for 2nd and 3rd children. For full details click here

Languages: French and English

Curriculum: St Ange is the only school in Vietnam that has been awarded approval by the Agency for French Education Abroad. This accreditation ensures that the school satisfies the requirements for both Vietnamese and French education authorities. 

Uniform: School uniform is a white polo shirt with yellow collar with green shorts or skirt. 

Unique feature: In addition to unique accreditations from AFEA and the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training, Saint Ange offers students enrichment classes in early initiation English. Kindergarten students receive 2 hours of English tuition per week which increases to 5 hours per week in primary school.

Best International Schools in Saigon

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. For more information about International School in Ho Chi Minh City visit the CityPassGuide.com: Education homepage.


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.


What Vietnamese Children Learn in School

By: City Pass Guide

What do Vietnamese kids actually learn in public schools here? Former educator Frank Fox provides a glimpse into the local system.

The school system in Vietnam rests on one major foundation: learning by heart. While beneficial in fields like mathematics and geometry, it suffocates creativity in other subjects.

What Vietnamese Children Learn in School

Don’t get me wrong, there is creativity going on in Vietnam. There are people with the ability to react fast, find independent solutions and do as good a job as everybody else in the world. But it is not the native education system that hauls in the credit in these cases, only individual effort and determination. Fortunately these essential traits are commonly found in Vietnamese people.

Let’s have a look a look at each level in the Vietnamese education system.

Kindergarten | Primary School | Secondary School | High School


Kindergarten in Vietnam

Kindergarten is not yet dominated by learning, it’s rather a nursery with opportunities to play and learn the rules of social interaction. Yes friends, to ensure that your child is treated well at the kindergarten, a monthly gift, nicely wrapped in an envelope, is more than welcome in both public and private institutions.

kindergarten in vietnamSource: ILO


Primary School in Vietnam

Once in primary school, our children face a curriculum that consists of the following basic subjects: Mathematics, English, Reading and Writing, Sports, Crafting, Painting, Music and Morals and Etiquette.

Looks pretty neat, doesn’t it? If you replace the moral and etiquette subject with basic science, it looks like our own curriculum back home. The difference is, that the children here learn by heart what can be learned by heart. In music you learn the notes and repeat meticulously what’s in the book. Even if learning by heart already kicks in, it’s still primary school, so the pressure is not yet in full effect.

Primary school in VietnamSource: ILO


That starts with:

Secondary School in Vietnam

If somebody in Europe told you that he had to learn the periodic table by heart, you would either roll on the floor laughing or buy him a pint out of pity. Well, prepare to dish out many pints in Vietnam.

- Mathematics

This is the same as everywhere else in the universe. I actually can’t imagine any other way to learn math than learning the rules first and then start applying them and playing with numbers.

- Literature

This was one of my favorite subjects in secondary school. In Vietnam you basically learn about Vietnamese authors, preferably those from the army. You read articles, discuss the morale of the story and the writing style of the author. After that you learn his biography by heart. My question whether there is freestyle writing at tests was answered with a straight “No”.

- Arts

Learning about art in Vietnam is quite similar to learning about arts in Europe, however stricter. Topics are given and the students have to follow them.

- Music

This subject a creative highlight in a very Vietnamese way: Take a song and replace the lyrics with your own. The cooler teachers let the students sing for the test.

- English

Grammar is taught, as well as reading and communication. The education in terms of grammar is pretty good and nobody can deny that. The main problem here is that many Vietnamese English teachers deliver a strong accent in the first place, and copying them doesn’t make it better. If students find the time to watch English movies in their spare time, they can develop pretty good skills. But that brings us back to the point of personal determination.

- Chemistry

This subject is taught without exploding oxyhydrogen gas, there is no mixing of sugar with sulphuric acid and no lithium tossed into a bowl of water. But as I mentioned above, these activities are substituted by learning by heart the periodic table of elements.

- Physics

Quite similar to chemistry in terms of the absence of practical experiments and the presence of more formulae to learn at school.

- Biology

The science of life another topic. Apparently there an array of interesting experiments is conducted in Vietnamese secondary school that we didn’t do, even at high school. Okay, here as well as in other subjects learning by heart is an integral part of the system. But they practice microscopy, anatomy and even dissecting a live frog. Vivisection is, however, not a practice to recommend for the sake of compassion. But, they usually don’t have a real skeleton in the cabinet, like we did.

What Vietnamese Children Learn in School

- History

This subject shows it’s worst face. Out of roughly 100 Vietnamese students I asked on occasion if they like history, how many answered with “Yes”, do you think? Exactly zero.

History in Vietnam comes with a general introduction to the king generation of Vietnam, skipping scientists and foreign countries. There is no cultural education about the past. But what do they actually learn in history?

Well, on average, 12 A4 pages per week about how many helicopters were destroyed in this battle, how many soldiers died in that battle and what are the relatives of that general, his biography… is crammed into the short-term memory until the next test.

When I asked roughly 45 students why there is a day off on the 2nd of September, only two knew what was going on and one of them finally came up with the answer “independence day”.

- Geography

A subject that gives an overview over the continents and introduces personalities like Columbus. The rest is focused on climate and agriculture, such as soil types, coffee production and weather. In a society that derives the lion’s share of its identity from farming and fishery, this is actually an important part of education.

- Sports

Physical Education is pretty much the same as it is back in good ol’ Europe and North America.

Secondary school in VietnamSource: Patrick Lee

Tests and exams at secondary school:

In secondary school students are expected, as in most other systems, to sit a variety of regular tests and exams. These include simple tests, evaluatory exams and entrance exams to further education.

Simple tests: There is a 15 minute test every week and a 45 minute test twice a month. It’s basically writing down everything you have crammed into your short-term memory over the last week - under time pressure.

Evaluatory exams: There are four main exams during every grade and they are basically the same as at the tests, but obviously a little more significant.

High School Entrance Exams: Here students re-cram everything from the last nine months that conveniently vanished from the short-term memory. By heart of course. There are four subjects that get tested during the final exams at secondary school in Vietnam: Mathematics, Literature, English and one practical subject that is chosen every year by the Department of Education. This subject can either be biology, geography or physics.

The first two account for 20 points each, the last two for 10 each, which adds up to a maximum of 60 points you can reach. In some special cases, a student can reach more than 60 points though, but that is rare and only for students who had excellent marks during the whole course of secondary school.

Every year the headmaster of every high school sets a minimum score every student needs to be accepted at this particular school. Students write down their preferred high school, as well as (usually) two alternative institutes in case they cannot reach the required score to be accepted by their first choice.

What Vietnamese Children Learn in School


High School in Vietnam

High school is basically the same as in secondary school, except there is more pressure and more to learn than before. The entrance exam for universities is quite similar too.


Conclusion

At home, in Austria, I sometimes cursed the outdated school system we have and the fact that we are required to cram our heads with useless information from outdated books. And taking a look into the Vietnamese education system almost made me exclaim “Tu Felix Austria”! Almost. But at the end of the day, accepting the bad just because you've found worse is not the way to go.


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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