Vientiane, Laos Report of what it's like to live there - 10/11/17
Personal Experiences from Vientiane, Laos
1. Are you the parent of a child(ren) attending this school? A teacher at the school? Or both?
I was a parent (2014 to 2017) and a teacher for one year.
2. What grade or grades do/did your children attend at the school? During what year(s) did they attend the school?
My kids attended secondary school (grades 7 to 10).
3. Are other schools available to expatriates in this city? Why did you choose this particular school?
There are other schools (see http://jclao.com/english-schools-in-vientiane/ ) but this is the only IB school in Laos at the moment. The other schools follow the Cambridge Curriculum. There is also a good French school and a home school co-op for Americans who are not satisfied with VIS.
Admissions & Welcome:
1. Are the admissions and placement procedures clearly stated to prospective families, either on the school website or through other means of communication?
The admission officers change quite often and the policies on the website are not always followed. The primary school is always very full and some people complain. VIS states that they are inclusive and I had the impression that they take every child when they have space but they will not follow up or not support children very well if they have dyslexia or dyscalculia or ADHD. They mention a learning support team on their website but there are only two people employed for primary and secondary school who are called special education coordinators.
2. How would you rate the school's support and welcome/integration of new students and their families, and why?
The director believes that since VIS is a small school there is no need to help families with transition, in my opinion.
Administration & School Procedures:
1. How is the overall communication between teachers and parents, and the administration and parents? How is communication facilitated?
In secondary school there is a rule about 'independent students' and the principal and teachers will tell you straight away that they will only communicate with students and not with parents. Teachers will only communicate with parents directly if there is a serious problem.
2. Aside from school fees, are there required expenses such as uniforms, laptops/tablets, musical instruments, or field trips that parents are expected to cover? What are the approximate costs?
The school fees are higher than at the Tier 1 Schools in Bangkok. You can rent an iPad for USD600 per semester but it is better to buy one for your children.
Academics & Resources:
1. What personal or academic counseling resources are available at this school? Is there a dedicated college counselor at the school? Is he/she familiar with universities worldwide?
Counseling is not adequate in my opinion. There is a full-time and a part-time counselor for secondary but both are not experienced in giving advice with regards to academic careers. My child was bullied badly and neither the counselor nor the school professionally supported my child.
2. Does the school have a library? How large is it? How updated are the books? Can students borrow books to read at home?
Yes, there is a library with a very nice supportive team and parents can also borrow books. I don't know how updated the collection is.
3. How are information technology resources at the school. Are they up-to-date? Is there a computer lab?
No computer lab and the design lab is too small. The physics lab is not well equipped. There is not much inquiry-based learning, more old fashioned theoretical teaching given the poor equipment in science and design labs.
4. What are the technology requirements for students? Do they need their own laptops/ipads? How is technology integrated into the classroom and homework?
They get a laptop but for an Apple, you need to pay extra.
5. Describe the physical education resources at the school. Is there a gym? A swimming pool? Are there playing fields or tennis courts available?
It is okay. There is a small pool and a gym.
6. What is the approximate teacher-to-student ratio in the grades that your child attended?
Sometimes very small classes like 1:15 but last year one English class in grade 7 had 30 students.
7. Are Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses available in upper grades? If this is an IB school, is the full diploma required of all students?
There are only IB classes in upper school which students have to attend even if they don't do a full IB diploma.
8. Are students generally challenged appropriately by the curriculum? Please describe any particular strengths or weaknesses in this area. Do you have any thoughts how the curriculum is applied and implemented at this school?
Although the school states that they "differentiate," teachers who are capable to teach in that manner are rare at VIS. Most of them teach only to the mainstream. The school markets a "mother tongue" program but most of the tutors don't have a teaching experience in that area. Math is another big problem in primary and secondary school which leads students to be ill-prepared for IB.
9. Is the amount and type of homework generally appropriate for the age and grade of the students?
There are assessments which are assigned for a couple of weeks which is in line with the curriculum - MYP. However, in my experience, many teachers are not trained well in the curriculum especially the "reflection" component. Teachers assign tons of reflection papers without any connection to the work students had done before.
10. What fine arts electives are available (music, drama, visual arts)?
In VIS electives don't really exist because PE, design and fine arts subjects are valued the same as math, English and science. Although this is nice, the school does not focus enough on core English and mathematics classes so some students are not well prepared for the IB or struggle when they move back to their home country.
11. Are the teachers at the school required to speak English as a first language--or at least fluently?
They are supposed to speak English fluently but mother tongue tutors do not need to speak English well.
12. What services are available for gifted/advanced students at the school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
13. What services are available for students with learning disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
My child always struggled in mathematics and the teacher only started to care after she failed. When she was diagnosed with dyscalculia, the math teacher deleted her name in the math standard class on managebac as if she did not exist anymore.
14. What services are available for students with physical disabilities at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
I have never seen students with physical disabilities. There are no elevators.
15. What services are provided for speakers of English as a second language at this school? Please describe your experience with these services, if applicable.
VIS provides intense English support until middle school. In high school there is no extra support which is a problem.
16. What extra-curricular activities (including sports) are available at this school? Have your children participated in these activities? What activities do you feel are missing at the school?
There are MRISA tournaments every term in basketball, volleyball and soccer and the team travels in the region. There is also a swim team (but no water polo). And, they had an art exchange with other schools in the region.
Social & Emotional Well-Being:
1. Do expatriate students socialize with local students at the school? Are both groups successfully integrated into the school culture?
Not at all. Respect for the Lao culture was only written on their papers. VIS had class trips to villages in Laos and the children were even not taught how to greet in the local language. In school, the Lao group does usually not interact with the expat kids. VIS does not offer Lao as foreign language.
2. Are there are any problems with exclusionary behavior, cliques, or bullying at this school? Please describe any problems your children may have experienced in this area.
VIS does not have an anti-bullying policy in place--only a shaky definition in the student handbook. My daughter was badly bullied. The first incident was reported to the school counselor who assured follow-up but that never happened and the bullying continued.
1. What letter grade (ranging from A, excellent, to F, fail) would you assign to this school based on your overall experience? Would you choose it again?
Fail. No, I would never ever move to Laos with high school kids. Both of my children hate VIS and one of them really loved school before.
2. Please tell us anything else you think prospective parents and students should know about this school. Thanks for your contribution!
VIS is really one of the worst example how badly a good curriculum could be organized. In our time it was really a management disaster but of course, administrators come and go so change might be possible soon.