High Stakes Learning

High Stakes Learning

December 6, 2019

Today, we bid farewell to the team of evaluators from the Council of International Schools (CIS), the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IB) who over the past week conducted the mandatory quinquennial evaluation of our school’s programs, practices, procedures, and policies. Each five-year period, we benchmark ISF against a set of international standards that are designed to promote excellence in schools. This week-long evaluation is a necessary final step in retaining our school’s accreditation, through both CIS and WASC, and our IB authorizations for the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the Diploma Programme (DP). ISF aspires to be the best school possible, and objective, external scrutiny through accreditation is an important mechanism to fulfil this aspiration.

Some readers may not be aware of the institutional importance of this event. Accreditation, for example, is an essential condition underpinning our Service Agreement with the Hong Kong Government. Furthermore, WASC accreditation, conferred by an agency based in the United States, benefits ISF graduates applying to US-based colleges and universities. IB authorization permits ISF to offer IB courses of study throughout the Secondary School that are compliant with all expectations of an IB World School. High stakes indeed!

During the recent unrest in Hong Kong, and particularly during the recent period of EDB-imposed school closure, the IB, CIS and WASC evaluation team leaders kept in close consultation with me about the feasibility and even the desirability of proceeding with the evaluation visit this week. A very practical concern at that time was that if classes were still in a state of suspension, there was little point in hosting the visit, as the evaluation team would have nothing of substance to evaluate. Perhaps a more complex question was one of optimal timing: would we wish to continue with a visit to evaluate our performance as a school under such adverse circumstances?

The original timing of this major evaluation event was determined early in 2018, at a time when no one could have predicted recent events and their impact on the wider Hong Kong community. The idea that we could, at such short notice, postpone the evaluation visit to a later, and potentially more ideal time, when our visitors might see us in a more favorable light, was certainly tempting. Some might take the view that none of us would voluntarily seek to be tested under such challenging conditions. And yet to take such action might also have been seen as a tacit admission of doubt: perhaps we were not able to meet even our own expectations at a time of trial?

This choice is ultimately a test of our enacted values. Were we prepared to extract our cherished vision and mission statements from glossy publications, and ergonomic websites, and put them into action at a time when they would be sorely tested? Could we take down the Eight Virtues + One from the walls and halls and mobilize them on the ground in every classroom, office, and home?

My decision to go ahead with the visit at this time was, in part, based on trust; it was a vote of confidence in our community: our teachers, leaders, parents, and, of course, our resilient and committed students. In reality, if we cannot rise up at a time of adversity and put our principles into collective and mutually supportive action, when will it happen? If not now, then when?

At another level, there is a deeper question of educational truth at stake. Schools, like family homes, should be sanctuaries of safety and learning, but they are not completely isolated from the communities they serve. We cannot protect our children from all risks during their childhood and expect that they will magically develop the capacity to handle real-world risks once they leave the protective environment of home and school. It is at times like these that educators and parents alike need to help our children learning how to cope in adversity. A truly comprehensive education involves exposure to risk and difficulty; it should rightly offer students a managed and progressive form of inoculation to build up the resilience in each child to cope with the challenges in life that we know lie ahead, perhaps just beyond the horizon. In the years beyond formal education, greater tests than these await each and every child. As role models for our children, are we not duty-bound to show them how we handle adversity?

To go ahead with our evaluation in such testing times is the right thing to do for our children. It is now that we must seize the opportunity to test ourselves to ensure that no matter what, we are ready to meet their learning needs as they prepare to inherit a complex world filled with the messy, unresolved problems left behind by the current generation. High stakes, indeed.



Dr. Malcolm Pritchard

Head of School

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