Interview with Malcolm Pritchard

We had the pleasure of speaking with Malcolm Pritchard, Head of School at the ISF Academy, about his broader vision of education at the school and partnership with Teng Hoi for their composting program. Below are some of his valuable ideas from our discussion.

A Different Educational Experience

The ISF Academy is founded to provide a different pathway into adult life, employment, and contribution to the community. Founders of ISF were seeking to offer a learning experience that would be broadly applicable for students who will be going to work in the 21st century. Therefore, we hope students would be able to develop a bilingualism (or equilingualism, or even ambilingualism) between Putonghua and English, so by the time they graduate, they will be equally comfortable communicating in both languages.

However, on a much deeper level is culture and being truly bicultural – understanding what drives people’s behaviour, attitudes, and how they make decisions. For example, at ISF, all our teachers are native speakers or first language speakers of the language in which they teach. Each classroom is a little cultural world and microcosm. Teachers bring a cultural context into the classrooms and students not only are able to have the experience of working in the language of instruction but they will also learn through the experience of being with the teacher.

We are looking for long term commitment to our vision of education, which is Independent, Chinese, and Global. Independent – we do not belong to a particular system but we also expect students to develop independence in how they think and live. Chinese – Chinese cultural values are very much a part of what the school is founded on due to Hong Kong’s location in China. Global – we expect students to have a global view of themselves and fully embrace the concept of global stewardship. For the school, we see ourselves not only in a local independent context, but also in a Chinese context and Global context. At the same time, we see ourselves as global citizens with a local connection.

Experiential Learning and Commitment to Environmental Sustainability

I am deeply committed to experiential learning. Schools are often very strong on semantic knowledge and therefore spend less time creating rich experiences for students to be able to learn in a context and learn about themselves and interacting with others. At ISF, we offer a lot of experiential programs involving students going out of school, leaving home and finding out about themselves. We are trying to create an experiential bridge between the artificial world of school and the world beyond school. When students leave, they are better prepared for life in the real world.

We are trying to close the gap between students’ semantic knowledge about the environment and experiential knowledge about their impact on the environment. At schools, we are not doing enough to create the experiential dimension of environmental understanding, particularly in places like Hong Kong. As an educator, one thing that I can do is try to put information in the hands of students about their impact on the world. Three years ago, Diana and I started looking at power monitoring to give more information to the users at school about their consumption. Five years ago, we had some students who came back from an internship at a biodiesel company and wanted to put an end to throwing away cooking oil. We started that process and are now working with a caterer. Since then, we have looked at things like waste. We were very happy to link up with George, who has a vision for doing composting for food waste and we decided it was technically easier to work with aerobic composting. We have even purchased some soil gas equipment to enable students to measure greenhouse gases emitted from the Rocket.

In the long term, I hope students will graduate not only with knowledge of the environment but also emerge into adult life with a rich set of experiences, and ultimately, become a force multiplier to change the world.