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Education is not just about teaching and testing

ONE of the first things expatriate parents will do when they start life in Shanghai is to choose the right school for their children.

Parents are confronted with a bewildering range of educational options, and most look to recommendations from friends, colleagues, relocation companies and the Internet. They will be asking themselves questions such as what are the differences between American or British educational standards? How do they compare to Chinese-owned schools with Western additions or to Western-owned international schools with Chinese additions?

Shanghai United International School's Gubei Secondary campus is a truly bilingual East-meets-West school, where students obtain the best of both educational worlds. It has also received the seal of approval from the world's foremost educational organizations. SUIS Gubei delivers the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) program to Grade 9 and 10 students, and International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma program to Grade 11 and 12 students. Grade 7 and 8 students study Cambridge International Curriculum.

Expatriate families come to Shanghai for various reasons. Some will stay short-term from a few months to a few years. Others may settle down in Shanghai for the longer term. Student turnover mostly depends on the work of the parents. Therefore, the IB program in SUIS Gubei is quite popular among the expatriate families because it is a widely recognized international curriculum that ensures an easier transition to an IB school in another city or country as the family moves on.

East meets West

To Chinese students, entering an international school may be seen as being taught in English, perhaps less homework, studying and playing with foreign classmates and more social activities. However, most expatriate children, especially from those Western countries who apply for schools using their own national curriculum, are not being delivered an "international education" but a "national education" in Shanghai. It looks like this kind of education is not so "international" to them. Will it be a loss if they just follow similar rules, staying in the similar environment but miss the opportunity to study with local children and learn something from them?

To stand out from the many international schools in Shanghai, SUIS Gubei promotes a holistic international education by integrating elements of both Eastern and Western education. Chinese language and culture study are compulsory subjects for both local and expatriate students. Students from Chinese-speaking areas in SUIS Gubei study the same teaching materials as the students in local high schools.

Meanwhile, three study levels of beginner, intermediate and advanced are designed for non-native and lower ability Mandarin students.

Expatriate children can learn Chinese from complete beginner such as how to greet and appreciate others, learning basic Chinese characters and pronunciation. When progressing into the advanced level, most of the students will be qualified to take the HSK test and get a Chinese language certificate.

Although English is still the main teaching language in international schools, Chinese study becomes more and more important since most expatriate families are willing to know and integrate into local Chinese society, and they would love to see their children do this, too.

Parents will doubtless understand the range of challenges confronting any organization which fuses East with West. Most schools avoid the challenge, but what international education at SUIS Gubei has been pursuing is not a simple importation of Western curricula, but a delicate combination of the advantages of both the Chinese and Western education systems, where the strong points of Chinese and foreign principals bring out the best in each other.

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