Invictus International School, which was founded in Singapore in 2015, will open for business next month. As a newcomer, the school is set to enter the Kingdom’s competitive international school sector.
In an exclusive interview with Khmer Times, South African entrepreneur John Fearon, founder and executive director of Invictus, promises the school will stand out from the rest with its unique approach to achieving educational excellence.
KT: Why did you choose to open your school in Cambodia?
Mr Fearon: The Cambodian market is very vibrant, young and fast-growing.
I was also allowed to have 100 percent ownership, which made it attractive.
We did intensive market research last year and looked at the current type of international schools here. While there are a lot of local private and international schools, high-quality education with affordable pricing – which our establishment offers – was not on offer. We believe we will attract discerning local and expatriate communities.
KT: What would you say is the mission statement of Invictus and how will this set the school apart from others in the Kingdom?
Mr Fearon: Invictus aims to provide accessible and high-standard education to the world. We set ourselves apart by being a truly international school in Phnom Penh. Many international schools are good but how many of them have set up successful schools outside of Phnom Penh and Cambodia [as we have]?
KT: With a high number of competitors in Cambodia’s private education sector, how does Invictus plan to establish a niche as an academic provider?
Mr Fearon: The first thing we offer is an international curriculum for all ages: British IPC for our primary school and Cambridge for our secondary school. Another strong point of difference is that our school fees are 8000 US dollars per year, which is a lot lower when compared to our competitors. Some of the schools charge between 15 to 25 thousand dollars per year.
Last but not least, our classroom settings, professional teachers, and curriculum qualify with international standards, which give us a unique niche.
KT: With accessible prices offered, how does Invictus balance the business’s need for revenue with the quality of education provided to students?
Mr Fearon: To achieve our competitive prices, we don’t have a big swimming pool and large football field located onsite. We source public fields and facilities already present in the vicinity to offer these types of activities. This is what is practised by many other schools around the world. This way, we can remain affordable and provide a high standard of education by outsourcing what we consider to be important but which doesn’t need to be within school premises. The calibre of our teachers are sourced from the same pool other international schools access from; we don’t skim on the education side of the business. If you look at our results in Singapore, for instance, our grade 3 and grade 6 get tested with international standards every year. The results show we are one of the best international schools academically. We don’t claim to have the facilities that some other schools have, like an Olympic-sized swimming pool or a professional football field which requires high maintenance. This in turn pushes up the fees parents have to pay.
KT: Singapore is known for its world-class education standard. Will a similar take on education be exercised here? Could you tell us more about the curriculum that Invictus plans to introduce in Cambodia?
Mr Fearon: In our curriculum, we have Singapore Math, which is the best in the world. For language studies, we offer Mandarin, English, and Khmer. In terms of curriculum, in our primary school, we use IPC, an international school curriculum that originated from the UK and is used by more than a thousand schools around the world. It is a holistic approach to learning, based on ‘doing’ rather than listening to lectures, rote learning and copying things from the board. Then, in secondary school, we offer a Cambridge qualification which gives our students opportunities to be placed in the best universities.
KT: Could you tell us more about the location where Invictus has chosen to set up its first Cambodian campus?
Mr Fearon: As our demographic is the middleclass and wealthy parents, we are located in the middle of Phnom Penh, in one of the sought-out areas. We’re following our successful business model from our schools in Singapore and Hong Kong. We are fully transforming the building and its landscape to give our students a modern and innovative schooling environment that is conducive to learning. At the same time, we try to find a balance with numbers; we are always mindful about what parents want in terms of return for their money spent and good-quality education.
Parents of course are welcome to send their children to a 25-thousand-dollar-a-year school if they wish to, but if they are budget-conscious, Invictus is their best choice, not because it is the cheaper alternative but it extends high quality education at an affordable price.
KT: Aside from academic excellence, which other qualities does Invictus hope to equip its students with?
Mr Fearon: I would say “resilience”, and it is part of our name. Invictus is a Latin word meaning “unconquerable”, which I take to be “resilient”. At the same time, we motivate our teachers, whom we have carefully recruited from all over the world; to promote creativity and innovation, which are very important for students to survive both in today’s world and the future.
KT: What do you wish to see in your students after their graduation?
Mr Fearon: I would like them to be successful in life, not just academically but holistically. One thing I’ve observed in the market is that schools promote their academic achievements or the number of grade A’s their students obtain. I don’t believe it’s a true mark of success because when I was in school, I scored average grades but look at what I have achieved and where I am now.
I feel that with a resilient mindset and hard work our students can achieve greatness and this does not necessarily require academic over-achievement. That is the controversial stand I take.
I want our students to do well and to enter good universities, but I don’t think a PhD defines success in life. I believe we need to equip our students with the ability to tap their innate creativity, to overcome difficulties and to be resilient. For me, creativity is the heart of Invictus. One thing we do differently is to ask our teachers to be creative in their approach in teaching. We are not prescriptive in how they teach. We get them to follow the curriculum, but we do not instil a tick-boxing culture. Because of this, our teachers think outside of the box using various creative methods to impart knowledge to our students. Our students acquire information in an environment which allows them to absorb more because we make learning fun and exciting.
KT: What changes do you think Invictus may bring to Cambodia?
Mr Fearon: I hope Invictus will set an example to other schools, where they realise it is not about facilities they have. We already have a number of imitators already in Singapore, but that’s fine. At the end of the day, what everyone wants is to support the overall market and give children the best education possible. That’s what we are going to do here. I am not worried about others trying to compete with us because the result we are all aiming for is the same: to help everybody.