The latest offering in Switzerland’s world-class line up of International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (IBCP) schools, Montreux International School (MIS) opens its doors in September 2021 to students aged 16-19. The flagship school represents a shake-up of traditional educational practices and is based on the more innovative and experimental philosophy of its founding body, VIE Education. The concept is simple: combining academic rigour with real-world experience (delivered hand-in-hand with some of Switzerland’s top names in business and hospitality) to create focused, practical go-getters who can step effortlessly onto the career ladder. ISP talks to Jon Halligan, VIE Education Director of Schools, and Peter Slade, Head of Montreux International School, about their vision to create a more authentic, ‘life-ready’ learning experience.
“Quite simply, our approach will provide a fast track for students to worthwhile and fulfilling careers.”
Montreux International School is the first venture for VIE Education. Tell us about the philosophy and concept behind VIE…
Jon: We all know that the world is changing fast, and we believe that education must be forward-focused if future generations are to be equipped with the right skills and experience to succeed professionally, personally and collectively to build a more sustainable, peaceful world.
There is also a growing chasm between what educational pathways offer and what is needed to thrive in a fulfilling career. We know that conventional education – which teaches familiar disciplines for academic achievement judged by high-stakes assessments – does not produce well-rounded, happy individuals with applicable skillsets. What’s essential and worth learning is on a far broader spectrum, and this has inspired us to found VIE. VIE’s philosophy balances academic excellence, personal and professional development, with rich, relevant learning opportunities for each student.
Our educational ethos is expressed through four core values, which will underpin every activity offered at VIE schools: Courageous Innovation; Social Impact; Future-Focused; Diversity. Through these values, we will encourage independent learning and empower our students to embrace responsibility, to celebrate diversity in a spirit of understanding and tolerance, and to become conscientious and active global citizens.
How does the VIE philosophy work in practice, and why is it so special?
Jon: We’re breaking the mould by creating schools which centre exclusively on IBCP qualifications paired with real-world industry participation. Why? Because we’re not trying to be a Jack of all trades; we want to be specialised, industry-aligned and provide authentic career acceleration for students who want to follow particular ‘passion pathways’. We’re focusing on this concept because we believe it produces well-rounded, life-ready individuals who will reach their potential.
Academic grounding is still highly valued; the analytical and disciplined mindset that it develops is the ideal springboard for applying technical skills in an innovative, dynamic way. Take hospitality, for example. Anyone can learn the fundamentals of customer service or preparing a hotel room: that equips you with the basics for the industry as it is, or worse – was. Look at the scope of the hospitality industry with its future challenges and technological potential; the new generation needs to be able to adapt and experiment. Employers are not just looking for somebody who knows how to use a check-in, check out system. They’re looking for creative, innovative, intelligent people to work within their corporations and make a difference.
We want our students to be future-focused and truly understand their chosen pathway in an authentic way, which is why we work so closely with our leading industry partners. Students will benefit from exposure to employers who are hungry for talent and want up-to-date students who speak hospitality and business – students who know what great customer service looks like, how to interpret business data, what sustainability means in their industry and how to apply it, for example practically.
It’s our blended approach that really sets us apart. Through our IBCP programmes, our students will have a sound basis from which to apply ideas and practical solutions and stand out to employers.
How have your own experiences informed your educational approach?
Jon: I have over 30 years’ experience in education and was the former Global Head of Business Development and Recognition at the International Baccalaureate, based in The Hague and working with schools all over the world.
Over the years, I have gained in-depth experience of international education, vocational programme development, government relations, leadership and business development. All of this experience has driven my commitment to, and passion for, developing an education offering which truly equips young people to succeed professionally, be personally fulfilled, and also to be able to navigate the challenges they will face in building a sustainable and more peaceful world.
The most important thing I have learnt is that to be relevant now. Into the future, education needs to teach students through the application of skills and knowledge, so that they can draw meaningful links between subject disciplines and the real world.
One of the crucial elements of the IB curriculum is ‘service learning’. This is where we encourage our students to look at their learning and link it to the real-world, for example, identifying a specific need within the community and using something they have learned to resolve it.
A wonderful example of this was when I ran the IBCP in Dubai. A group of the business and IT students knew of a local animal sanctuary which was about to go out of business. They approached the owner to see if they could help. They knew how to write a business plan and set up a website, so they developed an idea to offer birthday party experiences to animal-loving children at the sanctuary. The children would spend time with the animals, the sanctuary could raise awareness of what they do to the children and families, and in turn, they created a new revenue stream that allowed it to continue operating. They went on to develop a whole ‘friends-of’ community and experienced more children volunteering to work with the animals. That is really the beauty of the practical application of knowledge in a voluntary environment.
Peter: For the last 20 years, I’ve been an educator within the hospitality sector, specialising in working with businesses to streamline their operations and develop their staff. I delivered specialised training to increase staff engagement with customers and encourage them to understand and anticipate what their company or industry needs. I worked in this capacity with some of the most prestigious hotels, restaurants and resorts around the world – everywhere from China to Saudi Arabia.
Six years ago, I decided to go fully into academia, and that’s when I started working with the Swiss Education Group. I was surprised how effortlessly the two pedagogies meet. Within this kind of education stream, having a deep understanding of what the industry needs, as well as being a lecturer within a university preparing people for that industry, is completely invaluable.
I realised that there are a lot of students who are graduating either from school or university ill-prepared for entering the industry. Getting hired on academic grades alone only goes so far within the hospitality sector. The great thing about the program that we’ve developed is that we’re giving them that academic rigour and we’re also preparing them for the real-life world of work.
So tell us more about Montreux International School and the curriculum on offer.
Peter: MIS will be the first of our schools to open and our flagship, where we will be dedicated to delivering a ground-breaking life-ready education. Our educational approach combines a highly structured and blended curriculum, which emphasises academic rigour, alongside the development of high-level technical skills. Students will learn through the application of skills and knowledge and – crucially – will be able to draw meaningful links between subject disciplines and the real world.
Students will study the International Baccalaureate’s (IB) Career-related Programme (CP), which is an innovative two-year educational framework for students, aged 16-19, who want to pursue industry-related learning, combined with a rigorous academic study programme while gaining lifelong skills in applied knowledge, critical thinking, communication, and cross-cultural engagement.
Initially, through VIE’s first school, MIS, students will study Business & Hospitality, Business and Digital Marketing, or an alternative industry-related route of their choice. Each education package will incorporate IB Diploma Programme courses, industry-related studies, and the CP core. Through the CP, MIS students will develop a range of broad work-related competencies and deepen their understanding in specific areas of knowledge through their DP courses.
Ours will be a blended teaching and learning approach, and the industry related studies will be delivered in partnership with VIE’s acclaimed industry partners, with students working towards a professional certificate in their chosen field.
What do you think will make the learning environment special at MIS?
Peter: It is our fundamental aim at MIS that every member of the school community feels valued, respected and supported. We are committed to creating and maintaining a safe, welcoming, and well-ordered environment in which everyone can learn effectively and reach their full potential. This starts with the quality of teaching and a learning environment that really encourages participation and collaboration.
VIE schools share facilities with prestigious industry partners; in the case of MIS, for example, we are partnered with Institut Monte Rosa, which is housed in the Château d’Arvel, a modernised 19th-century mansion in Territet – Montreux which has a panoramic view overlooking Lake Geneva. MIS students will have access to SEG school campuses every week, allowing for a wide variety of specialist teaching facilities and bespoke learning spaces. All teaching rooms will be fully e-enabled and actively promote collaborative learning through blended pedagogies. Incubation spaces feature on each of the teaching floors, providing students with ample space to think, challenge, share and collaborate, while the industrial kitchen promotes creativity and experimentation.
Students will also belong to small vertical tutor groups with a personal tutor to support and guide them. A full pastoral and welfare programme will be delivered through the tutor groups, as well as appropriate career counselling and guidance. Students will also have access to a mentor, with specific industry experience, who can guide students to better understand the industry and pathways before them.
Which other areas of education and extracurricular activities are you developing?
Peter: There will be a full and rich programme of activities for students to participate in both during and after the school day.
Many of the extra-curricular activities will be linked directly to the curriculum and are explicitly designed to enhance and extend the learning that occurs. Others are intended to serve as an opportunity to explore something new or to give those students who find the academic side of school life more challenging a chance to excel.
How do you help new students settle in when they first arrive?
Peter: We recognise that students learn at different rates and that there are many factors affecting achievement, including ability, emotional stage, age and maturity. So, from the very beginning of their education journey with MIS, we aim to identify the individual needs of each student, as they arise, and provide teaching and learning contexts which enable every student to achieve and succeed. We also work hard to ensure that our school are fully inclusive and provide an environment where all students can flourish and feel safe.
How are you equipping your students for future success?
Peter: The detailed knowledge, skills and understanding that students will gain at VIE schools will provide students will opportunities for:
- Employment: the transferrable skills fostered in the personal and professional skills course, combined with the specific knowledge and skills developed by students in their career-related studies, provide an opportunity for students to move directly into employment in their chosen field.
- Apprenticeships: apprenticeship schemes are available in many countries where students are given on-the-job training as well as classroom instruction in a particular craft or trade.
- Further education: students may wish to continue their education at educational institutions that specialise in their chosen field of study.
- Higher education: the combination of career-related qualifications with the knowledge and skills obtained from studying DP courses, opens doors for students at renowned higher education institutions across the world.
What do you envision for students graduating from VIE schools?
Jon: Our vision is for students to graduate from MIS being both world-class and world-ready.
Modern life places complex demands on graduates entering further, and higher education or employment and an integral part of the VIE approach is enabling students to become self-confident, skilled, career-ready learners. We foresee our graduates to lead the way in overcoming challenges and realising opportunities in their industry pathways.
We foresee our graduates to be ready for a more global world. What’s so special is that IB schools share a commitment to improving the teaching and learning of a diverse and inclusive community of students. Our graduates will be equipped with an understanding of the benefits of having multiple perspectives and the fundamentals of how people collaborate to get the best result. We hope that they will be a driving force towards a more multi-cultural working world.
Why is Switzerland the best location for a concept of this kind?
Jon: Switzerland is a world-renowned centre for education, hospitality and business, so where better to deliver our concept?
I think what makes Switzerland so special is that the education system is very progressive by global standards. There is already that recognition that we need to equip our students better for future challenges, and to do that we need broader skill sets and closer ties with industry.
What we will bring to the table is a very focused programme that really accelerates that, and it has been very well received. We’ve already got strong links with some of the industry leaders in education, hospitality and business to help deliver our practical, industry-specific learning. Students who have a passion for following in those areas will find a relevant, real and authentic experience at MIS.
How do you personally make the most of everything Switzerland has to offer?
Jon: For me, Switzerland’s mountains, valleys, lakes, and glaciers are just wonderful all-year-round, and the opportunities for outdoor activities, such as mountain biking, river rafting, sailing, water-skiing, golf, horseback riding, paragliding are endless!
MIS will be a co-educational international school for students, aged 16-19, who wish to study business and hospitality, opening in September 2021.
Visit the Montreux International School website
Read their School Guide
Visit the VIE Education website
Montreux International School Leadership Team:
Peter is a hospitality professional with more than two decades of expertise in developing, educating and training teams in some of the world’s leading 5* hotel groups before transitioning to the world of academic education. His hospitality background and passion for innovation within education drives his enthusiasm to recognise the individual needs of all students.
Jon is a confident strategic leader who has in-depth experience of international education, vocational programme development, government relations, leadership and business development. He has over 30 years’ experience in education and was the former Global Head of Business Development and Recognition at the International Baccalaureate.
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