COVID-19 is causing untold challenges around the world. Apart from the risk to life and health, and economic problems threatening jobs and livelihoods, families and friends are kept apart, perhaps for a very long time. As a school we are also acutely aware of the impact on education. Earlier in the year, universities, colleges, government and independent schools, all had to manage the awarding of exam grades in a situation where no exams could take place. We feel that worked well here, but are aware of great difficulty and controversy elsewhere. With site closure, these institutions also had to manage online lessons, some with more success than others, whilst pupils and parents had to adapt to a very different environment of learning. Different countries have had different challenges; here in Thailand the low incidence of COVID-19 has enabled schools to return to a new normal more quickly than the UK. But none of us know what the future holds, so we must be prepared for anything.
Until COVID-19, the number of international students attending UK boarding schools has been steadily growing for many years, by far the largest numbers coming from China and Hong Kong. Indeed some schools now have a majority of overseas pupils, certainly in boarding. For the many parents wishing to choose a British education, there are an increasing number of British international schools around the world, providing options closer to home that offer the same UK curriculum and exam opportunity. This is certainly true in Thailand. Having previously been Head of a UK state school, Head of an international boarding school and Head of a UK independent school, I gained an insight into these sectors and how they have their own special identities, with similarities and differences. At Brighton College Bangkok, I better understand how a specific UK independent school character can blend well in an international setting. One could say ‘the best of both worlds’.
COVID-19 is now having a huge impact on the international movement of students, both for schools and for universities. COVID-19 risk, visa restrictions, quarantine, cancelled flights and the uncertainty of future travel are causing many to look at local schooling options, at least while the pandemic spreads. At Brighton College Bangkok we have pupils in every Year group from Year 8 to Year 12 who would otherwise be studying in the UK or other ‘western’ countries. I know that this has been a challenge for the individuals concerned, especially if they had already been studying overseas and were therefore separated from familiar teachers and friends. Each has a unique story to tell. A number have mentioned the different sports programmes. Whilst some sports are the same, those who enjoyed rugby and hockey now have to get used to football and basketball, although home and away fixtures with other schools have been limited the world over. All appreciate the greater swimming opportunities. Others comment on differences in weather and food, and of course being closer to their own families.
What is pleasing is that these pupils, without exception, talk about how good the teaching is here. They feel they are making really good progress in their academic studies. When I ask what has helped, apart from outstanding teachers, they all comment on the friendliness of staff and other pupils, the warm welcome they have received. Indeed, many have suggested that even when the world opens up, they may prefer to stay here at Brighton College Bangkok. The choice will be for them and their parents to make. We are glad to have been able to provide a good alternative to their original plans, be it short term or long.