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Growing Appetite for Quality International Schools Sweeps Beijing

April, 2006
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BSB-shunyi campus Vernon Goodfellow couldn’t hide his excitement as he moved to his new campus office on March 14.

  “When the construction is completed in June, there will be 90 classrooms, two gyms, a 25-metre swimming pool, music rooms, dance studios and so on, with the eventual enrolment of up to 1,600 students,” said Goodfellow, the principal of the Capital International School, as he stood on the construction site.

  The Capital International School would be the largest one in downtown Beijing when it is expected to reach its full capacity in the coming years.

Goodfellow is from Canada and used to teach at the Beijing Concord College of Sino-Canada for four and a half years.

  Capital International School will be a Canadian-style international school, using the Canadian curriculum as its core curriculum. The school also offers AMI Montessori curriculum for the younger children, and the International Baccalaureate (IB) in the primary school and middle schools and the diploma program in the high school in the near future.

  “We are certainly interested in seeing the high-end Canadian curriculum being represented here in the centre of China,” Goodfellow said.  “The Canadian curriculum works on getting children to be thinkers as opposed to be doers, and creative about all kinds of things. IMG_2752

  “The Montessori curriculum, which goes up to children at 5 years old, is very consistent with our elementary curriculum. In the IB primary and middle, they are mainly philosophy and approaches that fits on top of another curriculum. Meanwhile, the IB will give more pressure on us to lift our activities and programs a little higher, which is good for us.”

  At the moment, the school is in the process of hiring an IB coordinator, making applications and getting the staff trained and improving its methodology up to the level to become a fully accredited IB school in both the elementary and middle school. Then eventually run a high school diploma programme in the near future. The headmaster hopes to complete all the work in the first year.

  Mandarin will be the core second language taught at the school. Goodfellow expects to add some other languages as well so as to build up more of an international curriculum.

  “But still, we will stick back to the core of the Canadian curriculum, and being based in Canada is really very good.”

  The new school will open in September, accepting students from as young as 18 months up to Grade 10. It will include Grade 12 next year.

  “We are asked to open the school as soon as possible by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” said Francis Pang, chairman of the school. “The school is actually one of the 10 projects signed between the Canadian and Chinese governments when the Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin visited Beijing last January.

  “We have the mission to serve children of diplomats and also expatriates in Beijing who often asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to build one downtown so that they don’t have to send their children to other international schools travelling quite a distance.”

Expansion boom

   The growing appetite for quality international education with the influx of more foreigners to Beijing has led to the beginnings of an expansion boom of such schools. That’s good news for parents who are looking for a school for their children. Not only will they have more options this spring. The increasing competition is going to drive those quality schools to be even better.

  In fact, there are already five more schools within walking distance to the Capital International School site. The Beanstalk International Kindergarten and the World Youth Academy are right behind the 21 Century Theatre. Inside the Lufthansa Centre is the Children’s House Montessori Kindergarten. Across the Liangma River, Ivy Bilingual School opened inside the Seasons Park. Across the Third Ring Road there is the Montessori IMG_2900School of Beijing and the British School of Beijing.

  Recently, Ivy Academy also said it will open a third campus near Lufthansa. The new campus has 8 classrooms, an art studio, children’s library and doctor’s office.

  Spokesperson Jack Hsu attributed the new development to the long waiting lists. He said the new campus will also be a truly bilingual environment, using the Multiple Intelligences (MI) system. “The program will be identical to the Ivy Bilingual Seasons Park campus and children at the age of 2 to 6 can choose either campus,” he said.

  Compared with the vibrant development in town, more schools still favour the areas in Shunyi, where it already has prosperous educational establishments, including the International School of Beijing-Shunyi, and Western Academy of Beijing. Both schools have a total enrolment of more than 3,000 international students.

  Two British schools have started their construction of new campuses on the other side of Jingshun Road. Dulwich College Beijing (DCB) opens its new campus right on the site of the shopping mall at Legend Garden, and the new DCB campus has taken shape in early March. The location also allows DCB to develop some 40,000 square meters of sports fields next to the school.

  DCB headmaster Brian McDouall said his school is simply responding to the demand to give their international students the education they need.

  “We will be adding about another 200 students in the new Legend Garden campus next school year whilst keeping the Riviera sites full,” he  said. “If we did not have Legend coming on line, we could not function. It is frustrating to have to turn away good students. In August we will be able to open extra classes in Years 7 to 10 if the demand is there.”

  The new DCB campus will feature all the facilities expected in a modern school, such as performance space, art and design suites, information and communication technology, science laboratories and sports facilities including a campus golf course.

  “The main feature is the positioning of the media centre/ library, which runs down the centre of the building,” McDouall said. “Every classroom will be one door away from it. This reflects our belief that one of the main roles of a school today is to teach students to access and use information accurately and responsibly.”IMG_2763

  The completed campus will house children from Year 3 to Year 13 (grades 2 to 12) with four classes for each year. Once the Legend campus is full, DCB will have close to 1,200 children on the combined campuses.

  The headmaster is very confident about the new school. “From the demand in our Shanghai school, we know that we are offering an education that is attractive to parents in China, and we have also had excellent feedback from parents in Beijing,” he said. “The secret is to roll the school out in a measured fashion and not try to rush.”

  Also jumping into the international education boom is the British School of Beijing (BSB). The new Shunyi campus for the BSB is within 10 minutes walk of the new Dulwich campus.

  The BSB opened its doors to 104 children just more than a year ago, but the current enrolment is nearing 300 students, fast approaching its full capacity of 400. Commenting on the school’s rapid development, the British School headmaster Gilbard Honey Jones thinks his school has filled the education vacuum in Beijing and parents like to have the choice of a British school and British education.

  “The drive for us to go to set up a purpose-built campus in Shunyi is mainly for our secondary students,” said Honey Jones. “Because the older students need a lot better facilities and better rooms, we hope we can do better for them with the new school.”

  To make sure all facilities of the new campus can meet the requirements for its vast-ranging and ambitious curriculum, BSB designed the new school themselves.

  “When you look at the gymnasium, basketball court, tennis courts, the swimming pool, or the indoor learner pool, the theatre… everything is purpose-built to accommodate our curriculum,” said the headmaster.

  The BSB Shunyi campus will have both the secondary and primary programs. Meanwhile, the school will keep its current Sanlitun campus for primary level.

  The headmaster thinks every school has its fans, and BSB’s edge is that they offer the British curriculum from ages 3 to 18.

  The British School of Beijing Shunyi campus can accept 400 students at maximum. “Our philosophy in China, and also within the King’s Group, is none of our schools become too big that the headmaster cannot have direct contact with the students,” he said. “We believe in a family atmosphere, so everybody knows everybody.”

  Honey Jones predicted that BSB Shunyi campus will be full within three to four years.

  “There would be a hundred students from the Sanlitun campus going to the new Shunyi campus already,” he said. “And we have accepted enrolments from families in Shunyi these days, eight months before the school opens. There is a need.”

  Facing the new BSB Shunyi campus, Kinstar Bilingual Kindergarten has opened at the Merlin Champagne Town more than half a year ago.

  In August, Kinstar plans to open its elementary school at the Monet Garden in Shunyi District, extending its education program to Grade 6.

  “This is the natural development of our school to meet the demands of our parents,” said Jin Hui, founder of Kinstar. “Our first school is for children from 18 months to 5 years old, while the Merlin Champagne Town campus was open for their kindergartners. Opening this elementary school is also the request from parents of our students.”

  According to Jin, the new school will start with students up to Grade 4, using a bilingual program based on a US curriculum.

  Having strong connections with the US side, the founder vows to provide some exchange programs for the students and teachers in the future. “Basically, we have Beijing as the environment for their Chinese learning and United States for their English,” she said.

  “The location of the Monet Garden campus is very convenient as it is in the middle point to the villas of Shunyi and Changping Districts, not far from the Asian Games Village either. And we have received most requests from these areas.”

  From Kinstar’s inception in 2004, Jin Hui insisted on an admission fee below the average of most international schools. This will carry on to the new primary school, too: 55,000 yuan for the first year.

  “It may be a little higher in the following school year, but our charge will never exceed 60 per cent of that in average international schools,” Dulwich-newcampus-2she said.

  Another bilingual school, the Beanstalk International School (BIBS), has also announced its opening of its Asian Games Village branch. The school provides bilingual education to children from 4 to 12 years old. Early bird discount for the first enrolled 40 students is just 20,000 yuan per year.

   Many agree that the trend ultimately spells a bright future for international schools.

  “The new school campus has already shown how optimistic we are towards the future,” said British School headmaster Honey Jones. “I actually believe we are only at the beginning of development, as China is becoming such an important country in the world, which is only getting bigger.”

By Xing Yangjian

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