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The schools of the Empires fight back?

What is the current state of play when it comes to International schools? Melanie Butler gives her verdict

Bitish international schools are nothing new – the English Schools Foundation in Hong Kong dates back to 1894 when the King George V School was opened in Tsim Sha Tsui for the children of local British colonialists.

Nor is Britain the only colonial power to have opened schools in its former Empire and leave them behind when it left. The Grand Lycée Franco-Libanais in Beirut, Lebanon, was founded in 1909 and is still the flagship of the 16 lycées in the country. Unlike the British, whose colonial schools were modelled on the historic public schools and were independent of government and not for profit, the international lycées were part of the French state school system and the 529 state recognised lycées in 139 countries are still regulated by the French educational authorities.

The American government has also long supported schools offering a US-style curriculum. The State Department still lists 193 assisted schools, known as schools at posts, since many were originally set up for the children of US diplomats posted overseas, though not all of them receive financial support from the American government or offer a strictly American style of teaching

“Several provinces in Canada offer accreditation for the growing 
number of Canadian schools overseas”

There are now new government-backed players on the block. Several provinces in Canada offer accreditation for the growing number of Canadian schools overseas and there are moves in that direction in Australia. Haileybury School in Melbourne (founded in 1892 by a former pupil of Haileybury College in England with the college’s permission) now not only has five campuses in Australia, but a branded affiliate school in Beijing and partner schools in Guangzhou in China, Timor L’Este and the Philippines.

Perhaps the latest state to enter the international school market is not a Western power, but an educational superpower. Singapore International Schools (SIS), a group backed by the Singaporean government and, reportedly, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, has opened campuses in Hong Kong. Dhaka and Mumbai. Meanwhile, Indian style international schools have long been established in the Emirates and other locations with high numbers of Indian expats, including Singapore.

The Chinese government is also rumoured to be looking at expanding its network of Mandarin-medium schools overseas.

So, who is winning in the war of the international schools? Cambridge International, a department of the University, claims 10,000 Cambridge schools worldwide, which certainly knocks the lycées into Napoleon’s cocked hat. But while all Cambridge schools take Cambridge academic subject exams in English, not all of them by any means are British-style international schools.

Apart from a pat on the back now and then, the British government gives little to the British international school movement, but then it never has.

It is down to associations, such as the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) and think tanks including the Independent Schools Council (ISC) to supply the information and backup they need, not only in areas like curriculum and teacher recruitment, but in more difficult situations, such as child safeguarding, which we deal with on pages 8 and 16.

Isn’t this just a British obsession? After all, that’s what the grandees of Education France said when a French teacher, recently released from a British jail for molesting his students on a school trip to England, asked for his teaching license to be restored. Two years later he was arrested for sexually abusing a pupil in his school in rural France.

Safeguarding children is not just a matter for British schools or even British international schools. William Vahey, an American teacher described by the FBI as “one of the most prolific and heinous alleged predators we’ve ever seen”, worked in American international schools across the world for nearly 40 years, despite having convictions for child abuse in California, before he was caught by the American school in Nicaragua. He fled to the States and committed suicide

Nor is it just international schools. Richard Huckle – dubbed “Britain’s worst paedophile” by the British press, worked as an English language teacher in Christian church communities in Malaysia where he raped and filmed the abuse of children. He was later killed in jail by a fellow inmate.

The truth is that paedophiles go where children are: schools, language schools, churches, even scout groups. And all too often in the past, schools the world over have either ignored the problem or have dismissed it.

I remember contacting an international school in Indonesia where a reader had tipped us off that a notorious paedophile, James Fraser Darling, had worked before getting a job in EFL. The school confirmed that Darling had worked there, but denied he could have been a paedophile because “the children loved him”.

If British International schools and their associations can help schools across the world recognise and root out the danger in their midst, it will be better for everybody.

Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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