“International” is appended to many educational institutions here these days, although it isn’t immediately clear how a school or college got to carry that appellation. Is it because the student body is a mix of Filipino and foreign nationalities? Is it because some teachers or administrators are foreigners? Or is the term a mere marketing ploy, to justify exorbitant tuition and other fees?
The Australian International School (AIS) acquired its name by way of accreditation with both the Philippine and Australian governments, and offering an Australian high school diploma based on an Australian curriculum while following the basic requirements of the Philippines’ Department of Education. It also caters to both Filipino and expatriate students.
Making it truly “international” is the fact that AIS offers an international curriculum “based on the inquiry method, particularly in the primary and middle school years.” At the senior secondary level, Grades 11-12, students strive to earn the Western Australian Certificate of Education (WACE), and take the Australian National Exam before graduation. Thus, graduates earn an internationally recognized diploma and are “equipped to enter any school system in the world.”
Throughout the school year, Australian educational authorities check with not just the school administrators but also with individual teachers to monitor their performance and standards.
Remarkable, then, is the fact that AIS began life as a preschool, opening in 1964 as the Eleanor Esteban Learning Center. Esteban had been a teacher at the International School but decided to open her own school that would be “nontraditional, more analytical” in its approach.
“It grew one year at a time,” recalls David, Esteban’s youngest child who, like his siblings, was educated in his mother’s school and is now AIS director for marketing and projects. After opening its elementary department in the 1990s, the school, which became AIS three years ago, produced its first Grade 12 graduates last year. Another Esteban child, Christine Esteban Norton, now serves as administrative director.
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The transformation of the “Esteban School” into AIS came around the same time that Philippine educational authorities began considering the adoption of the “K to 12” system, which is in place in most countries worldwide.
Since Australia is getting global recognition as having one of the best educational systems in the world (“education is one of the top three exports,” remarks David), Philippine educational authorities, with support from AusAid, began consulting with Australian experts on the transformation of the old curriculum into K to 12. “We have worked closely with the DepEd,” remarks Christine, who believes their experience can prove valuable particularly for private schools left groping for ways to adjust their practices and restructure their curricula to conform with the K to 12 paradigm.
At AIS, students in Grades 11-12, known as “university prep levels,” get what Christine calls “some breathing room” as they transition to college. As in college, students are free to choose their subjects, subject to WACE guidelines, and can engage in subjects like applied information technology, accounting, integrated science and economics.
But Christine emphasizes that the AIS curriculum is geared toward college preparation, whereas under the DepEd’s K to 12 system, more emphasis is given toward equipping students with technical and vocational training to enable them to find jobs or engage in business even without a college degree.
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With students from six continents and of 18 nationalities, AIS is still keenly aware of its roots in the Philippines.
Over lunch, Christine seems immensely excited about the sports festival the school is holding the next day, featuring “Pinoy” games, like tumbang preso and piko. And in accordance with DepEd requirements, Filipino classes are also held, with the “Noli” and “Fili” studied in high school.
More than fulfilling the curricular requirements of the Philippine and Australian governments, says Christine, what AIS ultimately wishes to convey to its students is “learning how to learn,” to be self-motivated, and to manage their time well—traits necessary for success in college.
Starting in the seventh grade, adds Christine, each student is expected to work on a “thesis,” an independent project undertaken from July to February, in which the student chooses his/her area of research, posits a central theory, conducts the needed research, and then defends the paper before a panel. The experience not only provides basic preparation for college but also develops in the student a spirit of independence and discipline, says Christine.
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Even as it provides basic education from preschool, high school to precollege, AIS also offers a three-year Bachelor of Commerce (accounting) degree accredited with the Australian Catholic University, in the Philippines.
The school also has links with the University of Bradford, offering its MBA program which the Financial Times counts among the Top 10 MBAs in the United Kingdom and Top 100 in the world. Bradford faculty fly to Manila to personally conduct classes, with local “tutors” helping to bring “local relevance and application.”
Indeed, with the world shrinking due to communications technology and the globalization of trade, business, media and even popular culture, borders need not stand as barriers to a truly international education.
“World-class” is yet another appellation used much too indiscriminately. But with thoughtful preparation and application, the term can very well apply to graduates of schools like AIS.