Five Questions: David Rowsell

We sit down with the principal of English International School, Prague

Ryan Scott

Written by Ryan Scott Published on 05.03.2012 15:33:04 (updated on 05.03.2012) Reading time: 7 minutes

Located in Libuš, Prague 4, English International School, Prague (EISP) is one of a handful of international schools in the Czech Republic. The school has been operating for 15 years, five of those in its current location. We spoke with the school principal, David Rowsell, about the school’s program and the kind of student EISP is looking for.

How does your school differ from other international schools in the Czech Republic? 

“What we’re trying to do here at EISP is say that young people being successful academically, is absolutely vital. I was speaking to a young girl this morning who is on the IB [International Baccalaureate] course, and she said, ‘I don’t know exactly where I want to go. I don’t know what my goal is yet.’ And I said, ‘That was fine because I’m not sure I knew when I was 17. However, what I can tell you is that your immediate goal must be to get the absolutely best IB score that you can get.’

“Because young people today could change their career five or six times. The stuff we should being teaching them, we don’t even know what it is yet. All we can do, as I said to the girl this morning, is ensure students get the very best IB grade they can because the IB is a fantastic qualification. It creates, hopefully, great students academically and great young people, who can go out in the world and be flexible and who can really make a difference.”

Could you explain the IB course?

“The IB says for today’s world we need to be more flexible; [the A-level system] won’t do. For people who need to be global citizens, it won’t do. So the two aspects of IB, which are different to the way I was taught, are these. Number one is you have to do six subjects. You have to do a language, a second language, some maths, some humanities and preferably, though they don’t insist on this one – sadly, in my view – some creative subject. That means young people at 16 are doing a much broader range of subjects.

“Secondly, they have the core, which is made up of three things: one is called ToK, theory of knowledge, which is a critical thinking course. What we’re thinking about there is young people really becoming critical in the proper sense of the word. They know that in a big media world that we’re all in how to sort it out, which things are real and genuine and which things are maybe not, what the purpose of information is and where the information has come from. The other two aspects of the core are, firstly, that they must do creativity, action and service, so they must do something creative; they must do something that keeps their levels of physical fitness going, and they must do some service.

“They must get out there and help other people. That’s really essential. Every year we send our students out away from the Czech Republic to learn to work and live with other people. For example, last year we took them to an orphanage in Kiev in Ukraine. The year before we went to a school in Uganda. The other thing they have to do, and I’m quite honest with the students here that I couldn’t have done this when I was 18, they have to do an extended research piece. It’s very rigorous. They have to set themselves a title. They have to research it. It has to be properly set out in the academic way with footnotes and appendices. All of [these assignments] are run through a computer program to make sure they’re not copies or just paraphrased from other work. It has to be original research. Some of the things the youngsters do here are fabulous. That makes for a really challenging course. But a course that I think really equips young people to be fully-paid up members of what is a difficult and increasingly complex society.”

What type of students attend?

“It’s a huge range. If you’re looking at it in terms of nationality, you’ve got 25% of students who are native English speakers, so they may come from the UK, Australia, New Zealand or North America. Then we’ve got about 20% of students who are Czech. These young people are very keen to get an international education. They see it as a way to get to a higher level education in other parts of Europe and perhaps in the UK or North America.

“We have a lot of students who come in here on short term contracts whose parents are in the Czech Republic for two or three years working for an international company. That creates another challenge because we’ve got a population that is ever changing. For example, last summer 45 children left at the end of the school year and we took in another 75 or 80, so then if you say the school has 380 students, 40 left and 80 came, that’s 120 so the school changes by about 30% every year. When you’re trying to develop a school with a particular culture, a particular vibe, if you want to call it that, a particular way of doing things, you have to get a hold of new students quite quickly and make sure they understand and can live those same values and cultures.

“Our absolute duty is to ensure that however long they’re here, they’re really successful. Not to say, they’re only here for a year, it doesn’t matter. It absolutely does, so they leave here even better than when they came in.”

What are some of the ways in which you help students find their feet?

“The school has a good induction process and that starts with our marketing and admissions team, who with me, invite new students into the school and interview them. When they arrive in school, we have buddy system, we put their families in contact with other families of the same language or culture, and the most important thing we do, and I know it sounds a bit boring but it’s vital, is that we track our children’s progress really carefully, so that when they come in, even myself as the head with 380 students, I quickly know what they’re up to. I get to know them personally very quickly. I could probably name every student in the senior part of the school.

“The tracking of young people is very important. We look at their progress almost on a monthly basis. The information is in the computer. I can get any information I want at anytime, so can parents. They get their own log-in and password. At the end of everyday our teachers send home to parents what’s happened during the day, so the parents really know. It’s hard work, but it pays dividends. If a mum says to her 15 year old boy what have you got for homework, instead of him just grunting, she can check the computer and see he’s got history and say, ‘C’mon, let’s get on with it,’ so you’ve got the partnership and support going.”

Do you have in your mind, personally or Nord Anglia generally, of the type of student you want to attract to the school?

“No, we don’t particularly. You know, it’s an interesting one. This is a for-profit school, you can’t get away from that. But we also like to think we’re an inclusive school. If young people want to come here, we try to make it possible for them to do so. Yes, there’s a fee issue of course, because all international school are to an extent fee paying, but we don’t have an entrance test, we don’t say you can’t come in because you aren’t bright enough.

“What we say is that we pride ourselves as a school and we can help youngsters, whatever type of youngster they may be, so our doors are open to those who in a sense can afford the fee, but we also offer scholarships. One of the students going to Cambridge was a scholar. She probably wouldn’t have been able to afford to go, but because we have a scholarship program she was able to do so and has benefited enormously from doing that. We’re open to a huge range of students. The more important question is what kind of students we want to leave here. We want students to be successful, to look back and say they had a great time at EISP, but look forward and say, ‘I can make a difference to how the world is’. If that sounds a bit ambitious, it is. My students often laugh at me because at assemblies I tell them, I’m after ordinary people who do extraordinary things.

Note: If you are considering EISP for your child, and they are between the ages of 13 and 18 (or you’re reading this and you fall within the age bracket), you may want to consider trying out one of their two scholarships.

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