Unique school with two systems
THE Chief Secretary, Sir David Ford, will officially open a magnificent new sports hall and classroom complex at the German Swiss International School on October 16.
The topography of the Guildford Road area of the Peak meant the only way to obtain a flat floor was to build the new sports hall on stilts. By using the spaces between the piles, a further 22 classrooms have also been created.
''This has eased a room shortage that was beginning to dictate the time-tabling, a clearly unacceptable situation,'' said Eberhard Schierschke, the Oberstudiendirektor or headmaster.
''We were generally satisfied with most of our buildings, but were short of adequate sports facilities, so about five or six years ago we began planning this $55 million sports hall annex,'' he added.
''The scale of this investment proves conclusively our positive view about the future of Hong Kong,'' he said.
Funding for the project has been derived through the school's sophisticated debenture scheme. Companies which sponsor the education of their executives' children must take out a $60,000 debenture per child. Parents who enroll their children privately areobliged to buy a $30,000 debenture.
The debenture is repaid, at face value, to the company or parent at the end of the child's school career. The interest accrued is retained by the school.
''The sports hall, which has international-standard amenities, has been in regular use since it was completed about four months ago,'' said Mr Schierschke, ''because we obviously could not leave it untouched until Sir David's visit.'' The school currently has about 1,120 students enrolled, ranging from three to 19 years of age, and representing more than 35 different nationalities.
It was first mooted in 1963, when a group of German and Swiss residents of Hong Kong felt the need for a school which would cater to the special requirements of their children.
It was intended to provide an education in their mother tongue of a comparable quality to that available in their home countries.
This school was also to reflect the cultural and racial complexity of the territory, and would also offer places to English-speaking students.
Years of planning and preparation led to the founding of the school in 1969, when it opened in a private villa in Barker Road, with Ingrid Buchholtz as principal.
Expanding rapidly, it soon outgrew its original premises, and it also became evident that truly bilingual education at the secondary level was impractical.
So, when the school moved to its present site in Guildford Road in 1975, it was divided into German-speaking and English-speaking streams. Each follows an appropriate national curriculum, and the qualifications earned here are fully recognised in both countries.
The German Swiss school is thought to be unique in operating two entirely different educational systems within the same establishment.
''We invented the concept of 'one school, two systems' long before the Chinese, who obviously adapted the notion from us,'' Mr Schierschke suggested, almost keeping a straight face.
The two streams are kept apart completely for classroom work, preparation for and examinations.
''But the maxim of the school is 'International Communication', so virtually all the institutions of the school are fully integrated.
''We even have a very English 'house' system, with Dragon, Lion, Phoenix and Tiger houses to foster friendship among students beyond the classroom barrier,'' said Mr Schierschke.
''Teachers, staff and parents are allowed to make comparisons between the respective systems, but an absolute cast-iron rule is that the comparisons cannot be competitive,'' said Mr Schierschke.
''We are not here to find out if one is better than the other. We are here to make both work as well as we possibly can.
''But I confess I do have a personal dream - to combine the best elements of both to produce a truly superb education system.''