From day one, students at Ningbo Huamao International School in the Zhejiang province of China are immersed in an international atmosphere that unites Chinese culture with global perspectives. Beginning at crèche level, all teaching is bilingual, while every other aspect of school life is inherently multicultural, incorporating the varied backgrounds, languages and traditions of a diverse student body. “Our blend of nationalities gives our Chinese students surety in their culture, language and traditions,” says Principal Cheryl Keegan, “while affording the foreign children a real insight of Chinese life.”
This internationalism informs every aspect of the student experience, with a curriculum that fuses different systems, staff who share the most effective education methods and an environment designed to spark curiosity and inspire exploration at every turn. “The outcome,” says Keegan, “is children who truly understand that ‘difference is not wrong’.”
A global experience
At the primary level, the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme in English is matched with the Singapore maths curriculum, Australian social studies and science, and Shanghai Chinese. Classes are co-taught by two homeroom teachers, one Chinese and one from overseas.
“This truly international blend of philosophies, curricula, practitioners and methods asks a lot of teachers and students,” says Keegan. “But it results in language-resilient learners who are open to experience from any culture.”
For middle year and diploma programmes, Chinese Culture classes are taught alongside the IB framework. This maintains an unbroken attention to the students’ roots while cultivating their increasing international mindedness. The advantages are manifest. “Because good international education requires global examples and teaching methods, children become comfortable and skilled in reading, writing, interpretation and communication,” says Keegan. “This will aid their progress as tertiary students and adults in foreign cultures.”
Equipped for university
One hundred per cent of Ningbo Huamao graduates go on to tertiary education institutions around the world, with many heading to the UK, the US or Australia. As well as equipping students for university abroad and embarking on careers in a global marketplace, the school’s international outlook helps to broaden minds by offering knowledge and experience of other cultures. “As their tolerance and acceptance of others grows, they are more inclined to become advocates and balanced judges of situations of conflict,” says Keegan. “Future leaders in all fields will be inevitably interconnected, as our world is now intrinsically global.”
As the only school in the province licensed to take both Chinese nationals and foreign students, this environment is unique. While foreign students benefit from a deeper understanding of the country they live in, Chinese students enjoy access to alternative methods and modes of instruction. “For many of them, learning to question and to speak out goes against their families’ understanding of good schooling,” says Keegan. Foreign students, meanwhile, have a chance to master Chinese from their teachers and peers.
A public art gallery on campus helps to reinforce this celebration of difference in an environment of equality through creative displays. There’s also a science museum on site that exposes students to unusual real-world phenomena from the safety of the school grounds. “When we make educational decisions, it is always with an eye to how they will meld with our children’s surroundings and everyday realities,” says Keegan. “We take very seriously the maxim that one always begins with the familiar before launching into the exploration.”