Affluent London families send their kids to Chinese-English institutions

By Sun Wei in London Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/2 20:33:39

The first group of kids in London join the Kensington Wade bilingual preschool to better study the Chinese language and culture in October. Photo: Courtesy of Kensington Wade

Like a tranquil hidden gem in the noisy west end of London, Kensington Wade, a preparatory school, has made big waves on the Internet, both in China and the UK.

As the first bilingual English-Chinese prep school in Europe, which opened in September with a nursery and a reception class, it has been praised by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, Sir Anthony Seldon, as "the most exciting school in this country."

"The reason behind it is to equip our children, the future generation, with the ability to speak Chinese, understand Chinese culture and be comfortable with a world where China is already increasingly playing such a strong role," the school's headmistress, Jo Wallace, told the Global Times.

With fees set at £17,000 ($22,500) per year, the school currently hosts 15 children from diverse family backgrounds, including from the UK, the US, Russia, South American countries and other European countries.

But one thing those families have in common is that the parents are highly intelligent businesspeople who are either working with China or understand the importance of it and hold high aspirations for their children.

The school is the brainchild of Professor Hugo de Burgh, who named the school after Sir Thomas Wade, the author of the first Chinese-English textbook published in the 1860s.

"China is currently the leading trade partner for 124 nations. We want to prepare the next generation to make the most of that opportunity," said De Burgh.

Learning Chinese a new trend

"This school is looking into the future; it's a 21st century school," Wallace told the Global Times, adding that in the past, the most popular foreign languages in the UK were French, German, Spanish and other European languages due to historic reasons. But in recent years, learning Chinese has become a new trend.

 "I am thrilled to be part of not only just a new school, but also a new brand of education. You don't get that opportunity much in your lifetime, particularly in education, prep education," Wallace said. 

Before joining the school, Wallace was the head of Putney High School, a highly academic independent all-girl school in London.

With around 20 years of experience in independent schools, Wallace believes that Kensington Wade is able to offer very high quality prep school education, with an extra advantage of being able to produce bilingual children.

Thanks to their "immersive" bilingual education, bilingual schoolchildren are able to switch freely between the two languages, not just when learning grammar and vocabulary, but also when learning mathematics, history, sports, music and other courses, making a big difference to their language skills.

Kensington Wade offers children aged 3 to 11 a curriculum influenced by successful Chinese and English educational practices. 

On the one hand, Kensington Wade retains the tradition of British independent schools, encouraging a broad range of subjects, innovative thinking and independence. On the other hand, the school hopes that pupils can understand Chinese culture through learning Chinese songs, Chinese literature and so on.

Starting young

The demand for Chinese has risen in the UK. Emma Morris, a parent of two daughters who currently lives in London, told the Global Times that she would love to send her kids to learn Chinese lessons as an extra curriculum item.

"Successful language learning is more likely the earlier you take up the subject," she said.

This is absolutely true for many parents, especially for those who've had some contact with China.

Cenn John, founder of the first bilingual Chinese and English nursery, Hatching Dragons, revealed that he originally set up the nursery group for his son.

John said he struggled in learning Chinese throughout his twenties, and thus wanted to give his son an opportunity that would make a difference to his future. 

"The ethos of this nursery is to get children understanding that there's more that brings us together than separates us," John told the Global Times, adding that language and culture awareness are both important.

With the majority of their kids coming from western families where Chinese is not spoken, Hatching Dragons is proving successful and is expanding quickly.

After its first nursery opened in 2015, this year it opened its second in Richmond, an affluent residential district of London. It is also planning to open one in Westminster and one near Canary Wharf in the near future.

John's efforts coincide with the British government's initiatives to better connect the UK and China. Chinese is seen as an important language for young British people to master, ensuring the country remains globally competitive in the future.

In 2013, former British Prime Minister David Cameron urged students to ditch French and German and instead learn more Chinese.

In 2015, former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced a £10 million "Mandarin Excellence Programme" to ensure at least 5,000 British students were learning Chinese by 2020.

This summer, almost 400 pupils completed the first year of the program. Pupils on the program study Chinese for eight hours on average every week.
"A high level of fluency in Chinese will become increasingly important in our globally competitive economy," said Nick Gibb, Minister of State for School Standards.

"As part of our drive to extend opportunity, we want to give young people the opportunity to study the language and to acquire fluency in both spoken and written Chinese."

Newspaper headline: Bilingual generation


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