The International School in Asia: Where the West Confronts Confucianism

The International School in Asia: Where the West Confronts Confucianism

Wherever I travel in Asia, visiting international schools as a consultant, I see the same issue arising: how to deal with the culture shock that comes when Asian collectivism tries to mix with Western individualism. This tension arises for school managers, teachers, and especially students. This is one reason why the Chinese government does not allow Chinese students to attend international schools in the country, though many parents do get round the legality of this. For example, Dulwich International School in Shanghai has just 10% Chinese students attending. Many more Chinese middle class parents would like to send their kids to the school, but they are not allowed to.

In 2014, a new school opened in Beijing: Keystone Academy (see photo). Its a mix of Chinese, American and International curriculum, learning ethos, and teaching. But its not calling itself an international school. It is calling itself a ‘World School’. Keystone Academy looks like a prestigious international school but is marketed as a Chinese national, bilingual school with a world focus. Consequently, Chinese nationals can send their children there.

This is probably the future of ‘international’ education not only in China but across Asia: ostensibly international schools in terms of offering bilingual education and having Western teaching systems, but mixing a local/national curriculum with the Western curriculum model. Nord Anglia Education Ltd have adopted a similar model in Vietnam: British Vietnamese International Schools in Hanoi and HCMC. As Nord Anglia put it: “No longer is there anxiety over the risk of Vietnamese language and culture being eroded by attending an international school”.

And to be sure, Asian parents are right to be concerned at the erosion of their traditional, largely conservative, Asian cultural values when their kids spend their formative years being taught the Western way.

However, is it possible to preserve the traditional Asian cultures when students are taught to think critically, question teachers, become independent in their thinking and learning?

We will find out.

(more on this theme in future blogs)

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