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January 31, 2012

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SUIS offers best of East and West

THERE are essentially two types of international school in China: One type is a piece of a foreign field that will be England or California; not even - by law - allowed to accept Chinese mainland passport holders in. They are wonderful schools and would be able to claim they were more international.

The second type not only welcomes Chinese students but aims to integrate East and West - a seemingly impossible task. How can such diametrically apposed curricula co-exist? How can it be possible to encourage bilingualism in English and Chinese while still covering other subjects to the standards of an international curriculum? This is the story of one school that has set this lofty goal as its mission and reason for being.

Nearly 10 years ago Shanghai's schools offered just one type of international school. You either got an international education or you learned Chinese and got a Chinese education - no middle ground. Onto this middle ground stepped a Chinese professor and an English government school inspector.

Professor Hu Wei and HMI Trevor Higginbottom had met each other in Hong Kong - and they had a plan. They took an international curriculum and a focus on English and provided this while integrating with the Chinese environment. To do this their plans called for Shanghai United International School (SUIS) to have team-teaching in the classroom with one Western teacher and one Chinese teacher. The focus was not on having a Western teacher and a Chinese assistant; team teaching at SUIS requires the equal sharing of ideas across the cultures.

These teachers teach thematic lessons. Thematic lessons are those that cover subject material, such as history or science, in a more connected way; helping students understand the subject better by linking new knowledge with things they have already learned. It is easier to understand volcanoes if the fertility of the land is discussed along with the dangers - something which covers subjects ranging from geography to physics.

To understand this better it is best to discuss the state of the art as used at SUIS Pudong. Here Dr Roger Morgan and his team have developed a curriculum that takes global issues and topics that affect us all and applies them to the English National Curriculum. In other words, ensuring that the English National Curriculum is followed in a thematic way. The twist being that the theme lessons are bilingual and take advantage of our location here in China.

Of course, SUIS Pudong also teaches English and Chinese subjects, five hours each every week, so while the benefits of teaching the cross-curricula themes bilingually are many, it is especially valuable for students to be able to practice and switch in and out of English or Chinese as the lesson section requires.

At this point it is probably best to point out how we get our students to be bilingual; how we take a child who has one language and give them another. Essentially it is down to great language support; we have an English as an Additional Language team and a Chinese as an Additional Language team. These specialists enable children to, in a relatively short time, benefit from the school's immersive bilingual environment.

In addition, science and maths are team taught bilingually up to Grade 4, enabling students' equal access to the National Curriculum of England, no matter where they come from.

At Grade 5 our SUIS Pudong children take the National Curriculum of England Key Stage 2 exams - and they get better results than students in the UK. The results don't stop there however: at SUIS Gubei campus in June 2011, the school at IGCSE got 37 percent A*-A and 80 percent A*-C grades - these are outstanding results, and all our top students are bilingual.

SUIS is chosen by families that value the concept of East and West working together, and recognize that having both the English and the Chinese language accords students advantages that exceed even the value of the wonderful grades we get.

What has been begun at SUIS is a truly international school, one that melds the finest results aimed at securing places at internationally renowned universities with an understanding of global issues and a celebration of bilingualism.

But perhaps the most valuable lesson for our students is to see how day-to-day Chinese and Western teachers naturally work and teach with each other.


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