Surat Thani International School (STIS), the only international school in the province of Surat Thani, is an innovative, productive, and rewarding academic institution that provides the best education possible for all pupils through modern facilities, advanced educational methods, and a supportive environment. Founded in 2014, STIS engages and empowers learners to become happy, creative, and critical thinkers, who have the skills and confidence to positively impact their community, and a globalised world. With Covid-19 causing schools across the world to face closures for a prolonged period, STIS recognised the importance of having robust measures in place to implement remote education and ensure minimal disruption to teaching and learning. Here, Peter Meltzer, Founder and Director of STIS explains the role edtech has played in being a key component of their success so far, especially while needing to navigate the pandemic.
STIS is made up of around 99.5 percent native Thai pupils, with a majority having English as a second language. Therefore, while we still place a strong emphasis on Thai culture, we understand the need to create a more immersive environment for our pupils, giving them a solid understanding of the English language – especially as they don’t get much exposure to this outside of school. As part of this, we use the California Department of Education State Curriculum as a base for all lessons (except Thai language) to help them build the skills needed for when it comes to entering places of learning where English is the language of instruction. Additionally, we also encourage the use of technology in the classroom, with pupils working on iPads most days. We find this gives them an accessible route to deeper learning and more effective engagement.
This way of learning has proved to be incredibly useful, especially in regard to Covid-19, as it meant we already had several processes in place and staff and pupils were familiar with using online resources and technology to aid teaching and learning. While we had plenty of resources at our disposal, there is one that has been invaluable – and what we’d describe as our ‘crown jewel’ – to not only minimising disruption but ensuring we’re able to tailor content for pupils, monitor progress and close skill gaps.
While exploring the NWEA MAP Growth Assessments for any additional data we could use at the school, we discovered Edmentum’s Exact Path as a resource that could support this. Exact Path combines adaptive diagnostic assessments with individualised learning pathways to help close gaps in learning and elevate each student’s academic goals. These tailored learning paths can be accessed both inside and outside school; this was particularly important as our students don’t have English learning materials available to them outside of school, so it allows them to study at any time, wherever their location.
While staff are of course able to manually identify each pupil’s strengths and weaknesses, being able to address this in a way which automates instruction for them and provides greater equity in the classroom has been hugely beneficial. Students can learn in their own time and, more importantly, at their own pace by watching videos, reviewing content, and completing subsequent exercises and activities to consolidate their learning. This has really contributed to one of STIS’ main values, ‘confidence’, as it has allowed pupils to focus on their own abilities and not worry about the levels or skills of their peers.
Teachers have then been able to assign standardised assessment tasks to the class and track the data progress. This was another key reason for adopting the software; the platform uses interactive data visualisations and customisable reports to quantify valid growth measures and track real-time progress, meaning that teachers are then able to take advantage of every teachable moment.
As a relatively new school, we needed to be able to effectively collect and track data, and since implementing this last year, we have seen a real growth in some of our pupils’ MAP scores. This has given our teachers greater insight into any gaps in learning, and in turn, enabled them to more effectively set out appropriate tasks to aid academic development.
Supporting learning at home
In addition to how we have been able to support our students during lessons, the beauty of online resources has meant that children can continue to learn and study English outside of the classroom – something which would never have been possible before. This has helped bolster our offering as a whole and differentiates us from other schools in the area. It has also enhanced our profile among parents, giving them the reassurance that no matter the circumstances, their children are able to continue benefitting from an excellent education, with high-quality resources at their disposal. This stems beyond the academic term time too, meaning children have access to tasks and activities all year round, providing support to both staff and parents in terms of studying over the summer or during short- or long-term vacations to ensure pupils don’t fall behind.
While Covid-19 has presented us with several challenges, pupils, parents, and staff were already familiar with the programme, so it provided a smoother transition for us as we had to rely solely on remote learning. Being able to assign activities to pupils and knowing it would be providing them with the right levels of support, meant that it also freed up time for us as a school to turn our attention to longer term plans and next steps to further support our distance learning model.
Parents are responsible for getting their children to engage with learning outside of the classroom, and traditionally this has proven to be a real challenge, particularly when they don’t speak English themselves. But our suite of online resources has assisted in this process, especially during the pandemic, as it has given children more ownership of their learning and allowed them to continue working independently. We have also been able to monitor their progress, so whereas some schools may not have been able to track and assess whether they are falling behind while they’re not at school, we have found the opposite. Through the data mapping capabilities of the platform, we have been able to evidence that pupils are in fact moving forward on their learning path. This has been incredibly valuable and reassuring during remote learning due to the pandemic.
We have reaped so many rewards over the last year, particularly in reference to capturing and analysing data and being able to subsequently provide genuine data-driven instruction. The more we integrate our platforms across the school, the more efficiency and growth we see. This will undoubtedly help our pupils to reach their full potential and equip them with the skills needed to flourish beyond their educational journey.
Now that we have seen how effective our processes and practices can be, we will be ensuring that we integrate resources like this even more into our contingency plans. STIS will most likely be reopening its doors toward the end of July, and if there is a second wave and a second lockdown follows, then we are confident that we will have a robust process, of which platforms like these will play a key part.