International schools in Vietnam come in various shapes and sizes, with some being far more international than others. The United Nations International School (UNIS) Hanoi is one of the most popular and highly regarded international schools in Hanoi – well-known for both its academic and cultural education. As well as following the International Baccalaureate programmes from two to 18 years, this all-through school focuses on global citizenship, teaches a variety of languages, and runs sporting
While many schools have international in the name, it’s what’s behind that name that really counts. Look beyond the sign on the UNIS Hanoi gates, and you’ll find one of the most globally minded schools in Vietnam. UNIS Hanoi is one of only two United Nations schools in the world, and its teaching is closely aligned with the principles of the UN. It was the first IB World School in Asia to offer all three IB programmes – Primary Years (PYP), Middle Years (MYP), and Diploma Programme (DP). Its teachers are from 25 different countries, with 80% from the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and Canada, and it has an international community of students representing more than 60 nationalities, with a 20% cap for any one nationality.
While the school stresses that it’s not an agency of the UN, it says,
“We bring the world together on one campus and, guided by the principles of the United Nations, we mentor peace makers and problem solvers.”
Since being founded in 1988 to educate the children of UN staff, UNIS Hanoi has grown to become a school of more than 1,100 students from local and expat families living and working in the city. This not-for-profit school is divided between the elementary school (Discovery to Grade 5); middle school (Grades 6 – 8), and high school (Grades 9 – 12). At the helm is head teacher Jane McGee, whose previous experience includes working in international schools in Laos, Poland, and India. There are four classes in every grade level, and class sizes remain low at 16 – 22 students.
UNIS Hanoi is one of only four schools in Vietnam to offer all three IB programmes, and is one of two in Hanoi (the other is Hanoi International School). If you’re planning to stay in Vietnam for the long haul, then your child can start at UNIS Hanoi’s early childhood centre from as young as three, and continue through the grades until they reach the college years.
In the early years, the school offers a “multi-sensory environment” that “fosters children’s natural curiosity”. It then follows the Primary Years Programme from Grade 1 of elementary school, where teaching focuses on a concept-based, inquiry-driven framework that gets students actively involved in their education. Lessons focus on cross-curricular units of study that are arranged under six themes: Who are we? Where we are in place and time, How we express ourselves, How the world works, How we organize ourselves, and Sharing the planet.
From Grades 1 – 5, the homeroom teacher teaches the core subjects (English, maths, science, and social studies) and there are specialist lessons in PE, music, art, world languages (Vietnamese, French, and Mandarin), ICT, and information fluency (a library programme). Instead of traditional homework, elementary students are encouraged to “read for pleasure” and learn maths skills “through game playing with siblings and parents, e.g. snakes & ladders, Monopoly etc”.
Middle school runs from Grades 6 to 8, where teaching follows the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP). Students study language and literature, language acquisition (English, French, Swedish, Mandarin), individual societies (which incorporates geography, history, and economics), science, maths, arts (students select a year-long course in an arts subject of their interest, ranging from visual art and music to drama and dance), PE, and design. In the final year of the MYP, successful students are awarded a UNIS Hanoi-issued certificate of achievement.
The school says,
“Here at UNIS Hanoi, our middle school staff is comprised of committed educators who have each chosen to work with middle school students and who understand their role as mentors and relationship builders. Each middle school student has a mentor who supports his or her social, emotional and academic development.”
Throughout high school (Grades 9 – 10), UNIS Hanoi students continue to study the MYP; they then follow the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) in Grades 11 – 12. In Grades 11 – 12, most students will sit SATS, a set of standardised tests that are used by colleges in the US, Korea, and Singapore.
Depending on academic ability, students can choose to study the IBDP or the UNIS Hanoi High School Diploma – or both. All high school students have a personal mentor who advises them on academic and social matters. Also, counselling is integral to the high school experience, and regular sessions cover social, emotional, and academic topics, as well as mindfulness.
PE lessons are compulsory in all year groups up until Grade 12, and classes focus on athletics and swimming, trampolining, team sports such as soccer and volleyball, and adventure challenges. Also, the school's world languages programme gives students the opportunity to study Vietnamese, French, or Mandarin, and there are extra-curricular home language groups in Chinese, Dutch, Danish, Korean, and German.
What makes a UN school?
As its name suggests, UNIS Hanoi has a close relationship with the UN. Rather than being part of the UN, though, this school describes itself as a “learning community” that is “educating agents for change”. It refers to its students as “young global citizens”, the IB curriculum is guided by the principles of the UN, and it uses the work of the UN to provide case studies and problem-solving challenges for students.
For example, Grade 4 students learning the skills of persuasive writing are asked to make the case for a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Vietnam; Grade 10 students study conflict resolution in their humanities class by looking at case studies of UN peacekeeping missions; and Grade 11 chemistry students are introduced the UN’s initiatives to double global sustainable energy resources by 2030. Far from focusing purely on academic results, UNIS Hanoi is offering a curriculum for a changing world – and it’s easy to see how this could empower those students with a forward-thinking mind-set.
As well as celebrating the work of the UN in the annual UN Day, the school participates in the Model United Nations, and more than 100 middle and high school students are part of the programme; as well as sending delegates to international MUN conferences, UNIS Hanoi hosts a three-day MUN with 15 schools in Vietnam, and the elementary school organises its own MUN forum.
In line with the school’s focus on innovation, technology is integral to most lessons. There’s a 1:1 laptop programme from Grade 3; every student has a personal blog; and all students have access to laptops, iPads, digital/video cameras, and other mobile devices.
Sport and the creative arts
The well-rounded education at UNIS Hanoi includes plenty of opportunities to develop sporting and creative abilities outside of timetabled lessons in PE, music, drama, and art. The school has several sporting and arts academies which host classes for members of the UNIS community, as well as the wider Hanoi community.
The UNIS Hanoi Aquatics Academy has a wide range of swimming programmes, including after-school swim lessons, water polo clubs, and competitive swimming squads. There’s also a UNIS Tennis Academy, with a professional tennis academy coaching programme for junior level starting from age 5 to 18. The UNIS Hanoi Music Academy has 22 specialist teachers available for piano, vocals, guitar, woodwind, brass, percussion, and string lessons; the Academy's instructors are members of the Vietnamese Symphony Orchestra, teachers from the National Music Academy, and local expatriates.
Beyond the classroom
Service learning is embedded within the curriculum at all grade levels, and all students are expected to take part in community and charity work. All MYP and IBDP students have to select at least one from a list of 30 service learning activities, and commit to this for a full academic year.
The school says,
“As an IB World School our students in Middle and High School are required to complete service hours, but they systematically chose to do many hours in excess of the requirement, often double the hours.”
There are leadership opportunities on student councils in the elementary, middle, and high schools; team-building exercises on regular field trips; and the opportunity to compete in sports tournaments, the Asia Pacific Activities Conference (where students can represent the school in sporting and performing arts events), and the Mekong River International Schools Association, which hosts arts festivals, sports tournaments, and leadership events. UNIS Hanoi also has a broad programme of extra-curricular activities for all grades.
UNIS Hanoi is a high-performing school in terms of its academic results. In 2017, there was a 94% pass rate in the IBDP, and the UNIS average score was 34, which ranks it above the global average of 30. A large number of students go on to study at a university in the US or the UK.
Despite being open for 30 years, UNIS Hanoi is showing little signs of ageing. In fact, this purpose-built, green, spacious campus in Tay Ho is currently being updated as part of a five-year renovation plan that is keeping facilities modern and new.
The elementary, middle, and high schools are all located within low-rise buildings which have their own dedicated facilities. The early years centre has an outdoor play area, music room, and gym; the elementary school has a play area with adventure playground; and the high school has a courtyard.
Students share the use of an impressive sports centre with football fields and tennis courts, 400m running track, 25m swimming pool and wading pool, fitness room, library and media centre, an arts centre with a 400-seat theatre, practice rooms and smaller theatres, and a science and technology building with labs and workshops. New facilities include a canteen, student lounge, a community garden, a new wing in the elementary school, and all-year sports pitch.
Admission and fees
UNIS Hanoi is an inclusive school that “does not select students based on academic achievement”, and it does offer scholarships to outstanding local students from disadvantaged backgrounds through its Dr Charles Barder Scholarship Fund.
Tuition fees are among the highest in Vietnam, and increase from VND 500,600,000 for Grade 1 to VND 611,400,000 for Grade 11.
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