For Toby Newton, education is about so much more than certificates and exam results. “We’re treading new ground,” explains the Head of School at International College Hong Kong (ICHK). “We’re explicit about what we mean by the word ‘learning’, and it isn’t just academics.”

While adopting a holistic approach to education may be an increasingly popular philosophy, Newton and his colleagues at ICHK can justifiably argue to be unique in their approach. Not only is their pastoral care – which focuses on creating the right “growth mindset” for students – steeped in educational research, but also it has a direct influence on the curriculum, where innovative study areas sit alongside traditional subjects.

ICHK was established in 2009 to provide an educational “through train” for three international primary schools – Hong Lok Yuen, Kingston and the Japanese International School. Nestled in Hong Kong’s rural New Territories, with views across open water to Plover Cove Country Park, the college provides the perfect location for pupils studying for their IGCSEs and International Baccalaureate Diploma.


Compelling answers

But it’s the learning environment as much as the location that is key for Newton. “Culture comes first for us,” he says, “and the most straightforward definition of culture is ‘how we do things round here’. At ICHK we aim to have a convincing and compelling answer – ‘We do it this way, this is why, this is how it makes sense and this is why you should want to be a part of it’.”

That culture goes right across the school community – students, teachers and parents. Educationist Kieran Egan’s study of cognitive disposition, and how, on their journey to adulthood, children move from the “romantic” to the “philosophic” between Years 7 and 10, has had particular impact on the ICHK curriculum. “We want to excite, provoke, intrigue and animate our younger students,” says Newton, “to the point where learning seems as vital and stimulating at secondary level as it was at primary. This is the springboard that helps propel them through the typical emerging self-consciousness of the teenage years.”


A unique approach

That curriculum features subjects designed in-house such as Enrichment and Flow, Big History, Deep Learning and Human Technologies, the last of which broadens the topic from the narrow ICT definition to consider human beliefs, practices and strategies as technologies. “Students are encouraged to consider whether what they are doing is fruitful, appropriate to their needs, well-advised and well-served by the technology they are using,” adds Newton.

It’s no surprise that Newton believes the ICHK approach is unique, although he is quick to caution against viewing any single element of the school’s ethos as the “silver bullet”, the solution in isolation. He is also keen to work with others to extend the approach.

“Almost all schools claim to promote creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and so on,” he says. “But if that’s a sincere ambition, the next question is ‘So how are you doing that?’ Most schools don’t really have an answer, largely because I think educators are quite confounded by the challenge. I think at ICHK we do have answers to that question. I’m proud of those answers, and we seek to promote this conversation more widely in everything we do.”