Studying abroad not for every child

Updated: 2014-03-24 08:26

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)

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Parents should have 'candid' chat with kids about decision: head of US school

Yang Runrun, a student at the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China, can't help envisioning campus life in the United States after earning a spot in the core leadership summer program at the Hotchkiss School.

"I am looking forward to further interacting with American peers and experiencing the secondary education in America in depth," said Yang, who will spend two weeks in the US in June with the program offered by Hotchkiss, a renowned boarding high school in Lakeville, Connecticut.

While studying abroad has long been a trend for Chinese collegiate students, younger students like Yang and their parents are trying to bring the adventure in advance by applying for secondary schools abroad, despite the hefty tuition and cultural shock that younger students might face.

The ambition of Chinese parent, is understandable but the decision has to be made cautiously, said Kevin Hicks, head of Hotchkiss.

"Not only does the decision need to be right for the kids, it also has to be right for the parents. If the parents are not prepared to send their children away, they should not do it," Hicks told China Daily after giving a speech at an international secondary education seminar on Sunday at Yang's school.

"Parents need to be able to engage in conversation with their children about what are the goals (to study abroad early on), what are the potential pitfalls, and how will the kids stay connected to native culture," he said.

"If a family can't have a candid conservation about these concerns, that's not a good indicator of readiness," Hicks added.

Hicks' remarks were echoed by Chinese education experts, who indicated that the growing number of young students going abroad only reflects the impatient ambition of Chinese parents but won't guarantee the healthy development of their children.

Yu Minhong, founder of New Oriental Education & Technology Group, said it's more appropriate to send children overseas after they graduate from high schools in China.

"It's better to go abroad after building a solid foundation of their native language and culture in high schools. Otherwise, children tend to struggle in self-identifying and be vulnerable to negative effects of culture shock," Yu said during the recent Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Hicks agreed, saying that "overcoming a potential sense of cultural isolation" might be the biggest challenge for young students to blend in with campus life in the US.

However, he stressed that most of them succeed in the transition and excel academically and beyond.

According to an analysis released by the Ministry of Education, 23,795 Chinese students were registered during private high schools in the US in the 2012-13 school year, while the number was only 65 seven years ago.

The introduction of international classes, which operate as lead-up programs for overseas high school admissions with international curriculum, is also flourishing at public middle schools in China.

In Beijing, 17 public secondary schools operated 22 international-class programs, which enrolled 1,355 students in 2013, almost tripling the recruitment number in 2009, according to the analysis.

The growing demand of Chinese students for elite secondary education has lured some foreign schools to reach their biggest overseas market more directly by establishing joint facilities with Chinese schools.

Earlier this month, Dwight School, a renowned college-prep school in New York City, joined with Shanghai Qibao High School to establish an independent boarding school, which plans to enroll 150 students with tuition ranging from 120,000 yuan ($19,500) to 150,000 yuan per year.

Zhong Binglin, a CPPCC member and president of the Chinese Society of Education, said such initiatives will boost the exchange on curriculum setting and faculty improving, which will eventually push the reform of China's exam-oriented secondary education.

Hicks said that Hotchkiss so far has no intention of establishing its own branch facilities in China, but will bring more faculty exchange programs.

Initiated in 2012 by Hotchkiss, the teacher-to-teacher program has brought 200 high school teachers from rural suburbs of Tianjin to seminars, where they learned advanced teaching methods from Hotchkiss teachers. The program will be brought to Foshan, Guangdong province, this year.