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UK schools maintain growth push in China

By WANG MINGJIE in London | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-07-01 09:19
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British independent schools operating in China have shown great resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic, fueled by demand from Chinese parents wanting a hybrid education for their children that keeps them close by-especially during a health crisis.

Fourteen new British schools entered the Chinese market last year, compared with only four in 2019, and the market's expansion is set to continue with more than 40 schools scheduled to open in the next few years, according to a report by Beijing consultancy Venture Education.

Education experts say such demand has been boosted by British schools looking to expand at a time when local developers see advantages in working with a UK school when presenting plans to local governments. Also stoking demand is the ongoing widening of the education sector as Chinese families seek different options for their children.

Julian Fisher, a senior partner at Venture Education, said: "International education, overseas or at home, provides an option for students who may not excel in the state system."

One of the British schools that opened up its doors to non-Chinese passport holders during the pandemic is Lady Eleanor Holles, in Foshan, Guangdong province. Campus headmaster Steve Allen described the experience as an "interesting challenge".

Allen said: "There is no doubt that COVID-19 has made many parents question overseas education. Some parents have gone one step further and have chosen to keep their children in national education; many others, however, are looking for international options closer to home."

As more British schools open up in China, the trend has prompted a debate among experts on how to integrate two educational systems that have sprung from different philosophies.

Kate Rowe, higher education and employability chair at the British Chamber in China, raised the question as to "how can these schools authentically deliver the best of British education while adapting to an increasingly self-confident Chinese market, and remaining sensitive and alive to the traditions, regulations and expectations of their host country?"

"Finding shared values might prove a more fruitful embarkation point than banding together superficial points of contact between curriculums or trying to jar two pedagogical hemispheres," she said.

While some analysts contend that the number of schools entering China may be constrained by an "identity crisis", others hold the strong view that the fusion-based education approach is bound to grow.

Roger Sinnett, headmaster at St Bees School in the UK, part of the Full Circle Education Group, said: "The fusion concept answers consumer demand in China for a genuine hybrid system while at the same time delivering the statutory curriculum content required by the Chinese government."

Sinnett, who has 13 years of China experience in dealing with educational provision, is of the opinion that while the COVID-factor still plays a part in present decision-making, with parents hesitant to send their child out of China, that will soon pass.

"The real winners, however, will be the schools inside China which can provide a genuine fusion curriculum which delivers the requirements of the Chinese system hand-in-hand with a high-power international component, but fused together in such a way that it produces one integrated common approach," he said. "This is where the British schools can play a creative and respectful role in the further development of education in China."

He pointed out "there still exists an attitude from some British schools which exude a 'we do it better' arrogance", and equally "the Chinese tendency to fall for the 'it's expensive, therefore it must be good trick', which should be avoided.

"It is high time that China and the UK agreed to work together at an official level to recognize each other's weaknesses and benefit from each other's strengths. It's the concept of the Yin and the Yang. Each needs the other to be complete. We pool our best practice, and build a hybrid system which is the envy of the world. We resist the tendency toward protectionism and embrace the inexorable march towards globalism," Sinnett added.

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