Canada cashes in on culture

15th October 2004 at 01:00

Fee-paying foreign pupils increase ethnic diversity and boost finances of state schools. Nathan Greenfield reports

State schools in Canada are opening their doors to fee-paying pupils from foreign countries in an attempt to increase ethnic diversity in their classrooms.

The policy also puts much-needed cash into school coffers, as parents have to pay up to $14,000 (pound;6,200) a year for the privilege.

Ann Stockdale of the Canadian Education Centre Network, which markets Canadian schools in 20 countries, said: "Even though Canada's urban centres have a wide range of cultures, it's a different experience to present kids with a student from another country. They bring a different and more global perspective to things."

This year more than 14,300 primary and secondary students will pay tuition fees to attend public schools in each of Canada's 10 provinces.

"The Canadian education system is well regarded around the world," said Ms Stockdale. "Our students score well on international tests. We are perceived as a welcoming, secure country."

Newfoundland hosts 70 foreign students from Mexico, Thailand, Vietnam and China. Haywood Blake, chair of its international student education programme, said: "Because we are an island, the amount of contact our students have with other students is very limited. We recognise that the world is a global marketplace and that, to prepare our students to meet this challenge, the more contact you have with other cultures the better."

But authorities in more diversely populated areas, such as Ottawa, are also keen to add to the ethnic mix of their classrooms.

Tina Chow, director of the international student programme in Langley, British Columbia, said: "Cultural enrichment is the main reason why we have recruited from overseas. We have to have future leaders who are more international in their thinking and what better way to do that than by having students from other countries in our classes."

Geoff Best, managing director of Ottawa's international student programme, said the Ottawa board wanted to expose pupils to "even greater numbers of kids from different parts of the world. They are cultural ambassadors whose work ethic sets a good example to our students".

Ottawa has 249 fee-paying pupils from 22 countries, including Korea, Hong Kong, China, Brazil and Mexico.

In most provinces tuition fees help pay for extras like the school band.

However, in Saskatchewan, where enrolment has been declining for 15 years, funds raised from tuition fees are vital for keeping schools open. Armand Martin, director of the language, culture and community branch within Saskatchewan Learning, said: "We have high schools built for 800, running with only 600 students. If you recruit from overseas, you fill the school and can continue to offer a wide selection of courses and other activities."

Besides having to cope with Canada's famously cold weather, these students report that adapting to learner-centred classrooms is the biggest adjustment they have to make. "Teachers teach differently here," says Marie Ohasi, 17, from Tokyo. "In Japan it's hard to ask questions. Here, if we don't understand, it's easy to ask questions. And you can choose your own courses here."

In addition to tuition, students pay a home-stay fee that averages $600 (Pounds 267) per month.

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