Thailand’s oldest international school, International School Bangkok (ISB) offers a US curriculum with the option to complete the IBDP. What really makes this all-through school stand out from the rest is its new Environmental Wilderness Campus, advisory and learning support programmes, and a very inspirational invention centre.
International School Bangkok (ISB) brings a very American approach to education in the Bangkok area. This is an American-style all-through school that runs from Pre-K to Grade 12; it follows the US curriculum and offers high school students the option of studying the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP). It also captures the American spirit with its Varsity sports teams, advisory programme, and MIT-inspired Invention Centre.
Located just outside the heart of the capital in Nonthaburi, this not-for-profit school has an international student body of almost 2,000; around 70% are international students (predominantly from the US) and Thai students are capped at 30%.
The school was founded by US Embassy staff in 1951 in a wooden hut. While the campus has changed dramatically, many of the school’s values remain the same. Its mission has always been to help students achieve their academic potential, become caring global citizens, and be passionate, reflective learners. This is deeply ingrained in the school – from its above average IB scores to its requirement that all students have to complete 40 hours of community service before they can graduate.
“A good school is not about the facilities and the resources, however, but about the people and its core beliefs,” says head of school Dr Andy Davies. It’s a message that comes across strongly in the school’s promo video, which is narrated completely by students.
Innovation is evident in a number of ISB’s programmes. Most recently, the school invested in a wilderness campus outside Bangkok, where it offers various outdoor education programmes. The school has also opened an Invention Centre that’s equipped with modern and traditional tools; this is used for design and technology classes for all year groups.
ISB’s 37-acre campus is part of the expat residential community Nichada Thani, and you’ll find that many children live so close to the school that they can walk or ride their bike to class. With so many of its teachers and students living on its doorstep, ISB has a wonderful family-feel that can often be hard to achieve in such a large school. The school does still attract families from further afield, though, and the school day starts slightly earlier than most – at 7:20am – to help these parents avoid the hectic Bangkok rush-hour traffic.
ISB’s learning path starts from as young as 4 years with a Reggio Emilia-inspired Pre-Kindergarten programme. Based on the US education model, students then move through elementary, middle, and high schools, from Grade 1 through to 12. The curriculum follows a North American standards-based framework, which covers language arts, maths, science, social studies, and health and wellbeing. There are specialist lessons in art, PE, world language, and music. Class sizes are small by Thai standards: the average middle school class size is 17 students and in high school it’s 15 students.
In elementary school, Thai nationals are required to enrol in Thai language classes, while all other students must take Thai for one complete academic year; they can then choose between Thai, Spanish, French, or Mandarin as an additional language, which they’ll continue to learn through middle and high schools. Students’ progress is tracked by US-led Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments twice a year in maths and reading; Grades 3 and above are also assessed in science.
Students then enter ISB’s middle school, where the curriculum branches out to include visual arts and performing arts. In Grade 6, students choose one year-long music class in either band, choir, or strings; Grades 7 and 8 then have a choice of elective subjects in performing arts, design and technology, and visual arts. There are daily advisory classes that focus on developing middle and high school students’ social and emotional skills; it’s just one of the many ways that this school prepares students for the ‘real world’. All students are assigned an advisor and the classes are held in small groups of around 11; in a large school of around 2,000 students, this can help to ensure your child doesn’t feel isolated or overwhelmed.
Throughout high school, which runs from Grades 9 – 12, the curriculum covers English, maths, science, social studies, fine and performing arts, design, technology and engineering, world language (Spanish, French, Mandarin, or Thai), and PE. All students graduate with the ISB Diploma in Grade 12, but they also have the option of studying for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme in Grades 11 and 12. The turnout is good for the IBDP; in 2016, 193 students were accepted into the programme.
The school says,
“ISB feels that the programme should include as many students as can benefit from it and that students have the right to attempt IB courses.”
Learning is taken out of the classroom during the annual Global Citizenship Week (GCW), when high schoolers learn about global issues and community service at locations across Thailand and South East Asia.
ISB is an inclusive school that offers learning support for students with a full range of learning differences (mild, moderate, intensive, and the exceptionally able). ISB’s learning support programme is one of the best in Thailand. In August 2017, it launched a programme for students with intensive developmental and intellectual disabilities. It also boasts a purpose-built classroom, on-site multidisciplinary team, and low ratio of two teachers to every four students.
A well-rounded education
ISB is Thailand’s oldest international school – but there’s certainly nothing dated about it. Instead, this school is moving with the times and keeping up with the latest trends in education.
In September 2017, the school opened its Environmental Wilderness Campus (EWC), where it runs compulsory outdoor education programmes for all grades. Students take part in two-night trips to the centre, learning about everything from the food chain and first aid to braving new heights in activities such as rock climbing and kayaking. The centre, which is equipped with accommodation, classrooms, a canteen, swimming pool, and boathouse, is certainly a jewel in ISB’s crown.
Technology is central to learning at ISB. The learning hub is kitted out with iPods, iPads, laptops, a media lab, and a library. The school recently opened an invention centre that’s equipped with traditional and modern tools and technologies for design classes – and with words such as Collaborative, Reflective, and Creativity on the walls, it’s hard not to feel inspired.
The school’s athletic programme fields Panther Teams in a range of competitive sports, as well as intramurals that get students of abilities involved. Bangkok students compete in the International Schools Activities Conference and Interscholastic Association of South East Asian Schools from U11 up to U19.
As well as investing in some impressive sporting facilities, ISB has dedicated resources to the arts, including a five-storey cultural centre and 700-seat theatre. It says,
“Arts programmes are not seen as optional extras but as a core part of our curriculum and we offer a multitude of fine and performing arts programmes for students of all ages.”
The ethos of community service lies at the heart of ISB, and students from elementary through to high school are constantly engaged in community outreach and service learning activities. It’s so important that the school requires all students to complete 40 hours’ community service before they can graduate.
It’s fair to say that this is a school with a big heart, and it’s encouraging to see its students launch initiatives such as the Shark Guardian Ambassadors – to educate people on the negative impacts of shark finning – and the Green Panthers Waste Management team.
The school day certainly doesn’t end for many at 2pm. There are plenty of extra-curricular activities on offer at ISB, from science to Scouts to soccer – and the even better news is that most of these are free of charge.
In 2016, ISB’s IBDP students scored an average score of 35, which is impressive compared to the global average of 30 points. More than half of its graduates went on to study at a university in the US, while the rest mainly went to Europe, Australia, Canada, India, Japan, and South Korea.
In terms of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests taken by Grades 3 through to 8, ISB ranks above the 90th percentile in maths compared to other schools, and above the 80th percentile in reading.
ISB may be one of Thailand’s larger schools with its population of 2,000 students, but it still manages to capture that family feel. As mentioned before, the fact that it sits within the popular expat neighbourhood of Nichada Thani really helps – but there’s more to it than that.
The school has a very active Parent Teacher Association. Sub groups include the Welcome Wai, who host social events and new parent orientations; community reps, who help new parents living within various neighbourhoods to settle into life at ISB; the Booster Club, which plans fundraising events; and the ISB PTA Adult Education Programme, which runs courses including Thai, technology, and choir. There’s also a packed calendar of events for students and parents including Concert in the Park, an annual gala ball international fair, and ISB’s Got Talent.
This all-through school is divided into elementary, middle, and high schools, each with a dedicated principal. There is a strong ISB identity that runs throughout the school, though, and this is enhanced with the school’s new house system and its elected student council.
As one student says on the school’s promo video, “It’s reallllllly big!”. They’re not wrong. ISB has a 37-acre campus that’s covered with modern facilities catering to all aspects of the curriculum. Standout learning spaces include the invention centre, learning hub, and cultural centre. The school is also home to 7 visual arts studios, 12 performing arts classrooms, 27 music practice rooms, 2 multi-purpose art galleries, and 2 fully equipped theatres, as well as a cafeteria.
Sports facilities include playing fields, gyms, a swimming pool, dance and fitness rooms, and an all-weather running track.
Admission and fees
This is a premium school, and there is no escaping the fact that fees at ISB are high.
An education at International School Bangkok will cost you THB 805,700 for elementary, THB 904,000 for middle school, and THB 949,900 for high school.
The intensive learning needs programme costs around THB 900,000.
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