State boards to profit abroad

CANADA

Money made setting up private schools abroad will be ploughed back into the British Columbia state system. Nathan Greenfield reports.

PUBLIC education boards in British Columbia are to raise extra funds by setting up private schools in foreign countries.

The state education ministry announced earlier this year that boards - equivalent to local education authorities in Britain - would be allowed to set up private schools abroad. It was expecting scores of applications from boards by this week's deadline.

Ministry spokeswoman Kate Thompson said the move put boards "at the vanguard of international entrepreneurial provision of education".

Ms Thompson said there was a great deal of overseas interest in the state's curriculum in developing countries such as China. The ministry hopes the enterprises will also increase overseas interest in places in higher education in the state.

The province's largest school board, Vancouver, which has large numbers of Chinese immigrants, is hoping to set up schools in Shanghai, Guangzho, Beijing and Qu Fu, the birthplace of Confucius. "What we are trying to sell is both managerial and educational expertise," said Barbara Buchanan, chairwoman of the Vancouver Board. "We have a wealth of experience in teaching principals leadership skills. As well, we want to sell our expertise in teaching the British Columbia curriculum and English as a second language: 50 per cent of our students arrive in our classrooms without English, many speaking Chinese dialects."

The schools will operate under the same regulations being followed by the Dalian Maple Leaf school, a British Columbia-certified private school in Liaoning Province. Instruction will be in English; the principal and teachers must be certified by the British Columbia education ministry. Students will get both a Chinese and a Grade 12 BC Diploma.

Neither provincial nor school board officials were able to comment on how much profit they hope to make. "The business company that we have set up ensures that there is no liability for the Vancouver school district and that any profit will be ploughed back to the board," said Ms Buchanan.

However, Allen Blakey, a trustee on the Vancouver board, warned that the initiative could mean that, under international free trade agreements, Canada would be forced to allow in foreign education firms. A supporter of public education, he was also uneasy at the promotion of schooling for profit. "I get nervous when I see what looks like private education becoming the dominant model," he said.

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