Based in a lovely old Thai house on tranquil grounds near Ekamai, Bangkok, The Village International Education Centre exudes a comfortable, home-like feel. Shoes are left at the door and student work is displayed prominently inside. It certainly feels like a small school – kids’ jubilant voices and excited footsteps can be heard in the classrooms above – and we soon learn that this is one with a unique approach, filling a void in the city’s educational offerings.
“Our students are those that do not fit into the traditional school curriculums,” explains Max Simpson, Deputy Head of The Village. “They are labelled as special needs, with a range of learning difficulties, such as autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, developmental delays, dyslexia, and emotional or behaviour problems.”
Despite the highly specialized learning styles and challenges posed by its students, The Village accepts each and every child, underpinned by the belief that all students should have equal access to learning in an environment that is conducive to their individual requirements. The school thus aims to devise the best possible educational path for them, while working to remove the barriers in society for children and young adults with special educational needs.
“We have to first figure out what kind of support the students need – we thus have an impressive staff list, which includes an educational psychologist, a clinical behavioural psychologist, native English-speaking teachers experienced in special needs education, counsellors, learning support assistants, and specialists in speech and language, early childhood education and occupational therapy,” says Max.
The Village currently has 36 students, ranging from 3 to 27 years of age; its specialist and supporting employee requirements put the staff to student ratio at almost one to one. The student body is international, including families that have moved to Bangkok so their child can get the best education possible. Class sizes range from 8 to 10 students, based on ability, needs and social skills.
In its 15th year of existence, The Village was founded by Harshi Sehmar, who struggled with dyslexia in school. The condition was not recognised and, instead of getting the specialist help that would have made all the difference, he was written off by many teachers as a ‘no-hoper’ and placed into the lowest achievement group.
“The focus was on what I couldn’t do, rather than what I was good at,” says Harshi. “However, in my final year, one teacher showed an interest in trying to understand my learning difference. She focused on my strengths and put together a more multisensory approach, which got me on the path of learning. I eventually went on to gain an Honours Degree in Education.
With such insight, Harshi was inspired to set up a school that would offer all children who learn differently the opportunities that he was denied as a child. Today, The Village features campuses in Bangkok and Pattaya.
Adaptable Learning, for Life
The Village offers a Early Years and Foundation Stage programme (EYFS), which is composed of different curricula, including the UK Equals curriculum, an autism specific curriculum (Eden) and elements of an Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) program. School specialists have adapted this program to include social interaction, sensory play, and both classroom and individual speech, language and occupation therapy sessions. Max explains, “This early intervention program is effective in managing behaviours and enabling students to work in an environment that caters to their needs. The earlier a child’s special needs are addressed, the better for their overall development and wellbeing.”
The school also follows the UK national curriculum within an adapted mainstream classroom setting. The same work is followed, yet in a more multisensory, interactive way, enabling students to learn through exploration and in a style that best fits with their learning needs. Speech and language therapists provide support for children with a variety of learning difficulties to help develop their communication skills. Also, occupational therapists help assess and work with children with developmental conditions and delays, maximising their learning and development potential.
“These are often transitional classes, appropriate for students who can benefit from a small class with intensive support to boost their levels. We try our best to integrate such students to mainstream schools, with customized transition plans, where appropriate.”
The Village also conducts outreach, working with international schools in Bangkok and Pattaya to provide specialised speech, language and occupational therapy services to students requiring such resources.
In addition, The Village offers an adult learning programme (ASDAN). Here, students aged 14 and up can develop additional skills for learning, employment, and life in general. Areas such as numeracy and literacy are adapted to be applicable to the student’s future. One of school’s projects is to develop a coffee shop to serve as a training facility for students.
“We try to pave a future for the kids, and are raising money to build a sustainable training centre such as a coffee shop or maybe a B&B. Students can learn how to talk to customers, serve, cook… basically, pick up skills for life,” says Max. “We want them to have opportunities, like everyone else. While we adapt to their needs, we also encourage them to celebrate themselves, their achievements and the people around them.”
For more information, please visit The Village International Education Centre’s website.