Richmond teachers bonding in China

posted on February 15, 2014

By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

Most Canadian teachers would find it strange to spend time with their students on weekends or be included in their family outings, but it was a common experience for Richmond teacher Jennifer Kugelman while on exchange in China. Kugelman, who spent two years in Shenzhen, said students there tend to think of teachers almost like surrogate parents. “The bond … between teachers and students is so strong that (after graduation) they come back just to visit,” she says.

The Richmond school district hopes that bond is strong enough to reach across the ocean and attract international students willing to shell out tens of thousands in tuition for an English-language education.

The district’s exchange program with Shenzhen started seven years ago with a single teacher and this year has expanded to 15. Teachers are paid by Richmond to give instruction in English to Chinese students and the schools there reimburse the district.

It is not a direct peer-to-peer exchange in that there are no Chinese teachers in Richmond classrooms, however, groups of students and teachers from Shenzhen visit the city and its schools each year. The district’s international programs director, Richard Hudson, describes it as more of “an exchange of ideas.”

The Chinese students benefit from a higher standard of English instruction from the Richmond teachers, and in time, Hudson hopes the district will benefit from international students with a better grasp of English.

Richmond charges the Chinese schools for the teachers’ services, so the district ends up with a small return on the program.

“This piece of what we’re doing isn’t a huge revenue generator for us. It’s the long-term program we’re focused on, which is working quite well I think. In the long-run I expect to see more and more students coming to us.”

The program has the added benefit of giving Richmond teachers a better understanding of Chinese culture, an advantage given the relatively large proportion of Chinese students in the district.

Kugelman says she understands now why Chinese parents push their children so hard in their studies and why students who recently immigrated from China are so fixated on their numerical grades. It’s because Chinese students take a huge, multiple-choice test in Grade 9 that determines whether they will be allowed to continue in high school at all and if so, which high schools they can attend.

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