Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The future belongs to under-16s

Alex Cann shares with Melanie Butler his plans to grow and diversify what IH London Young Learners can offer

As the new Director of Young Learners at International House (IH) London, why is this age group so important to you?

In many ways, I’m returning to my ELT roots. I have a wealth of academic and management experience with this age group, and recently pioneered a ground-breaking coding course.

When I was School Director at a large school in Edinburgh, I introduced year-round young learner groups and a range of innovative junior summer courses which transformed it into a popular, and profitable, study destination. In fact, we received the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce High Growth Business of the Year Award in 2018.

As educators who design programmes for young learners, we have a responsibility to provide life-changing experiences that set our students up for success. This is exactly what IH London Young Learners has been doing. We aim to create a community of truly global citizens by breaking down social barriers and fostering international friendships.

Despite the devastating impact of Covid- 19, I strongly believe that there is a bright future for Young Learners. By combining brand recognition with standout student experiences and academic credibility, my long-term strategy aims to set the business up for future growth.

You recently ran a hugely successful online summer school. How do you see the future for online.

I have to begin by thanking Fenella Dale, our Academic Manager, and her team of teachers for the seamless transition from face-to-face to online delivery. It’s thanks to them our virtual summer programme was such a success.

We saw how easily classroom practices and principles can translate to online learning.

Lessons have been just as fun and interactive, and the team fully embraced using online tools for collaborative project work.

They had to be flexible and adapt quickly, particularly in terms of online safeguarding. For example, we found some students who lost connection returned to find their online classroom ‘locked’.

At IH London Young Learners online is here to stay, as a sustainable, standalone product. We have just launched an autumn online programme with three separate start dates to capture students on half term across our key markets. At the request of a Turkish partner, we have also created a bespoke ‘bite- size’ online course, where students can attend 40-minute ‘masterclasses’ over the weekend.

“Online is here to stay as a sustainable, standalone product.”

We have been asked to develop a hybrid course where one of our teachers will deliver an online lesson to a group of students and a teaching assistant in their classroom. I believe this model has huge potential: it makes our courses more accessible and enables schools from around the world to connect through online collaborations.

IH London Young Learners has been mostly about residential summer schools. How can you build on this?

We already deliver high-quality, in-country programmes, particularly in China, and this is something that we intend to grow. Even before the pandemic, I was confident that in- market delivery was going to be a growth area. It is important to us that our courses are inclusive and accessible to as many learners as possible, so we have committed to providing in-country courses in markets whose students (and teachers) are unable to travel.

Here in the UK, we will be running a range of winter and spring courses including our popular Future Leaders Entrepreneurship course in London in January, and our new STEM course at Frensham Heights over Easter. For students wishing to study with us outside of summer, we are able to welcome year-round groups at IH London and our Edinburgh residential centre.

One key development will be the integration of native-speaker students into our programmes. We will be partnering with local schools for group exchange programmes and offering specialist courses to native speakers. Integration will add value for everyone; fostering international friendships with the associated social, cultural and linguistic benefits.

From a commercial perspective, having a range of courses that are also appealing to native speakers massively minimises risk, particularly when international travel may be restricted.

We are also developing some very exciting projects, collaborations and partnerships relating to our premium specialist courses, including a range of new, fully-immersive sports education academies for 2022.

It is important to us as a team that equality, diversity and inclusion are embedded across our curriculum, activities and staffing, so that students from around the world feel represented and safe at our Young Learner centres.

We are also proud to be one of the first UK schools to offset carbon emissions for all flights to our summer courses, supporting the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Images courtesy of IH LONDON and IH London Young Learners
Alex Cann
Alex Cann
Alex Cann is IH London Director of Young Learner Courses. Prior to this, he was Director of Customer Experience at British Study Centres. Alex also pioneered a ground-breaking coding course for young learners and has a wealth of young learner academic and operational management experience.
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