Beyond academic studies
North American-based curricula develop the character, writes Sally Course
Breadth of studies, high-school diplomas, learning outside the classroom as well as inside and development of the whole child are some of the characteristics of schools operating Canadian or American curricula in Hong Kong.
Children start primary education at such schools at the age of six, with up to three years of kindergarten previously. Education continues at middle and high school until the age of 17 or 18. Academic studies alone are not regarded as sufficient, with sports, community service and the arts playing an important role.
In both US and Canadian education, students graduate by satisfying requirements for a credit-based diploma. This opens the way to higher education, although US universities also require students, including those based in the US, to sit the standardised Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).
At many schools, Advanced Placement courses, which earn senior students college credits in specific subjects while still at school, are available, although the number of courses on offer varies. These courses help make students' university applications competitive both locally and at institutions around the world.
Schools following North American curricula in Hong Kong adapt their programmes to their location by offering Putonghua, Asian studies and more global perspectives in social studies, history and geography. Character development, leadership skills and student participation are strongly promoted.
Graduates of both American and Canadian schools in Hong Kong gain entrance to universities worldwide, including Hong Kong.
Schooling in Canada comes under the Ministry of Education in each province. This accounts for certain structural differences in education between provinces. But all lead to recognised secondary school diplomas that open up entry to universities worldwide. Most international schools offering a Canadian curriculum in Hong Kong adopt the system used in Ontario. Canadian International School of Hong Kong is one. Allan McLeod, its former principal, said the province offered a quality curriculum, high recognition worldwide for the Ontario Secondary School Diploma and a large pool of Ontario-trained teachers to draw on. Ontario graduation diploma requirements were particularly suitable for international education, offering students a wide range of subjects to choose from. Community service and a literacy test are part of these requirements.
Schools in Hong Kong should be authorised by the Ontario Ministry of Education in order to grant credit and award the diploma and the ministry carries out annual inspections to ensure standards are being met. Eighty per cent of teachers must be Ontario-certified at high-school level. At lower-grade levels, a school has more flexibility in setting benchmarks for the teachers it employs and its assessment methods.
Christian Alliance PC Lau Memorial International School currently offers a Saskatchewan-based curriculum and diploma but has future plans to move to the Alberta system. This offers a similar Western Canada curriculum, but places greater emphasis on standardised testing and professional development of teachers.
There is no national education system in the US and a variety of schools exist in each state. However, a bank of broad national standards have been developed in different subjects.
Christian Fox, principal of American International School in Hong Kong, explained that these were adopted by individual states and used to create their own standards-based curricula, although states retained great autonomy.
A US-based curriculum sees students continuing to study a range of subjects at the high-school level leading to a credit-based graduation diploma. As this is awarded by the school, it is important for US-curricula international schools to gain accreditation from external agencies, such as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, to validate the diploma and gain university acceptance for its students.
Schools offering a North American-based education in Hong Kong: American International School (American), Canadian International School of Hong Kong (Ontario), Carmel School of Hong Kong (American - to middle school only), Christian Alliance PC Lau Memorial International School (Saskatchewan), Concordia (generic North American), Delia School of Canada (Ontario), Hong Kong International School (American), International Christian School (American), Phoenix International School (Ontario), Think International School (Ontario - primary level only), Sunshine House Preparatory School (Ontario - primary level only).