Learning Skills Instead of Memorizing Facts

In Hungary

Tom McLean, director of the ISD.

Debrecen has been attracting many foreign investments in the last decade. This means new families and children arrive, creating the need for an educational facility in the area. This is the International School of Debrecen, with a different approach to teaching.

The local government founded the ISD with the primary goal of creating an internationally competitive educational sphere within the city. It opened in 2019, and the City of Debrecen considers it one of the keys to the region’s economic development. The ISD focuses on life skills that help students prepare for future challenges and to be risk-takers in their learning.

The Budapest Business Journal talked to ISD Director Tom McLean about how the school started and where it is heading.

Tom McLean: This region aims at attracting foreign investment into an area that does not have the same level of economic maturity as Budapest. This is an attempt to stimulate economic growth in a part of the country which needs it. The school is an essential component of the development plan to attract foreign investment. With FDI come international workers and, with them, international families and children. It is crucial for these children to have continuity; they cannot attend Hungarian schools and spend years catching up with the language. Another group we aimed at was Hungarian families open to international education. In the beginning, most of our students were Hungarian; now, the rate is 50-50 between Hungarians and foreign students. Last year we had 170 pupils at the beginning of the year; now, we have 300, so we have seen nearly 100% growth. Of course, the new facilities like the BMW factory and others brought a foreign workforce (Korean, Chinese, Turkish, German), so the school’s history has been quite challenging. We started during the pandemic, and have obtained International Baccalaureate (IB) accreditation for all three programs (Primary Years, Middle Years and the Diploma), the most widely recognized international accreditation. ISD is Hungary’s first IB Continuum School offering education from kindergarten to graduation.

BBJ: How are you preparing your students for labor force market challenges?

TM: The IB approach focuses on conceptual knowledge and skills rather than content memorization. There is a high emphasis on critical and creative thinking, and I think that is the best way to prepare the students. We focus on research, communication and collaboration skills, and self-management skills. Of course, we do content teaching too, but we look at the local and global context, fostering inquiry rather than answers and memorizing, with an emphasis on collaboration.

BBJ: What is the teacher mindset at ISD?

TM: When I look for teachers, I look for certain qualities. The first is to be student-centered, the approach being that “I teach people” rather than “I teach history.” The second is collaboration. The idea behind an international school is respect and embracing differences; that other people can have different opinions to yours but still can be correct. In Debrecen, ISD students develop their ability to adapt to new and challenging situations and communicate effectively with others. These qualities are of great value in our ever-changing, globalized age.

ISD students learn to communicate effectively with others.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of July 14, 2023.

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