Gill and Ron England, from Quesnel, are living and working in China. Submitted photo

Englands in China: Quesnel couple experiences typhoon in Foshan

Ron and Gill England are living and working abroad and sharing their experiences with the Observer

Ron England

Observer Contributor

After tiring of bitterly cold winds and thick smog during the winter months in Langfang, we decided to continue our Asian adventure in a humid subtropical climate in southern China. Gill accepted the position of principal of the British Columbia Offshore Secondary School at Majestic International College in Foshan.

Foshan, really just a suburb of Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton), is located in Guangdong Province. With a population of 7.6 million, Foshan is only 120 km from Hong Kong. The city is part of the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone; main economic activities include ceramics, and electronically appliance factories which produce more than 50 per cent of the world’s air conditioners and refrigerators. Furniture and beverages are two other important industries.

Upon our arrival in late August 2018, we were amazed at the rich diversity of tropical vegetation surrounding our high rise apartment complex; towering palms; massive bougainvillea sprays of red, purple, pink and white, thick beds of Chinese Hibiscus and the unusual Bird of Paradise plantings.

This tropical paradise was to be slammed by Typhoon Mangkhut on Sept. 16. After devastating the northern Philippines, the most powerful typhoon in 30 years roared into Guangzhou, Foshan, Hong Kong and the Pearl River delta. In preparation, all schools and trains were cancelled. After clearing off our courtyard balcony of chairs and plants, we heeded the warning of the apartment complex officials: stay inside, close all curtains and drapes, and hunker down away from windows. All entrances to the complex were lined with sand bags; elevator service was shut off. The typhoon was certainly an unsettling experience. Torrential rain pounded horizontally accompanied by shrieking sustained winds that topped 100 mph! After battering the city for eight hours, the storm moved further west. Fortunately, Foshan sustained far less damage than Hong Kong; yet, dozens of uprooted palms and piles of construction debris lined the streets the next morning.

Majestic International College is in its second year of operation. The small campus is new construction, built to resemble those venerable British institutions of Oxford and Cambridge; at least that is the explanation given by our Chinese hosts. No expense has been spared in building a modern, technologically advanced secondary school facility which would rival any Canadian secondary institution.

Majestic International College houses two separate schools; the British Columbia Offshore Secondary School and the United Kingdom Secondary School. Plans to include an American secondary school have yet to materialize.

The British Columbia school has an enrolment of 85 students, Grades 9-11. Now I hope all teachers in Quesnel are sitting down before reading further: amazingly the school has eight full-time teachers as well as a 50 per cent vice principal and a full-time principal (who, I might add, has no teaching duties). Based on my “old” math skills, this works out to a student teacher ratio of 10:1. All teachers are B.C. certified; staff are from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec.

I should not leave the reader with the impression that working at MIC is an ideal situation. As “head cook and bottle washer” I am not privy to the day-to-day administrative and educational “issues” (reminds me of the: “I have a desert paradise to sell you in Florida…”); however my weekly get togethers with staff at the apartment complex cafe have shed some light on the trials and tribulations at MIC. It appears to this writer that having two separate schools operating under the same umbrella has caused some friction between the two. The UK school certainly has favoured status; enrolment in the UK program is over 300 compared to the 85 registrants in the Canadian.

Many Chinese parents have the perception that the best foreign post-secondary institutions for their children are Oxford and Cambridge, or an Ivy League institution in the United States. Correspondingly, a UK secondary offshore school is the preference, as well. During our visit to Hoi An Vietnam last February, Gill and I had coffee with a young British teaching couple who were employed at a private school in Signapore. When I asked directly if they thought the British secondary school program was superior to those in North America (particularly Canada), the economics teacher responded: “Quite the contrary, Ron. We British simply do a better job of selling that idea.” It is difficult to compare international systems of secondary education… but never one to not speak my mind, I will offer one example when supporting the B.C. system which Gill and I were a part of for over 23 years.

PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test results for 2015 were released in December of 2016. PISA assesses students from 72 countries and all 10 provinces on a triannual basis. According to a news release from the B.C. Ministry of Education, Grade 10 students in British Columbia “earned the top-spot for reading (United Kingdom: 22nd; United States: 24th), second in science (United Kingdom: 15th; United States: 25th) and sixth in mathematics (United Kingdom: 27th; United States: 40th).” Now, the internet is full of articles from supporters and detractors of PISA; each side presenting reasoned analysis to support its particular “spin” of the usefulness and reliability of the test results. However, some value can be gleaned from the results if PISA is simply viewed as only one snapshot of student achievement. Well done, British Columbia. Enough said!

Time to pack the bags for the two week Christmas break; the tranquil waters of an island paradise beckons in Vietnam!

In the next article: Christmas Break on Phu Quoc Island and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) Vietnam.

Ron and Gill England are Quesnel locals living and working in China.

READ MORE: Quesnel residents discover a day in the life of a Chinese student

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