Global Immersion of The Olympia Schools

The academic year 2017-2018 marks the 10th year anniversary of The Olympia Schools (TOS), a journey that’s possibly too young compared to many renowned education institutes worldwide, but it’s possibly long enough for us to learn about what we have done, how and most importantly why.

Such a reflection exercise is something we constantly do each day to put ourselves on an innovation curve as we believe that’s an inherent part of education – true education, I mean – but 10 years, we believe, is a solid period for us to be confident to say: We’ve done it right. We’ve successfully fulfilled – still and will – our mission in shaping generations of Vietnamese students who (1) embrace Vietnamese core values, (2) are well-prepared to overcome any challenges in studies and in life, and (3) are fully capable to integrate in a globalized world.

While the first two pillars of our mission may be found easily elsewhere in other Vietnamese or billingual institutes, it is the third pillar and its blend with the other two that set TOS apart and mark the TOS stamp not only domestically but also globally. How do we do so?

One important factor that stands out is an open inter-disciplinary curriculum that is constantly researched, developed and innovated in all aspects, ranging from official course structures and extracurriculars to learning platforms and resources, to ensure what students at TOS learn are systematic and consistent within a K-12 system to bridge the gap into college, while still current and practical at every frontier to motivate students in life-long journey of learning.

Our teams of academic management, product R&D and experienced teachers work in close partnerships with reputed educational organizations and experts, both in Vietnam and overseas, to analyze ongoing trends in curriculum design globally while finding ways to tailor and integrate such insights with the specific learning capabilities and habits of Vietnamese students and environmental factors that may influence how students learn. Over the years, we have gone a long way from working with the top education experts in Vietnam to solidify finetune our Vietnamese-based component of the curriculum to partnering with global institutes to stretch our curriculum in multiple dimensions.

We partner with innovative schools in the US and Canada to form dual diploma programs wherein our students learn with and, in no time, quickly rival native students across disciplines, excelling in studies and beyond to earn admission to top undergraduate and graduate programs globally – Harvard Law School and Harvard School of Education are among the list. We work with Top 20 boarding schools in the US to co-design and exchange our Global Immersion Learning initiatives, so that our students can partake in learning experiences globally through their middle and high school years. We partner with reputed universities and colleges to deliver college-level courses in business and entrepreneurship. We are entrusted by worldwide organizations, including Microsoft, British Council, Junior Achievement, UNESCO, CISCO to name a few, to run pioneering learning programs and extracurriculars for students as well as innovative teaching practices for teachers across the board. We work hands-in-hands with companies worldwide, ranging from conglomerates in Vietnam to rising Silicon Valley tech start-ups, to provide students with internship experiences throughout the year to enrich their learning experiences and career orientation… Simply put, definitions and boundaries of globa immersion are constantly pushed further by the management and teaching community at TOS, all to help our students step onto the global platform and shine.

The result of such ongoing investments, passion and persistence in product research and development, teachers professional development, and global partnerships is a Science & Technology curriculum that truly embraces the STEM approach blending theories with practical experiments both in labs and on sites; an English course structure that equips students not just with the language skills but also enriches learners with worldwide knowledge in philosophy, social studies, history, contemporary affairs and beyond; a Math offering that steps beyond the traditional skill-based learning and brings students along a journey of self-exploration and discovery with Math thinking; a Vietnamese and Social studies syllabus that equips our children with an analytical mindset in their own mother tongue as well as creativity in expressing one’s self in both spoken and written forms, and an Art–Music–Physical Education program that goes way above and much deeper than merely practice sessions, developing a critical and creative approach to help students develop their crafts not through rote-learning but via… thinking. 

While each discipline has its own characteristics, the methodologies that lie at the foundation of all those course offerings are truly what brings the essence of their designs to life and maximize students’  potentials in what they are good at – a multiple intelligence based philosophy in teaching and learning that we at TOS hold close to our hearts and minds, so that whatever pursuits a student will choose in college and beyond, he or she will be passionate, self-motivated and fully capable to intergrate well and succeed in a global context.

One way that sets our methological approach apart is the adoption of Experiential Learning, both in and out of classroom, from using of open-ended questions throughout our teachings to trigger students’ critical thinking in their exploratory journey, to designing hands-on activities ranging from small-scale experiments in class to learning field trips both in Vietnam and overseas all systematically designed in conjunction with the syllabi.

Another practice adopted by teachers across grades and disciplines at TOS is Active Learning in accordance with a Flipped-Classroom model, whereby we provide pre-class resources and guided prompts for students to acquaint with and teach themselves the topic at home before each new lesson, opening up much of class time for broadening and enriching students’ knowledge and understanding through applications, discussions, presentations, Socratic-style seminars – a methodology used in postgraduate studies that only a few selected K-12 schools worldwide are adopting.

Another is the Project-Based learning approach whereby each course design is made up of a system of projects alongside the traditional pencil-and-paper testing system. In this regard, projects are well designed to cover all practical stages, ranging from research and design to presentation and critical feedback to reflection and finetuning, so that students are fully immersed in a real-world problem that requires not only a theoretical understanding and analysis of the underlying principles but also a keen awareness and creative mindset to solve. All together help to instill and harness the 21st century skills in students, not simply on paper but truly in real life, across grades and subjects.

Of course, in order to deliver our Global Immersion mission, it requires an entire range of efforts spanning curriculum design, teaching execution, resource and learning platforms to service the entire student body at TOS. That said, what truly consummates such mission and helps maximize its potentials is the heart and mind of each and every person at TOS who, day in and day out, has set to their heart a shared mission of preparing our students – our children – for LIFE. That’s essentially the reason why we are happy with every single achievement, big or small, of every single child, one lesson at a time. From the top performances in World Scholars’ Cup in Vietnam, Entrepreneurship Competition in Germany, World School Debating Championship in Indonesia, STEM Lab in China, Choral Contest in Germany… to the growth in awareness, knowledge, understanding and character of each and every student each day, we find true happiness in our life callings – Education.

Recently, I was on a trip to the US and Canada to work with our partner schools and universities and had the chance to sit down with some of our alumni in Boston. Thanh An, one of our first alumni, currently attending Harvard School of Education, told me that she would love to come back to the TOS to continue our mission. “All the beloved teachers at TOS have prepared me from a very young age for everything I need to thrive and succeed here,” she confessed in earnest and honesty. More than anything, that warmed my heart on a cool evening in Boston, firming my belief – our belief – that whatever we’ve been passionately doing for the past 10 years does actually work: Our students have been, are and will be successful global citizens, because we are preparing them… FOR LIFE, one step at a time.