Private sector hits the jackpot

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 June, 2007, 12:00am

Business boom brings growing demand for quality education

Business is booming o the mainland and Macau, and where there are young professionals, there are children in need of a quality education.

In the case of the mainland, the picture is one of steady growth. Conservative estimates put the number of foreign students in Beijing and Shanghai last year at 26,000, and that's without adding the many expatriate children in other thriving cities.

In the case of Macau, the casino boom has led to the need for an urgent expansion in independent school places. It was reported recently that although only 4,058 babies were born last year in the former Portuguese colony, the population rose by 21,150. Against this backdrop has come the foundation of the International School of Macau (TIS), a multinational institution with students from 38 countries, which follows a Canadian curriculum accredited by the province of Alberta. The school, with 600 students and plans for a new campus to take that to 900 and ultimately 1,500, extends an independent education sector that had comprised only the Macau Portuguese School, which teaches in Portuguese, and small School of Nations.

One of TIS's founders, Neil Johnston, said the economic boom had fired expansion at the school.

'Last year we had a growth rate of more than 25 per cent and we expect that to continue for at least four to five years until the school is full,' he said. 'We took the step in 2006 of opening up additional classes in Grades Six, Seven and Eight.

'These classes weren't even close to being full but we knew we had to do that in order to create space for families arriving with children of all ages.

'That meant in effect creating our own growth plan. We are looking to have classes that will not exceed 25 students and an adult-to-student ratio of 1:11.'

On the mainland, Shanghai may so far have been the engine of growth, but other cities are catching up. Guangdong has spent the past few years planning and developing day and boarding facilities, offering cost-effective competition to boarding schools in Britain, Australia and North America. Beijing has also grown, with two of its longest-established international schools, the 27-year-old International School of Beijing (ISB) and 13-year-old Western Academy of Beijing, doubling capacity over the past few years.

'Beijing has developed a lot in the past few years and people are positive about living here,' an ISB spokesman said. 'We've also noticed that young couples are choosing to stay here to have children, whereas previously they would have been more likely to return home.'

Mainland schools offer a wide range of studies, many offering the International Baccalaureate and North American curricula, but there are also many British-based schools, accounting for a large proportion of those opening recently.

Dulwich College is a good example of British-based expansion, having extended beyond its successful Shanghai school in the past couple of years to partner with the International Montessori School, which has four campuses in Beijing. It also has plans to open new schools in China.