Interview with Ian Hunt, Chairman of the Board of Governors
Thank you so much for your time. Could you tell us a bit about the history of Haileybury? How did this huge project come into being?
I think it was an amazing vision that began as a tiny little seed in the mind of some incredibly forward thinking people who really wanted the first class education that their own children were experiencing in the UK to be experienced by many, many more people in Kazakhstan. And so rather than relying on the opportunity for people to go to the UK or to America to be educated, their vision was to bring that education and everything it had to offer to Kazakhstan. So, the foundations of a great school, firstly in Almaty, and then Astana, were made.
What were the challenges when the school was just being in the process of creation and what are the challenges that the school is facing now?
Of course, the biggest issue is that you cannot just take a British school in its entirety and drop it into an overseas territory, wherever that territory is. And of course, in Kazakhstan, there are the challenges of language where children are not necessarily taught in English. Most people are not. There were also the cultural differences and sensitivities that needed to be acknowledged, accepted, and embraced, because there are many things about the Kazakh culture that must be maintained and celebrated in the schools that we have. And so, the aim was to blend that gold standard British education with a hugely rich Kazakh culture, history and language, and create the very best school in the country. And then to make that the best school in the region, in Central Asia, and then to make it the best school way beyond that too.
So, it's about combining progress and tradition, and working in the best interest of students and parents?
It's always about working in the best interest of students. We want the children to have the best opportunity to fulfil their own individual potential, and that potential may mean going to a local university or an Ivy League College like Harvard or Yale, or it could be to a local university, or to a high quality British institution, or any of the top universities in the world. But most importantly, it is about fulfilling their individual potential.
And you mentioned that the British education system is vastly different from Kazakh traditional schools, and a big part of studying at Haileybury is independent learning. So, for those who are not familiar with this concept, can you elaborate what this entails and why this is such an important trend in education?
Well, the key is to prepare children for the next part of their journey. We are the guardians of these children for a period of time, nothing more, and it's very important that we prepare them as best as possible for the next stage of their education. And of course, independent learning in universities is the key aspect of a successful university education. The often cited differences between the British and the Kazakh systems up to now have been that there has been an over reliance perhaps on didactic learning in the Kazakh system. And I believe that there is a place for that at some stages of a student’s journey and in certain elements of the curriculum. But overall, at the end of their time at Haileybury, it is really important that students have developed a sense of independent learning and fully immersed themselves in an holistic learning experience as well. That doesn't just start and finish in the classroom, but actually has a much wider context to give them greater skills, wider experiences, and better prepares them for the challenges they will face in the global society that they will inevitably join.
You mentioned the holistic approach at Haileybury. What would be some of the academic and social expectations or responsibilities that students who wish to come to Haileybury or those who are already studying here have? What would that mean to them?
What we are looking for are people who have a curiosity for learning; people who want to ask questions rather than just be fed the answers. And so we develop their confidence to ask those questions and the confidence to learn more about what those potential answers could be. Because of course, there's never one answer to anything! It is about finding your own pathway to achieving those answers. And developing a holistic understanding is about developing a skill set that goes well beyond the classroom. It's about your capacity to operate in a team, your capacity to lead, your capacity and confidence to be a public speaker. And all of these will give you the tools and the skills that will allow you to succeed in a much more global environment.
And obviously, all of these skills are also building up to studying in the Sixth Form, which opened in 2011, and since then it has grown dramatically. We have seen a lot of success from our students. Could you talk briefly about A-Levels at Haileybury Almaty and IB at Haileybury Astana, and how these programmes answer the modern needs of the student in the modern, quickly changing global context?
Probably the most important thing to say about the Sixth Form experience is that it is the key preparation for a student’s time at university. We spend a lot of time advising the students, equipping them and allowing them to be fully prepared for the next phase of their educational journey; university. They are given advice on how to access the best universities; how to pass their exams; and what the specific skills are that are required in both A level and IB. A-Level and IB are both world recognised quantifications by the top universities in the world. That is very important. And it is not just about whether A-Level is a qualification for British universities, because it certainly is not. All the top American universities acknowledge A-levels as a very good qualification to get into their university, but they are slightly different. The A-Level programme focuses on three, possibly four subjects. So, the depth that the students are able to go into at A-level is slightly greater. IB focuses on six subjects, but has the requirement of mathematics and a language. The requirements are slightly different in both areas, but what you can absolutely guarantee is that whether you do A levels or IB, you are going to be extremely well qualified to take the next step of your journey towards entry into a top university.
And what would you say are the advantages of staying at Haileybury, rather than going abroad and doing IB or A-Levels there?
Do you know, that's one of the most important and significant questions that we can answer at Haileybury. I have spent a lot of time talking to admissions directors from the Ivy League universities, and from Oxford and Cambridge, and they all say exactly the same thing; an application from Haileybury in Kazakhstan will be more likely to be successful to a top university such as the Ivy League group or Oxford and Cambridge universities or UK Russell Group than it would if it came from a student of the country in which the university is placed - because they want diversity. They want students who can offer a different experience in their classes. They want to see Kazakh students. An application from a Kazakh student is actually quite an exotic application. If you are a Kazakh student applying from an American high school, then you are just regarded as an American high school student and nothing more. And it's the same with Oxford, and Cambridge, as it is with all of the world’s elite universities.
I cannot emphasize enough how important that is. So, the quality education that you receive at Haileybury is not only equivalent to those you could access abroad, but you have the advantage of being an applicant from Haileybury in Kazakhstan, and that advantage must never be forgotten when parents are considering whether to keep their children at Haileybury here, or whether they send them abroad. And of course, the advantage, the extra advantage of keeping your children here is that they learn all the skills that are required to gain them entry into those top universities, but they also retain lose links with their culture, language and heritage, and very importantly, they stay with your family.
In 2014, Haileybury Almaty started offering full academic scholarship to Sixth Form students. Could you talk about this programme and what was the decision behind this?
The decision behind the scholarship programme was certainly an extension of the decision behind the opening of Haileybury in Kazakhstan. The visionaries, the people who really saw the future of educational in Kazakhstan; they understood that this was not a project just for people who could afford the fees, (and the fees are indeed high). Of course, it was for those people, but it was also to be opened up for children who could not afford those fees. And thus their goal was to give the brightest children of Kazakhstan the best opportunity to succeed on the global stage and what better place to do that than here at Haileybury in Almaty or Haileybury in Astana!
How do you think this has changed the dynamics of the school? The Sixth Form is now expanding, and you have students that were at Haileybury from the beginning, and scholarship students. It's very interesting to see how they integrate and mix together.
I think that is a very good question. All schools benefit from diversity, whether that is of culture or background. Diversity is excellent because it challenges people. People need to see how others have been brought up, how others live. And of course, if everybody was from the exactly the same background, the homogeneity of that would create a one or two dimensional environment. When we have different students coming from different backgrounds it adds to the rich culture and heritage of everything that we try to achieve.
Haileybury Astana opened its doors in 2011, and has already achieved major milestones. So, what can you say about this project? Was it also inspired by the success of Haileybury Almaty and was it easier or harder to implement it, given that you have the experience of Haileybury Almaty already?
I think it's a good question. It's like anything. Once you've started one project, if you then create a similar one, then it is likely that it is going to be easier to succeed. The creation of Haileybury Astana was born out of the success of Haileybury Almaty. There is absolutely no doubt about that. And we have learned many lessons from the journey that Haileybury Almaty embarked upon. Both schools now teach the full age range of students. We are in a position to really take these schools into an environment where academic aspiration is very much the world’s elite higher education institutions.
The number of students is growing each year. Are there plans to expand the buildings and the intake of students?
Both schools are very conscious of providing an environment for 21st century learning, and we have experienced a lot of internal development within Haileybury Almaty, and there are significant plans for external developments at Haileybury Astana. Most importantly, we need to create a learning environment that will be relevant to 21st century learning in a worldwide context, not just in Kazakhstan. And so, we are always looking to improve the facilities. If the numbers rise significantly over the next four or five years, then the board and the shareholders will look at this and respond accordingly.
What would you say is the connection between Haileybury in Kazakhstan and Haileybury UK?
It's very important connection and it's a growing one. The relationship between Haileybury in the UK and Haileybury in Kazakhstan is one of being part of a family of schools. There's obviously the original school in Haileybury UK, and now our two schools in Haileybury in Kazakhstan. There is a real desire to reflect a similar culture, lifestyle, vision, and learning environment in all three schools. Very importantly, Haileybury UK is an independent, high achieving, world renowned school. Haileybury in Kazakhstan are independent, high achieving and reputationally growing schools. And between the three of them, we will make sure that there are shared resources and shared experiences both for teachers and for students. When somebody comes to Haileybury, it doesn't matter of which of them they attend, they will know they are at Haileybury.
What is your personal experience of Haileybury? Maybe you have some moments or anecdotes that will remain with you in the future?
You know, one of them was yesterday as I was walking across the outside pitch in Almaty. It was in the middle of the morning, and the children were all playing. I was watching a group of our girls here playing cricket. And I just thought to myself: "How British is that?" and how great it was that the girls were involved in it. So, that was one little thing. I'm constantly impressed and amazed by not only the quality of the students that we have in our school in Kazakhstan, but the happiness that I see, the smiles, the real desire to achieve absolutely the very best that they can. And I'm very proud to be involved and associated with our schools in Kazakhstan. I know that every year we are just going to get better and better.
Could you talk about the future plans for Haileybury in Kazakhstan?
Clearly, going back to that original vision of our sponsors and shareholders, it was to give as many people as possible, the opportunity to experience a Haileybury education in Kazakhstan. Now, of course, with the schools in Almaty and Astana, we can only really offer that to those people that are located locally, and so the board and the sponsors have been talking for some time now about opening a boarding facility which would allow children from much further away, from the regions, and beyond to benefit from this education. We hope in the next 12 months to be announcing some significant plans for boarding in both schools. It is a very important element of our future strategic vision that we can widen access to as many people as possible.
What would you wish for the 10th anniversary of Haileybury in Kazakhstan?
One of the most important things that everybody needs to remember is that Haileybury has been a unique project in Kazakhstan. Education is, in my opinion, the most valuable gift you can give to anybody. Ever. And so, to offer a high-quality education to 1300 students is something of which we are very proud. Hopefully, they will all, as a result, have a better opportunity, not only in life in Kazakhstan, but also on a global stage. It is very important to acknowledge the work and the passion that has gone into the creation of these two schools over the last 10 years; an enormous effort and copious amounts of sweat and tears that everybody has experienced. And that goes right from those with the original vision to the people who work here today and those who will work here for the next 20. What we want to do is to create a legacy that will be here for the next 100 years. These first 10 years have shown that the foundations are very strong. We are building on a foundation of rock, not sand, and that is really important.
Thanks to Karina Tukanova, Haileybury Almaty Leaver 2016, for conducting this interview.