Fri,Dec 13,2013

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Charting a foreign course

(Global Times)    08:42, December 13, 2013
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While Chinese educational authorities are planning to cut English classes and reduce English score weighting in college admission exams, lessons taught completely in English are growing in popularity, especially among secondary school students.

These classes offer foreign curriculums and examinations that are recognized by most of the world's noted universities. The students' aims are very clear: to study abroad.

Previously, these schools or classes were set up in China mainly for the children of expatriates. But in recent years, more and more native students have applied for enrolment, creating a boom in such classes across the country.

Experts say that the growing demand for such classes, which charge up to 100 times more than ordinary ones, shows that the worship of foreign-style education is getting stronger instead of fading away, and China's education system urgently needs reform.

Industry boom

China has introduced more than 20 international curriculum programs and about 300 schools have opened "international classes," according to a survey by Shanghai Normal University released in November 2012.

The survey listed 21 schools that opened such classes in Shanghai, while the China News Service reported in May that the number had reached 33 and the number of students exceeded 6,000 in the city. In Zhengzhou, Central China's Henan Province, the number of schools offering international courses rose to 13 with 24 classes in 2011 from two in 2003.

Among the programs introduced from overseas, those from the Advanced Placement (AP) in the US and Canada, the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level or A-level from the UK and the International Baccalaureate (IB) headquartered in Geneva are the most popular.

Most classes are jointly run by Chinese schools and their foreign counterparts or agents. Usually, foreign institutions offer teachers and curriculums while domestic schools provide classrooms and students.

Some schools offer completely foreign courses while more will blend foreign courses with domestic ones. For example, the Xishan School with the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China has introduced some Cambridge courses and mixed some traditional Chinese courses with them. The Beijing No.35 High School cooperates with Kaplan, an international education services provider offering English language education for students aged 12 and up.

While most students sign up on a voluntary basis, some say the current system forces them to do so.

"My son cannot join ordinary high schools or gaokao (national college entrance examinations) here as we don't have Beijing hukou (household registration)," Li Guo, a father from Chongqing who moved to Beijing 13 years ago, told the Global Times.

His 15-year-old son is a freshman at the AP program at Beijing No.35 High School. After graduating from junior high school in July in Beijing, faced with the option of sending him back to his home city or continue studying in Beijing, they chose the latter, as international classes enroll students without hukou restrictions. According to Li, the annual tuition fee is 90,000 yuan ($14,820) and the school opened nine classes this year with around 25 students in each class. The average tuition fee for ordinary secondary schools is 1,000 yuan.

"Anyway, we found the cost is worth it. My son is happy with the teaching style," Li said.

The students are free to choose which classes to sit, and unlike their counterparts who study virtually all day long, Li noted that there is a diverse range of extracurricular activities, including cooking, boxing, music and drama.

Lack of supervision

However, not all applicants are as lucky as Li's son.

On October 8, Xu, from Xiaoshan, east China's Zhejiang Province, pulled his son out of an "international school" after they found the seals of the admission notice were fake and the textbooks were poorly printed copies, according to zjol.com.cn, a major news portal in Zhejiang.

An English Language class which was set to be taught by a foreign teacher was taken by a Chinese biology teacher, the report said.

The Shaoxing China Textile City Middle School, which claimed to offer Cambridge A-level programs, said it was a result of inadequate preparation and would be corrected gradually.

Earlier in August in Guangzhou, Harvard University student Xiang Xin, who graduated from Zhixin High School in Guangzhou in 2009, found that an "American-style high school" in Guangzhou illegally used her for advertising purposes.

The local education authority later reportedly launched an investigation into the school, but no results were announced.

"There are loopholes in the supervision and management of these so-called international schools or classes. The huge market behind it attracts lots of profit seekers," said Xiong Bingqi, an education expert and deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute.

Parents are often easily fooled by advertising into making blind choices.

The high entry rate into top universities is often highlighted in leaflets by the schools, some of which claim that graduates can simultaneously obtain several diplomas from China, the US and Canada. The annual tuition fees range from 50,000 yuan to 200,000 yuan.

To address the issue, the Ministry of Education announced on September 5 that it would start a nationwide probe into the sector and target unlicensed international classes. According to the ministry, there are only 90 high schools that run international classes approved by the local authority and are registered at the ministry.

Sheng Jianxue, an official with the ministry, said at a press conference that the country was mulling establishing an information disclosure system on Sino-foreign cooperation in running schools and would release relevant regulations.

Lingering concerns

There are also concerns that some people see international schools as being exclusively for children from families with power and money, while some believe that they are just a safe harbor for students with poor grades.

Liu Fan, marketing manager from Shenzhen Sendelta Education, which has worked with four high schools in Guangdong offering SAT and AP curriculums, said applicants need to take tests and interviews in order to be enrolled.

"Money cannot buy enrollment. It would be a lose-lose scenario if the student is unable to keep up with the courses," Liu told the Global Times, noting that the university admission rate is crucial to a school in staying popular and maintaining credibility.

Some experts believe that international classes will force native educators to undertake reforms, while others worry that the boom will take up public education resources or threaten local courses.

Ji Zhiwei, a CPPCC Beijing Municipal Committee member, is opposed to public schools opening "international classes," saying that schools funded by the government should offer domestic courses.

Several local authorities have already issued regulations restricting such classes. The Shanghai education bureau said in May that traditional courses of Chinese, politics, history and geography are compulsory for all high school students. In August, it said that public schools should not charge additional fees for offering international courses.

Zhejiang and Shanxi stipulated that international classes must be limited to below 5 percent of total high school classes, and students in each school should not surpass 10 percent of the school's total.

Many see the potential for expansion in the country.

Wellington College International Tianjin, which offers IB courses and began enrolling Chinese high school students in 2012, is now building a Shanghai campus, scheduled for completion in August next year.

"The market also has a great deal to do with Chinese diplomatic relations with destinations for overseas study," Liu Fan said, noting that stable Sino-US relations and the US' loosening of visa controls have led to more Chinese applying for American colleges.

According to eol.cn, one of the country's largest education news portals, 2,000 high school students in Shenzhen apply to study abroad annually, and the number is growing by 10 percent each year.

Several private schools like Anhui Tongdu Bilingual School contacted by Global Times expressed an interest in opening similar classes.

Yin Houqing, an inspector from the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, said that the globalization of education is a trend, but should not be oriented at studying abroad.

"Schools shouldn't put priority on how many students they enroll or how much money they charge, but ponder on how to truly upgrade educational globalization and reform the curriculums," Yin said at an educational forum in 2012.

Reform needed

Several schools have already taken action to reform their education models and achieved notable results. The "flipped classroom," a concept originating from the US, is becoming popular in China.

One of the most representative schools is Dulangkou Middle school in Shandong's Liaocheng, which began reforming its teaching model in 1999.

In classrooms, there are no podiums, but only blackboards around the walls. Teachers only lecture for 10 minutes, while the remaining 35 minutes is given over to students to interact with each other.

The graduation rate and scores on integrated assessment have risen from last in the county to the top three. The school soon began to attract a constant stream of visitors and learners nationwide.

Other schools followed, including Shenyang Liren Middle School in Liaoning, Ningda Middle School in Jiangxi's Wuning county and Anhui Tongdu Bilingual School.

"In the traditional exam-oriented education, the teacher prevails and the student's individuality is always suppressed. This is a kind of twist of human nature," Sheng Guoyou, headmaster at the Tongdu Bilingual School, told the Global Times.

Zhu Jianmin, headmaster from Beijing No.35 High School, agreed.

"Foreign countries define secondary education as State security, but we consider it as preparation for higher learning education," Zhu was quoted as saying by China Education Daily.

If the gaokao system, which emphasizes rote learning and stifles creativity, remains, other reforms will get nowhere, he said.

(Editor:WangXin、Chen Lidan)

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