It's Chinese way for an expat family

By Wang Wei (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-04-27 09:54
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It's Chinese way for an expat family
Habib Derbyshire (left) studies at a local school.
Provided to China Daily

Habib Derbyshire, 11, enjoys studying and hanging out with his Chinese peers at a local primary school.

"My son identifies himself as a Beijinger. His best subjects at school are Chinese and Math," said his father, Martin Derbyshire.

Derbyshire, a Briton who has been in China for 15 years, works as a visual arts teacher at the Beijing World Youth Academy - an international school.

His wife, Farzaneh Ghofrani, a homemaker and a part-time science teacher, is American.

Habib and his 6-year-old sister, Nura, were born in Beijing and are the only two non-Asian students studying at the primary school attached to Beijing Capital Normal University.

Unlike most expatriates who send their children to an international school and stay in Beijing only a few years, the Derbyshires enrolled their children at a local primary school because they expect to stay in China for good.

They want their children to grasp the language and culture as their local counterparts would.

While the family is happy with their choice, Derbyshire observed the highly competitive, exam-centered focus within the Chinese education system might be unattractive to some expat families.

Derbyshire began to doubt whether his initial thought was the best choice for his son after five years studying at a local school.

Derbyshire said Chinese schools seem to focus on one way of passing knowledge - through examination.

"Children also need to learn social skills and how to live and think independently," he said.

"Effective learning is active and investigative."

He said he wanted Habib to play soccer and have fun in a park with his classmates over the weekends.

However, Habib and his Chinese classmates are often too busy finishing homework and attending different extracurricular classes.

He thought the situation would improve three years ago when the education authority made great efforts to promote quality education, a campaign that seemed to be effective based on its coverage in the media.

"But nowadays, the emphasis seems to back on scores again," he said.

"What about quality education anymore."

Derbyshire said he pays 12,000 yuan per year for each child to attend school. That is 10 times the cost for children who have Beijing residency.

He noted the tuition fees for Habib and Nura will be doubled next year.

To transform Beijing into an international city, the capital's education authority has many preferential policies in place to attract foreign students.

All 97 primary, middle and high schools have been ratified by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education to open to foreign students.

However, educators believe that offering a quality education is the real key to attracting high-quality students.

Chu Zhaoyang, a research fellow at the China National Institute for Educational Research, told METRO that most foreign students are generally only interested in short-term cultural-based subjects such as Chinese language and traditional Chinese medicine.

"Only if the education quality is improved will more and better students come to Beijing," he said.