The American International School of Bucharest (AISB) will this spring open a new EUR 6 million facility for early childhood education, an area that is getting increasingly more attention, including on the local market, AISB head, Robert Brindley, tells BR.
“As a math teacher, I can always tell which kids have played with Lego and which haven’t,” says the school’s head. The same way Lego enables a child to develop 3D awareness, early exposure to foreign languages helps with later language skills, meaning that there is no such thing as too early when it comes to education, stresses Brindley.
This is also why the AISB is presently investing EUR 6 million in a building especially dedicated to its early childhood education program for two- to five-year-olds. Demand for early education is growing, partly because parents are starting to realize its importance, but also because it is the safest way to secure a place at the AISB, say its representatives. The school’s students graduate with a much sought after International Baccalaureate diploma, yet enrolling directly into the secondary school program is difficult. Not only do few new places become available each year, but the school has a strict policy when it comes to the nationality of its students. “We keep every nationality to a certain percentage, otherwise it destroys the fabric of the international feel,” explains Brindley.
Despite such limitations and a hefty price tag, demand is high. The annual tuition fee for a two-year-old starts at about EUR 7,000 per year for the short 8:00 to 12:00 program and reaches EUR 10,000 for the full 8:00 to 15:00 program. Parents must later stump up as much as EUR 18,000 a year for the full kindergarten program.
The facility is scheduled for completion this spring and can accommodate some 180 children, whereas at present 100 are enrolled in the AISB early childhood education program. However, Brindley stresses that it is not about the numbers but about the quality of the education provided. “Often schools have a building that they put the young kids in. Now we have a program and we design the building around the kids,” says the head, adding that the educational program is very much based on the Montessori Reggio approach. “It is very hands on, very kinetic touch sound based, to develop the skills of the youngest kids from the age of two. These early years are super critical in the development of fundamental core skills on which you later build your math, your science, your English and other bits,” says the AISB head.
And acquiring such core skills is essential in a world that is constantly changing and which is becoming more and more competitive in the professional field. Change is the only option in today’s ever more mobile world and the earlier education starts the better, he thinks. “While 30 years ago kids may have been competing against native English speakers, nowadays they are competing against everybody – the Chinese, the Indians. So the market has changed for our kids, unfortunately. It has become far more aggressive out there and skill levels are changing rapidly. This is why you need to build basic competencies rather than to know historical facts like when the Battle of Waterloo was. Kids need to be able to process stuff these days because that is the only thing that they will have to do. Everything else is on Google or done by a machine,” points out Brindley.
Education means investments
The money to support the EUR 6 million investment in the early childhood education center will come from the school’s funds, which are made up almost entirely of tuition fees, explains Brindley. With fees going from approximately EUR 7,000 per year for pre-school classes to slightly over EUR 20,000 per year for the two final high school years, the AISB is netting revenues of around EUR 16.5 million for the 2016-2017 school year. The AISB is a not-for-profit organization, meaning that “every cent that the AISB gets in revenue goes back into the school,” stresses Brindley.
And when it comes to expenses, the school’s teachers are the numbers one priority, he adds. “Teachers make everything so about 65 percent of our expenses go on staff and the majority of that is for the overseas faculty. I think we have over 90 overseas faculty so that is where the money goes, essentially. We recruit internationally because that is my competition: the other international schools in the world in Beijing, Munich, London or Frankfurt,” comments the director.
“My job is to make sure that I attract the best teachers and create a safe environment because security is very important to parents, and then that I provide a facility which is clean, well maintained and up to date. When we need to innovate we innovate and we never stand still,” he adds.
Some 820 students attend the AISB, a number which has been constant for the past four to five years. While demand is high, Brindley says there is no aim to increase the number of students beyond this level. “If you want to remain a community school you really have to be between 800 and 1,000 students. Once you start creeping beyond 1,000 it becomes very difficult to retain a community type of feel. For us it is about the quality of the education we provide, rather than getting in more kids,” he explains.
In addition to the EUR 6 million which will go into the early childhood education center, another EUR 2-3 million will be required to expand the secondary school, says the head. Altogether, the school has some EUR 10 million earmarked for investments for the next two, two and half years, in addition to the EUR 500,000 – EUR 1 million which is invested each year in maintaining and upgrading facilities, according to school data.
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