Breakthrough Learning Environments Promote Wellbeing at ISHCMC

Education - Saigon/HCMC: Oct. 1, 2019

ISHCMC has been at the forefront of education for over 25 years.

Educational environments at ISHCMC keep up with the year 2020.

All rounded development of children at ISHCMC.

Ho Chi Minh City is currently saturated with international schools, but back in 1993, it couldn’t have been a more stark contrast. Saigon was once extremely insular, surrounded by quaint farmlands and rice fields in what are now Saigon’s heavily-urbanized outer districts. Vietnam was only just beginning to expand after the seismic economic and cultural shift brought about by the Đổi Mới reforms that gradually opened the country to the influence of the international community.

ISHCMC: A Pioneer of International Schooling

Pioneering a new era of education, the founders of International School Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) broke ground on the first ever international school in Saigon, starting as a small Australian grammar school and gradually transforming into a more globalized academic institution. Establishing an entirely new kind of school in Saigon during a period of relatively intense conservatism was no easy task, however.


“They had to work with the Ministry of Education and the Department of Education at the time,” says Head of School Adrian Watts. “They had to be convinced to allow a school that didn’t teach standard Vietnamese curriculum. ISHCMC was the founder of all those relationships and had to set the standard, and continues to do so over 25 years later.”


ISHCMC was the first school to move to a full International Baccalaureate curriculum, the first to introduce mindfulness as part of the curriculum (which has only recently caught at other institutions), and the first to work with the Vietnamese education authorities to establish the legal framework for all modern schools to base their existence upon.

Cutting Edge Environments and Innovative Education at ISHCMC 

From their humble origins in an old textile factory surrounded by rice fields in District 2, ISHCMC now has some of the most innovative and cutting edge facilities thanks to their newly renovated state-of-the-art Primary and Secondary campuses. As part of the Cognita Schools Group, they join a worldwide network of 70 diverse institutions all dedicated to nurturing academic excellence with a global perspective.

But ISHCMC’s core values go well beyond mere academics.

Child safety and wellbeing are two of ISHCMC’s top priorities. As a member of the Cognita Schools Group, ISHCMC is held accountable by the UK’s Child Protection Act. Rigorous screening processes for all staff, including thorough background checks conducted by an outside organization, as well as regular audits and ongoing staff training, make ISHCMC one of the most secure and thoroughly-vetted academic institutions in the country. 


ISHCMC also sets itself apart with an unrivaled dedication to the wellbeing of its students through the quality of its learning environments, as well as the ability of its staff to utilize the tools of that environment to energize, engage, and empower each and every student to “uncover their learning” and give them the tools to take an active role in their learning process—a principle ISHCMC refers to as Student Agency.

We only need to think back on our own education to appreciate the importance of our learning environments. Nearly all of us can remember those hours of dreaded boredom we spent in school, facing forward neatly in rows, sitting all day behind a desk as the teachers lectured and assigned homework. Most of us couldn’t wait to escape!

“Students today have tremendous difficulty learning behind desks in straight rows, like an exam room every day,” Mr. Watts points out. 

“That’s not what the modern student needs, so we create environments that are the opposite of that. Flexible arrangements with cushions and low-level couches, writable walls, short-throw projectors that enable surfaces to become interactive, and break-out spaces encourage students to remain engaged in their learning, and very few students are off task as a result.”

Unfortunately, traditional schools worldwide don’t typically utilize effective learning environments, to the detriment of students’ wellbeing. 

“Most schools are trying to teach the same way they taught in the 1860s to students in 2020,” says Mr. Watts. “When we’re talking about different generations, up to Millenials, we’ve identified different characteristics for all of them. But many schools have continued to operate exactly the same.”

By contrast, ISHCMC features some of the most remarkably innovative and modern facilities available anywhere in the world. The primary campus classrooms have all been newly renovated for the 2019-2020 academic year, and you’ve probably never seen anything like it. 


Classrooms are arranged with spaces that flow into one another, utilizing a mixture of cushions, tables, and chairs in mixed-use spaces where students can work together and participate in various workshops and activities organized by their teachers. These collaborative environments promote emotional intelligence and foster critical social skills needed for the future, which research increasingly shows to be most important to develop at an early age. 

Supporting Social and Emotional Development at ISHCMC

Through a play-based approach and a wide variety of specialized learning environments catered to each child’s individual strengths, primary school students are given ample resources to not only begin their academic learning journey, but thrive socially and emotionally at a key developmental stage. ISHCMC’s primary campus is home to a fully equipped cooking lab, a state-of-the-art music facility with soundproof rooms, a six-lane swimming pool, a gorgeous art space complemented by multi-use areas and an open environment with natural light (rather than confining students to a cramped table as is common with many schools’ shrinking arts spaces), a dedicated lab for creation and development using modern techniques like 3D printing, and much more. 


In addition to pristine learning environments, ISHCMC takes extra care to serve healthy meals, and a modern air purification system (also used in hospitals) as well as careful monitoring of air pollution levels—and even a lightning deflection system for Saigon’s notoriously severe thunderstorms—makes this one of Ho Chi Minh City’s safest and healthiest campuses.

ISHCMC has always continued its legacy of pioneering that it has been known for since its inception all those years ago, and arguably has moved on to become a global example of how uncompromising dedication to the quality of students’ learning environment can have a long-lasting impact on their wellbeing, not only at an early age, but for years to come.

Image source: ISHCMC