German language is an educational spur

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2006, 12:00am

THE SWISS LOOM large in the world of high finance and international business, so it is perhaps fitting that the German Swiss International School (GSIS) has a prominent, high-elevation location on The Peak's Guildford Road.

The school has an impressive campus-style configuration. It occupies three modern buildings that house the usual international school facilities, including an ultra-modern information technology room.

The GSIS story began about 40 years ago when the few Swiss and German parents in Hong Kong got together to create a home for German-language schooling from kindergarten to secondary school.

GSIS was established in 1969 and now provides education for about 1,100 students.

GSIS principal Jens-Peter Green has been there for two years. His goal is to produce trilingual students with the accent on English and German, then either Mandarin or French as a third language.

Dr Green said when thinking of world languages, German tended to get overlooked, but it was the No2 language in Europe after English.

'If you look at the absolute numbers of speakers for whom German is a mother tongue, or second language, then you have 80 million German-speakers, with Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and in Eastern Europe, where German is generally the second language,' Dr Green said.

GSIS has two streams to serve two functions.

The German stream, or programme, is integrated grade-by-grade with the German and Swiss educational systems. The language of instruction is German and it focuses on enabling students to pass the Arbitur, the German inter-provincial secondary school leaving examination standard that is also accepted in Switzerland.

The second is the international stream, where the language of instruction is English. While exposing students to German-language instruction, the programme provides an education for students whose future probably lies beyond the Teutonic realm.

'We have students from about 30 countries, but many of our foreign passport holders are from Hong Kong families,' Dr Green said.

If these students are not Chinese they are typically from mixed families with one parent, mostly fathers, being Swiss, German or Austrian, while their spouses are Australian, American, Canadian, Filipina, Japanese, Korean or Indian passport-holders. Last year, GSIS introduced Mandarin as a second mandatory foreign language in the German stream. 'In Germany students take two foreign languages. Traditionally, this has been English and French or English and Latin. But we have many children whose futures point to Asia, so Mandarin has an important place in GSIS,' Dr Green said.