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Education that is fun but purposeful

About 14 years ago, a group of parents was faced with a dilemma.

Some had children who were about to enter school. Others, who had just returned from living abroad, had kids who had to continue their schooling after being educated primarily in international schools catering to expatriates.

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The local educational landscape did not quite meet what they thought their children needed. “There was a need for a global perspective, for critical and creative thinking. We would like them to be able to ask questions and learn to answer them themselves,” founding trustee Dina Lomongo Paterno said.

Filipino schools, even the exclusive ones, were too Filipino, too focused on “home”. International schools, on the other hand, were really just getting children ready for the next country they would be moving to or for their eventual return to their homelands.

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The parents, a handful of whom were educators, wanted to combine the best qualities of both—a school that would give the children a firm grounding on “Filipinohood” while providing them an international perspective to qualify them for any school of their choice, local or foreign, and to live in an increasingly globalized society.

Paterno said they wanted their kids to be “international but rooted in Philippine culture.”

In wanting the children to develop fully their potential, the parents looked for more individualized instruction so the children would not get lost among the scores of learners in the large classrooms even at exclusive schools.

Chance to blossom

Paterno said the sheer number of students in most classes restricted the help a child could receive. “Each child is different and should be given the opportunity to develop and blossom,” she said.

The founders did not really want to open a school, she said, but it ended up that way. They saw an opportunity to offer something different, if only to their own children.

After checking out all the educational systems and programs available, judging them by their goals of giving their children an international education deeply rooted in Philippine culture, the Beacon International School Foundation Inc. decided to adapt the Department of Education’s basic education curriculum to the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, becoming the first to be accredited by the Switzerland-based nonprofit educational foundation.

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The Beacon School, “an independent, nonprofit, coeducational K to 8” academic institution, formally opened in 2000.

Paterno and her cofounders found that IB provided the framework to bring all those things they wanted for their children’s education, as well as the credibility to make entry to any school around the world easy.

Mary Catherine Chua, deputy headmaster, said the key IB concepts were consistent with the objectives of the founders—communication, holistic learning and intercultural awareness.

Both Beacon’s Primary Years Program (PYP), K to grade 5, and Middle Years Program (MYP), Grades 6-8, are IB accredited. The school now prides itself in being the “first and only fully IBO authorized educational institution” in the country for every level of its academic programs.

Small classes

Starting with only 47 children, mainly the founders’ and their friends’, Beacon initially offered kindergarten to fourth grade. The school currently has 272 students from kindergarten to Grade 8.  Up to Grade 5, each class has only 15 students. The number rises to 20 for Grades 6-8. With only two sections per grade, the school maintains an enviable ratio of one teacher per five students.

Currently leasing space at the Philippine Center for Population and Development (PCPD) building in Taguig City, Chua said expansion would be modest, with 300 the comfortable ceiling.

Paterno said even if they eventually moved to their own campus, there would not be a major surge in enrollment.

“We really want to be a small school,” she said, so opening branches was out of the question. She  said they were more interested in documenting their experiences and sharing them with those who were interested.

Beacon has a trimester calendar, allowing for the fluid movement of transient students. Average fee per year is $10,000.

Since Beacon opened, Paterno said, many parents, who worried their kids were “so burdened” in other institutions, had transferred their children to the school. She said parents would later tell her, “My kids love to go to school.”

While many institutions claim they want to make learning fun for students, Paterno said they wanted to make the pursuit of knowledge fun but not purposeless. Fun was to help children better absorb the lessons taught them.

Chua said their students were taught skills for research, analysis, critical thinking and creativity so they could continue to learn.

Paterno said they did not want to simply give students content but also understanding and the ability to assess the validity and credibility of information they received and its source. “Rather than just memorize lessons, we want them to appreciate knowledge,” she said.

Paterno said Beacon hoped to make parents understand IB better so they could be more active partners in their children’s education. Even field trips—to China, Thailand and several local destinations—were designed to advance learning, she said, and make students inquiring, curious and motivated.

She added that another major goal was to educate kids to be responsible citizens. “We want to prepare them for the why and how of responsible citizenship. We want them to be change agents, to know they have roles to play even just at the community level,” Paterno said.

She said this was one reason the school was not gated. “We do not want to feel separated from the neighboring communities,” she explained. Regular interactions with local tenement schools are conducted.

Paterno said students were so aware of the reality outside their school that after Typhoon “Ondoy,” the kids themselves initiated a donation drive to help affected neighboring communities.

The Beacon School is at the PCPD building, 2332 Don Chino Roces (Pasong Tamo) Ave. Ext., Taguig City (telefax 8405040). E-mail [email protected] Visit www.beaconschool.ph.

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TAGS: DepEd, Education, Philippine schools, Philippine universities
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