FOBISIA Bridging the Gap Supporting our students after the challenges of Covid - FOBISIA Bridging the Gap Supporting our students after the challenges of Covid
Chris McKelvie
Junior Campus Deputy Head Teacher
22 March, 2023

Bridging the Gap - Supporting our Students After the Challenges of Covid

FOBISIA Bridging the Gap Supporting our students after the challenges of Covid - FOBISIA Bridging the Gap Supporting our students after the challenges of Covid
FOBISIA Conference at BIS HCMC - 17th and 18th March 2023

 After a challenging three years where the global pandemic, Covid-19, caused major disruption to the education of millions of school aged children across the world, The British International School, Ho Chi Minh City brought together staff from across the FOBISIA network to look at strategies to best support those students most affected in our International Schools. Whilst our international school students were fortunate enough to have more resources available to them during the pandemic than students who attended public schools in our host countries, it is clear that our staff in our FOBISIA schools have identified a number of students who have not ‘bounced back’ as well as others.

This conference, entitled ‘Bridging the Gap’, sought to bring together like-minded professionals from a number of departments across 8 FOBISIA schools to discuss ways in which our schools can better bridge those gaps for our most affected. The most positive outcome of the conference was that the focus was broad; not only academic, but also the social, emotional and wellbeing needs that many of us have identified in our students. Whilst the target audience were school Additional Educational Needs (AEN) teams, such as our own EAL and LS departments, the conference also brought together class teachers and leaders with a sole aim of helping each and every one of our students. 



Over a day and a half, delegates attended three keynote speeches and took part in eight different workshops; each with a different focus, but all supplementary to the theme of Bridging the Gap. We were welcomed into the conference by the ‘Young Interpreters’, a group of primary students from BIS HCMC whose aim is to help integrate new students into the Primary School by providing a friendly face on the playground and a common language to help ease any anxieties. A great initiative, led by some great students!

First up in our keynote series, Shane Leaning, Director of Teaching for the NAE Schools in the China Region spoke to the 50 attendees in the Founders’ Auditorium about the importance of student home languages and the need to better utilise home languages across the wider curriculum.

Shane explored the varying models employed by schools to engage with new learners of the English language, namely full immersion and simplification, and outlined the strengths and weaknesses of each model. He also highlighted five key priorities in our teaching toolkit: Scaffolding new learning with familiar contexts; Developing English across the curriculum; Embedding explicit oracy practice; Individual language target setting; and, Utilising home languages. Shane delivered passionately in an area of learning he has researched over many years, and knows all too well the importance of scaffolding learning for our new learners, or those who have encountered difficulties. Review the slides used by Shane during his keynote below:




From the Secondary School, we moved across the bridge to the Junior Campus where delegates were able to enjoy a choice of four high quality workshops delivered by delegates from a range of schools. The first round of workshops, Building language across the curriculum (John Lee, BIS HCMC), Bridging the Gap Caused by Covid on Social Communication (Jia and Miggie, Speech And Language Therapists), Supporting New Arrivals and Developing a sense of Additive Bilingualism at BIS HCMC (Mandy, Luke and Rob, BIS HCMC) and Executive Functioning Skills (Jordan Stegeman, Garden School KL) were wide ranging in their focus and all equally engaging. A comment heard often over the event was that it was ‘A shame we couldn’t attend all workshops’, and the first morning certainly highlighted that.

From the Junior Campus, the group moved down to the Early Years and Infant Campus, where we enjoyed lunch and then the second round of workshops. Practical Translanguaging Strategies (Shane Leaning, NAE) and Using the 6 Principles of Nurture to Heal and Rebuild after COVID (Kirsty Cunningham - JIS Brunei) were both highly engaging and thought provoking in a number of ways.

After the workshops, delegates were treated to a keynote that was particularly relevant to our region, as British Schools in Asia., ‘Understanding the cultural challenges in promoting access to external support networks’ presented by Dr. Vy Vu, a local clinical psychiatrist with unique insights on external support networks outside of schools and the reluctance of parents to engage with them.

Dr. Vy, born and raised in Ho Chi Minh City, but medically trained in the United Kingdom returned to Vietnam after a number of years practising in the UK determined to make mental health a priority in the HCMC community. Dr. Vy spoke with great passion about the myriad of reasons why home nation families, especially in the South East and Eastern Asia regions, are reluctant to engage with external support networks, and how we , as educators, can help bridge that gap. Review her keynote presentation slides below: 


Day One rounded off with refreshments at ‘The Deck, Saigon’. This provided all involved with a unique opportunity to discuss all that had taken place over the first eight hours of the conference in a very relaxed setting on the Saigon River.

Thankful of a later start on Saturday, we were back at the Secondary Campus for our final round of workshops and the third in our keynote series, presented by Dr. Angie Wigford, an educational psychologist working out of Dover Court International School in Singapore. 

 Angie’s keynote, ‘ANTIFRAGILITY: How can we help our students bounce back better from COVID?’, was a fascinating delve into the wide studies among FOBISIA schools conducted by her over the past few months. One of the keys coming from this presentation was that there is a paucity of research in the understanding of the depth of the difficulties faced by students over the course of the pandemic. Her research shone the light on the stunted development in the core subjects of English and Maths, but also, and maybe more importantly, the emotional regulation deficit. Dr. Angie’s slides can be accessed below and make for fascinating reading. You can add to Dr. Angie’s research by accessing her survey on the QR code embedded in page 6.


In the gap between coffee and the final workshops, we were heartwarmed by the short presentation by Clare Bridgewater, a Learning Support Teacher at BIS HCMC, and her wellbeing dog, Percy. Clare spoke of the success she has seen with the introduction of Percy into the wellbeing realm of a busy school and with certain students who have greatly benefitted. It is fair to say, there wasn’t a delegate present who was not trying to work out how to spirit Percy away and take him home. 

The conference rounded off with two very engaging workshops, ‘Sleep Easy: How to effectively support the development of good sleep routines’ (Clare Bridgewater, BIS HCMC) and ‘The Differentiation Station: High leverage tips, tricks and tools to close the gap’ (Sofia Keigher, Brighton College, BKK). Claire spoke of the need to ensure students are hitting each new day fully rested, and Sofia provided us with a huge amount of material useful in differentiating work for those who need that little extra support.

After a busy day and a half, delegates left with a host of tips and strategies to get the best out of our students, but more importantly, they left in the knowledge that the connections created during the conference will help in the years to come. Shane Leaning, one of our keynote speakers and Director of Teaching for NAE Schools in the China Region, commented on the impressive range of topics from “speakers who were truly experts in their field… I believe the ideas shared will help shape the future of education in the years to come”. 

It is unknown just when we will see further issues brought about by the pandemic, or in what form they will manifest, but we can rest assured that with great staff such as those who attended the ‘Bridging the Gap’ conference, our students will have the support and nurturing they need to flourish. To all who attended, a huge heartfelt thanks for your passion. To those that presented keynotes and workshops, it is people like you that will drive that passion even further in all of us. 

A thanks also to the amazing team at BIS HCMC who were complimented by delegates as “dedicated, professional and committed to the children they serve” and FOBISIA who helped make this conference special. We hope to see you all back in Vietnam in the not too distant future.