Shenzhen's Mission Hills International School to groom future sporting stars

The Chu family behind Mission Hills Shenzhen, the world's largest golf club, will extend their support of sport and education by opening a bilingual school in the Chinese border city with a strong sport syllabus

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 June, 2015, 6:23am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 June, 2015, 10:23am

The Chu family are keen supporters of sports and education. Although he made his first fortune in the paper and packaging business, family patriarch, the late David Chu Shu-ho, is best known for setting up the world's largest golf club - Mission Hills Shenzhen.

It became the crown jewel of a sporting and hospitality empire, and in turn led to the Chus focusing particular attention on sports education on the mainland.

Over the years, they have funded a host of such efforts, including a masters programme for China's physical therapists (jointly run by Polytechnic University and the Huazhong University of Science and Technology) and the school for sports science at South China Normal University in Guangzhou.

Now the Chus are venturing directly into education with the Mission Hills International School, which opens in Shenzhen in September.

"My father was an avid supporter of sports development in China. Our initial education initiatives were related to sports," says Catherine Chu Ka-ying, executive director of the Mission Hills Group as well as its international education arm.

Because of their experience of working closely with international educators to bring tertiary training opportunities to China, "the government asked us to consider expanding this to primary and secondary education".

As befits the family's experience in sports development, the new international school will have a strong focus on sports education.

An elite sports academy with places for 30 to 40 youngsters is being established within the school to nurture talented athletes in golf, tennis and ice hockey, says school head John Jalsevac.

"We will still have basketball and soccer teams and other sports training, but the elite academy only focuses on the three sports. Students get the chance to be exposed to all sports. But later, they can choose to specialise in any of the three."

The school will open in stages, starting with the preschool section in September. Fees are 90,000 yuan (HK$114,000) a year, with three teaching staff to each class of no more than 20 kindergarten pupils. The lower school, covering grades one to six, will open next year, with annual tuition set at 130,000 yuan, and the upper school, for grades seven to 12, will open in 2017.

A swelling pool of affluent Chinese parents eager for their children to get the best education available means the market for international education in China will continue to grow, Chu says. Moreover, the Chinese authorities are very strict when it comes to awarding licences for international schools, so there is a shortage.

Children in preschool and lower school at Mission Hills will follow both the Canadian and Chinese national curriculums, with half their lessons conducted in English and the remainder in Chinese. "We selected the Canadian curriculum because it has a good foothold in the Shenzhen region," Jalsevac says. "Many people travel back and forth between Canada and China and the programmes are strong in key cognitive strategies including problem solving, critical thinking, analysis, research and writing skills."

Upper school students will pursue the Middle Years and Diploma programmes of the International Baccalaureate.

While ensuring that students become competent at Chinese and English, Chu says the school also helps inculcate an appreciation of Chinese culture.

"Chinese virtues will taught from preschool. Chinese classics like Di Zi Gui [ Standards for Being a Good Student and Child] will be incorporated into the programme. Children are open-minded. If teachers instil such values when they are still very young, they will be receptive to such virtues as filial piety, respect for teachers and good manners.

"Young children can pick up a language very quickly, and language learning and culture come together."

Chu says she and her five siblings were fortunate to have had the opportunity to study abroad. For example, while her older brother Ken Chu Ting-kin, who is group chairman, went to boarding school in Canada, she attended school in the US and went on to pursue her undergraduate, master's and doctorate degrees at the London School of Economics.

"In the process, we became fully bilingual. But we also got the chance to remain true to our Chinese heritage," says Catherine Chu. "We want to replicate this model at our school."

Growing up, she says, the siblings were also active in sports, particularly Ken Chu, who played football and rugby at school, and is now a fine golfer. They hope students at Mission Hills International School will have similar exposure.

"Sports allow students to enjoy teamwork and stay healthy. Every child has to be given the opportunity to see what they enjoy and pursue it."

Elaborating on the school's elite sports academy, Jalsevac says although candidates will follow a special curriculum their maths and language development will not be compromised in any way.

"We will compact the academic programmes and extend their days so that we are able to balance sports with intellectual and academic development."

This intensive programme works best if the students are boarders, Jalsevac says. For youngsters who show passion and potential, grooming for a professional sports career can't wait until they are 20 years old. They need to develop their potential at a very young age.

With the school located next to the Mission Hills resort, all students can make use of its sprawling golf links, and also enjoy tennis, billiards and cycling. A large skating rink is being added and the school will introduce ice hockey into its sports programme when this is completed, says Jalsevac, who coached ice hockey in Canada.

A former principal of the Canadian International School in Hong Kong, he also founded the International Schools' Sports Federation of Hong Kong, and says competitive sports can teach teamwork, discipline and leadership skills.

"What you often see is many people who rise to the level of leadership in business or government often come from sports background."

With the Mission Hills Group also operating resort complexes in Haikou and Dongguan, Chu says they may consider setting up other international schools on the mainland.

"We see education as a very meaningful endeavour. We don't want to do this for the short term. We will expand with market needs. Setting up a school is an extension and enrichment of our Mission Hills community as our mission is to provide holistic and integrated community living."