Hong Kong’s only school to offer the Australian curriculum believes in the power of a Positive Education that focuses on as much on student happiness as it does on academic success
“Here we stand in green and gold, living, learning, strong and bold. And in our hearts we’ve come to learn, that the flame of Australia will always burn.” The words of Australian International School Hong Kong’s (AISHK) school song sum up the spirt of this all-through school in Kowloon City District, which is the only school in Hong Kong to offer the Australian curriculum.
As well as following the Australian Early Years Learning Framework, the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) curriculum, and the New South Wales Higher School Certificate (HSC), AISHK operates during an Australian school year (late January to mid-December) and has a predominantly Australian team of teachers. As you’d expect, more than 80% of its 1,100-strong student body are Australian or New Zealanders. For anyone arriving from Down Under or heading back there, it makes the transition that bit easier.
AISHK first opened in 1995 and moved to a new purpose-built campus in September 2001, where it teaches Reception through to Year 12. In Years 11 and 12, students can choose to study either the New South Wales Higher School Certificate (HSC) or the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP).
In the words of head teachers Howard West (Secondary) and David Shirley (Primary), AISHK is:
“A source of pride for the Australian community in showcasing the best of Australian education.”
The primary curriculum includes English, maths, Chinese, science and technology, geography and history, creative arts, personal development, health, and PE. Secondary students study English, maths, science and technology, geography and history, IT, commerce, Chinese, French, visual arts, music, drama, and PE.
AISHK offers HSC courses in English, maths, science, technology, creative arts, personal development, health and PE, human society and its environment (HSIE), and languages. Students opting to study the IBDP take languages, maths, science, individuals and societies, and the arts.
A positive education
AISHK has followed a global trend for introducing Positive Education to the classroom. This learning model combines the science of positive psychology with traditional teaching methods, and aspires to make children more resilient, creative, productive, successful, and healthy by focusing on the ‘whole’ person.
The school’s website tells us:
“The Positive Education programme complements the school’s rigorous academic focus and enables students to develop personality and character, celebrate excellence, develop confidence, and maintain genuine and meaningful friendships.”
In short, the school would appear to be focusing as much on student wellbeing as on exam results. But does this make AISHK a happier and more successful school than others in Hong Kong?
Well, it’s certainly tackling student happiness head-on with counselling, career guidance, wellbeing classes, peer support and buddy programmes, cyber safety awareness, and assertive and resilience behaviour programs. Its house system – named after native Australian flora – helps to give students a sense of belonging. And its substantial extra-curricular activities programme covers the arts, academia, and sport to keep students motivated after the school bell rings. A new head of school, Mark Hemphill, joined AISHK in January 2018. With his experience of developing the Positive Education programme at Knox Grammar Preparatory School in Sydney, we can expect to see more of the same at AISHK.
As well as the core subjects, AISHK teaches Mandarin to all primary students, and offers a choice of Mandarin and French to secondary students. There’s a varied sports programme in and out of school, and the school fields teams in everything from basketball to swimming in events such as the Australian International Schools Association (AISA) competitions. AISHK also has an extensive performing arts programme; as well as teaching music and drama as part of the curriculum, the school has an orchestra, senior and junior rock bands, a primary choir, and secondary vocal ensemble. There are private music lessons in most instruments, dance and drama classes after school, annual productions, and artists in residence sessions.
Like every school in Hong Kong, AISHK is embracing technology as part of its learning culture. There are interactive whiteboards in classrooms, iPads and Chromebooks in early years lessons, and a 1:1 laptop programme for every student from Years 3 to 11. The compulsory HP laptop package includes a range of software, three-year warranty and accidental damage protection, and IT support service. For parents concerned about laptops going missing, rest assured that students in Years 3 to 5 leave them in charging cabinets between lessons. And, far from technology replacing traditional pen and paper, laptops are only used for approximately 20 – 30% of overall lesson time.
This school offers a number of IBDP courses and the results are pretty impressive. The average score in the 2016 IB exams was 35, far higher than the global average of 30. There was a 98% pass rate and 52.4% of students achieved more than 40 points.
While the numbers stack up, what’s the general feeling about the school? A 2016 survey of parents showed high levels of satisfaction with the quality of teaching (89%). The school’s strengths were identified as dedicated teaching staff, its Australian heritage, a sense of community, and a well-rounded education; areas highlighted for attention included sport, extra-curricular activities, and student relationships.
Beyond the classroom
While AISHK has a history of academic success, it focuses on encouraging students to “achieve their personal best whether in sport, music or the classroom”. Far from being all about chalk and talk, the school takes learning outdoors. Its innovative Green Roof facility includes two open-air rooftop classrooms set within an Australian-themed garden with art installations, native flora, a solar powered watering system, and compost recycling facilities. It’s quite an inspirational setting to learn about biology, food technology, the environment, and science.
Community service is an integral part of the curriculum, and all year groups take part in voluntary work within Hong Kong and further afield. Projects range from harvesting and donating produce from the school’s Green Roof to completing the World Vision 30-Hour Famine. The school deserves to be enormously proud of its YES Club (Youths Experiencing Service), which was set up by a group of students who read to young children, visit the elderly, and help in food kitchens.
AISHK has an impressive programme of outdoor educational activities, from day excursions for prep to Year 2 through to camps for Years 3 to 6. During the annual Secondary Activity Week, students take part in off campus extra-curricular courses, locally and internationally. All Year 9 students are signed up to the bronze level of the Hong Kong Award for Young People (Duke of Edinburgh Award), which covers recreational activities, service work, skills development, and an expedition during and after school hours.
You get the sense that AISHK is always buzzing with activity. Look at the official school newsletter, Dhanara (the Aboriginal word for 'message stick’), and the student magazine, The Lion – you’ll be overwhelmed with news of sports fixtures, shows, ECAs, and community events. There are also many events that give student voices a platform, one being the 2017 TEDxYouth event.
A vertical campus
AISHK is a green school from top to bottom, from its Green Roof facility to its large outdoor field with four-lane running track. The early years, primary, and secondary classes are housed within two multi-storey buildings, all sharing facilities including purpose-built chemistry, physics, and biology labs, a food technology room, IT labs, library, auditorium, gymnasium, multi-purpose hall, a ninth-floor aquatic centre with 25 metre indoor pool and learning pool, playground, cafeteria, and the Walkabout Cafe. The school is also home to the AISHK International Learning Centre, which runs out-of-school educational and learning programmes focused on developing English skills.
Admission and fees
AISHK is a non-selective school, but some students may be asked to sit an assessment interview to assess levels of English. Priority on the waitlist is given to siblings of current students, as well as Australian/New Zealand passport holders.
Compared to other international schools in Hong Kong, AISHK is middle of the road when it comes to tuition fees, which range from HKD 140,800 – 204,800. It's important to note, though, that there is a Depreciating Debenture (current value HKD 100,000) that must be purchased, in addition to the annual tuition fee; this is depreciated by 12.5% at the beginning of each school year (January 1) for eight years. Families without a debenture must pay an annual capital levy of HKD 20,000 per student.
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