Creating World-Class Education in the Heart of HCMC

Education - Saigon/HCMC: April 26, 2018

Today our children live in a world made up of screens, from televisions to smartphones to tablets. While these new forms of entertainment and communication have certainly made life easier, growing up with these high-tech gadgets is a double-edged sword. Recent studies have suggested that spending too much time on screens can affect social development. So how to balance this contemporary issue? Can it be done?

Adrian Watts, Head of School at ISHCMC, thinks so. “As leaders in education, it is our responsibility to ensure that our programs are aligned to developing the essential skill-sets of the future,” he said.

IQ is as important as ever, but now an equally developed EQ (emotional intelligence) is just as critical.

ISHCMC nurtures and helps mature both IQ and the EQ, a process that starts well before sitting down at a desk. It’s this comprehensive ideology that makes ISHCMC a pioneer in the field of education.

Responsible Integration and Mindful Balance

As an authorised IB (International Baccalaureate) World School, students follow a rigorous academic program, which balances student-driven inquiry with mental and physical health programs. It’s a process that starts from the very foundation of education—the facility itself. The state-of-the-art secondary campus, which opened its doors in January 2018, features rolling furniture, so that classrooms can be reconfigured on the spot to encourage teamwork and conversation.


Sometimes the teachers and students feel the need to abandon the classroom altogether. The corridors are equipped with white-board paint so that students can literally write on the walls, and this work can remain to inspire others. Influenced by the Google offices, learning lounges give students a place to hang out and have impromptu discussions.

The keywords that inform all these design choices? Community and movement.

Kids need opportunities to move. Researchers at The Institute of Medicine found that children who are routinely active show greater attention and process information faster than students stuck at a desk for hours on end. By eradicating the static energy in the classroom, there are simply more opportunities for communal creative thought.

“[Classrooms are] purposefully designed to allow students the opportunity to collaborate, connect and communicate with others in a safe and healthy environment”, Watts said. “The opportunities created by our progressive facilities encourage students to enjoy learning and to want to uncover new and creative ideas.”


Within these spaces geared for intercommunication, technology enters the scene.

Becoming an Early Explorer

At ISHCMC the first question educators ask themselves when considering new advances is whether it adds value in the classroom. Starting in their Early Explorers program, a four-year-old may spend five minutes drawing a purple squiggle on a tablet. They might decide they like the colour, and then go on a hunt for purple paint to make a masterpiece they can bring home. The goal is to find ways to energise the child through multimedia.


Beginning in Grade 3, children follow iPad and laptop programs, and on both campuses students use green rooms, film studios and Mac Labs with fully equipped music composition software. Innovative “Makerspaces”, classrooms equipped with laser and 3D printers, sewing machines and building supplies, spark kids to dream up their own ideas for the future.

However, ISHCMC is careful to make sure that the interaction with technology does not take precedence over the interaction with the other students, the teachers and the environment around them.

ISHCMC makes sure to educate students on the downsides of our high-tech world. Students participate in a school-wide safety program, which teaches kids vital lessons about internet safety, cyberbullying and how to deal with distractions.

Better Health, Inside and Out

At ISHCMC, taking care of the students’ health and wellbeing are paramount to fostering a 360-degree approach to education. “Student growth in a safe and caring environment is at the centre of all that we do as a school,” Watts said. From exercise and healthy food choices to campus-wide clean air and mindfulness training, the innovations at ISHCMC include more than just teaching tools.

As the air pollution index rises in Vietnam’s biggest cities, The World Health Organisation warns that air pollution poses a significant threat to all, and children in particular. To address this, ISHCMC has put into place standalone air purifying machines on the primary campus and integrated purifiers in the air vents on the secondary campus—the only school in HCMC to have done so.

Today, young adults around the world battle depression, anxiety and depression at higher numbers, and ISHCMC addresses these mental health issues proactively. Every morning students start their day with 10 minutes of mindfulness training.


The ability to concentrate emotions and rid the mind of distractions is an essential skill for both school and daily life. This focus helps kids have more confidence in themselves and their work.

In addition, ISHCMC employs trained therapists at both campuses to help students navigate the difficulties of their daily lives, and meditation rooms are available for kids who need to have a moment of calm and solitude.

Ticking All the Boxes

As of 2018, 100 percent of students who’ve graduated from ISHCMC have been accepted into universities. The days are gone when colleges and universities would simply look at a student’s grades and test scores and send out acceptance letters based on those numbers. Now universities are looking for kids who “tick all the boxes”: high intelligence, creativity, adaptability and the ability to deal with challenges.

At ISHCMC, the term high-tech doesn’t only refer to technology. From the latest electronic advances to high-concept student-run gardens and food labs, ISHCMC is anything but a stagnant institution for education.


"We've been very successful here," said Watts. "I'm really proud of the ISHCMC teachers because they've embraced the idea of constructivist learning. Instead of having to learn the information, our students know the information.”

The results speak for themselves. In 2017, ISHCMC students excelled with a 98% pass rate on their International Baccalaureate Diploma examinations, with one student obtaining a record 45 out of 45 score. Moreover, 60% of last year’s graduates were awarded the distinguished IB Bilingual Diploma, which is more than double the worldwide average.

At ISHCMC, “The ultimate aim is to prepare our students for university and beyond in a supportive and personalised approach.”

Image source: ISHCMC