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【The Standard:Study in the UK】Well-prepped for breadth and depth

Boarding 101


Well-established prep schools masterfully hone their curricula to ensure that breadth is delivered. Under such circumstances, pupils’ engagement, intrigue and independent thinking are free to shine.

In the UK, “prep school” refers to a tuition-based school for children aged seven to 13, depending on the departure age to a senior school. In the United States, however, a private “prep school” refers to a high school that focuses on preparing students aged 14-18 for university or college.


What sets prep schools around the globe apart is their commitment to avoid teaching from the book. In the UK, there are numerous schools, such as Mount Kelly, which have elected to follow a scheme called Abacus to add flavor to its mathematics curriculum. Abacus is a uniquely flexible toolkit that enables teachers to exploit the materials and use a variety of resources to supplement the scheme. Students revel in investigating mathematical ideas and responding to interactive teaching.


Aside from English, maths and science, many British prep schools also include Latin options, Spanish, cultural studies and computing among other subjects to provide students with access to unusually broad curricula. Many prep schools, such as Gresham’s, also place a strong emphasis on the creative and visual arts, sport and design technology.


In the United States, one only has to look at curricula of schools such as Berkshire to appreciate the meaning of “breadth.” There are courses in aviation science, astronomy and sustainability.


It is also interesting to see how modern world history classes devote time to studying current events so that students can relate historical topics to issues in the post-9/11 world. Debate and group discussion are central to the success of prep schools.


Curriculum breadth is clearly not about meeting the demands of examinations but meeting the expectations and needs of intelligent and inquisitive children. I am continually left speechless by the sight of enthusiastic and open Hong Kong children in prep school lessons. Personalities can develop as children are not continuously cramming or doing homework.


A broad range of subjects taught at a school is almost certain to be supplemented by trips.


Students might also easily find themselves on famous sites of major battles of the English civil war. Learning takes place not only visually but also kinesthetically. At prep school, I remember witnessing the striped cliffs and geology of Hunstanton and touching orange, red and white fossils formed well over 100 million years ago. How the subject of geography came alive! 



Samuel Chan is a director at Britannia StudyLink.

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