New director of Antwerp International School is up for the challenges ahead

Andreas Koini is a man of many trades. A former competitive volleyball player, he worked as a maths and sports teacher in his native Austria before moving abroad, first to the German School in London, where he rose in the ranks from teacher to managing director, and later to the Strothoff International School in Germany, where he helped implement the International Baccalaureate programme.

Since January, Koini (pictured with pupils) has been settling in as the new head of Antwerp International School, one of about half a dozen educational institutions catering to the expat community in Flanders. “Before coming here, I knew of the school’s outstanding academic record and its well established history,” he says. “Now I need to make sure the school is prepared for the challenges ahead.”

Situated in the leafy residential suburb of Ekeren, the school was founded by a group of American families in 1967. Based on the International Baccalaureate system, it offers primary and secondary education, and has kindergarten facilities for children as young as two-and-a-half. “The education that we offer isn’t just about teaching knowledge and skills,” Koini says, “but also conceptual thinking and character building.”

Despite its relatively small size, the campus is packed with amenities. There is a theatre with 400 seats and a movable stage, and a modern sports hall the size of three basketball courts. All classrooms are equipped with interactive whiteboards and the students can make use of wifi on computers provided through the school’s one-to-one laptop programme.

“The extremely good facilities are one of the reasons I accepted this position,” Koini says. “The school’s holistic approach to education agrees with my teaching philosophy that combines academic subjects with creative arts and sports.”

To ensure the needs of each student are met, the school provides a support department for children with dyslexia and autism, and educational psychologists and high school counsellors are prepared to help them choose the right courses or fill out college applications.

This year, all 32 graduating high school seniors have been accepted to universities worldwide. “One of our students is going to Oxford, two were accepted to New York University, and some got offers from six or seven schools,” Koini says. “This just goes to show our tradition of educating high-achieving students.”

As we walk around the campus, Koini greets each passing student. “My job is very administrative, but I’m still a teacher at heart,” he says. “I think it’s extremely important to stay connected to the students because if you’re not aware of what’s going on with them, how can you make informed decisions about the direction your school should take?”

For half a century, AIS has been at the forefront of international education. It was the first school to be accredited five times by the Council of International Schools and one of the first in the world to offer the International Baccalaureate programme. “Now it’s time to prepare the school for the next 50 years,” Koini says.

According to one study, wealthy local parents seeking English-speaking education for their children now make up 80% of the demand for places at international schools worldwide. The global trend can be felt at AIS. “In the past, every expat family sent their kids here,” Koini says. “The school catered to the needs of international professionals who moved around every two to three years. That’s changing.”

The traditional expat culture is on the decline in Europe, he believes. “The continent has opened up to frequent travel. It’s also a lot easier to stay connected with the use of Skype and conference calls, so multinational companies no longer send hundreds of employees and their families abroad. We have to make sure the shift is reflected in our school.”

The 400 students attending the school represent 35 nationalities. Every year, more than 100 new pupils join, and more and more of them are Belgian.

“We already have mother tongue programmes in Dutch, French and German, so all three national languages are included in the curriculum,” Koini says. “Belgian parents have a legitimate interest in international education and that’s what we will focus on in the coming years.”

The new director intends to bring the school closer to the local community. Students already volunteer at nursing homes and organise sporting activities for local children, and the annual International Day celebration is open to the public. “We want to be seen as part of the community,” Koini says. “The school has been around for many years, but there is still so much more we can do in the area.”

With fees ranging from €11,000 for pre-school to €26,500 for the final years of high school, the school remains out of reach for most local parents. “That’s not what we want,” Koini says. “It is unfortunate that as an international school, we don’t receive any subsidies from the government. We strive to provide only the highest quality education, and with 80% of our costs going to teaching staff alone, high tuition fees become an economic necessity.”

In his role as director, Koini plans to strengthen the financial aid system already in place and find ways to make the school more accessible. “We want to open our doors to as many children as we can,” he says. “It’s not our intention to segregate by wealth or money.”

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