THE educational philosophy that has enabled the German Swiss International School (GSIS) to grow into one of Hong Kong's finest academic institutions has been very aptly summed up as 'two systems, one school', by Eberhard Schierschke, headmaster. 'We have wide versatility as there are two streams - German and international - under one roof. In spite of all this we are proud to function as a single unit, for there is a high degree of co-operation and integration between the staff and students in both the streams,' Mr Schierschke said. A unique academic experiment that has proved its success over the last 25 years, the school has students from 35 nationalities in keeping with Hong Kong's cosmopolitan nature. And to ensure that it operates as one cohesive academic unit, the school has deliberately chosen to use one language, English, for administration. 'We have worked a miracle of sorts by combining two of the most important European educational systems - those of Germany and Britain - under one roof. At the same time, we bring the whole school community together through co-operation and integration. We do things which are quite extraordinary,' Mr Schierschke said. 'In the German stream classroom teaching is done in German, but inter-school communication is predominantly in English. This gives the students in the German stream a chance to improve their English. We have also borrowed the British system of holding school assemblies, and these are always held in English,' he said. 'Despite the obvious apprehensions in people's minds the 'two systems, one school' philosophy does work in actual practice. Giving up part of your traditional line of thinking for the sake of co-operation with the 'other' stream and at the same time avoiding the danger of watering down either of the two systems is quite an achievement. 'With the horizontal and, more importantly, the vertical breakdown of the school it demands the ability and willingness of all those involved to compromise wherever and whenever possible,' he said. The school authorities are quite aware of the obvious pitfalls of running such a dual system under one roof. 'The concept of co-operation between the two streams is being continually reactivated and propagated and its enemies - narrow-mindedness, egoism and lethargy - overcome. All efforts in this regard are worthwhile as we not only owe allegiance to the founding philosophy of our school, but also to the future of our students,' Mr Schierschke said. The school's attempts at fostering a high degree of co-operation and integration between the two streams under one administrative umbrella has been quite a success, with the GSIS enjoying an excellent reputation in Hong Kong. Germany delegates 11 teachers including the headmaster to serve at the GSIS for a period of about six years each; Switzerland subsidises the pay of three teachers from that country; and Austria delegates one teacher officially to Hong Kong. 'The uniqueness of our system is that we have the two streams under one roof. But the classes are held separately as the requirements of the German and British school systems are, of course, different. For example, English students would find the German history lessons and some other topics to be difficult and unnecessary,' said Mr Schierschke. 'The only exception is in sports where students of both streams mix together freely. We make every effort to bring the students together outside the classroom. We have introduced the British house system and have divided the students in approximately equal numbers into four houses. We have also adopted the British system of holding assemblies, but with a German touch - the assembly is held every fortnight, where students report on class trips and projects,' he said. There are also a lot of other activities that involve the entire school like dramas, and discos on Friday nights for students from form one to three in both streams which are supervised by the teachers. The school also has the prefect system prevalent in British schools. The prefects are elected by students of both streams and represent the entire student body. This also goes a long way in promoting closer interaction and understanding between the students of the two streams and their teachers. Rosita Ibrahim and Eva Maegerlein from the international and German streams respectively are head prefects of the school. 'The school does not consciously select head prefects to give equal representation to both the streams and our selection by the school body at the secondary school levels was just a happy coincidence,' said Ms Ibrahim. 'We represent the students of both the streams as we are elected by the student body of the entire secondary school,' added Ms Maegerlein. There are a total of 13 prefects and they meet once a month to discuss the problems that they and other students face. 'We act as liaisons between students and teachers. We also put forward suggestions for the students and if the majority are in favour then we put it forward to the teachers for approval,' said Ms Ibrahim. 'We also help the teachers to organise the discos on Friday nights,' she said. 'The idea behind the disco is to keep the students off the streets and from experimenting with drugs and indulging in other undesirable activities,' said Ms Maegerlein. 'With students acting as DJs, ordering pizzas, and generally having a good time, the atmosphere is extremely pleasant and attractive,' she said. 'As prefects, we help the teachers who are on duty during disco nights.' The school plays a supportive role in the prefects' activities and helps them to organise events like those which promote environmental awareness. 'We organise the collection of used paper, batteries, cans, ring pulls and other waste materials. These are then sent for recycling. We also organise beach cleanups,' said Ms Ibrahim. 'We come up with suggestions and improvements which students sometimes seek like new team uniforms, better canteen food and other little changes which can go a long way to a happy campus life,' she said. 'At other times, if some students come up with unreasonable or unpopular suggestions we try to reason and convince them,' said Ms Maegerlein. 'We also help the teachers to organise sports and games, outdoor events, functions like quiz competitions and social events like student-teacher fun games, charity matches and annual bazaars,' she said. Turning to the structure of the school, it is basically run by the German Swiss International School Association which elects the School Board at its annual general meeting. The chairman of the School Board is Werner Brenker, a senior corporate figure in the territory; and the vice chairman is Dr Leung Kam-tim a senior faculty member of the University of Hong Kong. Dr Leung is also the supervisor who deals with the local educational authorities as required under the Hong Kong Education Ordinance. Further, under the two streams it has a total of seven departments. The international and German kindergarten streams, the German and English primary levels, German and English secondary levels, and a vocational training department. 'The vocational training scheme is a dual education system adapted from a similar one in Germany. Under this educational system young people enter into apprenticeships or contracts of two years with a commercial firm; they are given on-the-job training but come to school every two weeks for theoretical training. This scheme is tailor-made for specific professions,' said Mr Schierschke. This is a diploma course which acts as career preparation for those who want to enter wholesale and export businesses. In the two-year course there are at present 11 students undergoing their first year of training and seven students who are into their second year. The minimum qualification to enter this course is GCSE. And the 'Diploma in Wholesale and Export Business Studies' issued at the end of the course is recognised in Germany. Under the course, apprentices get very sound theoretical and practical training. This system of training is prevalent only in three countries worldwide - Germany, Sweden and Japan - where apprentices are trained in a wide variety of fields. 'People in Hong Kong could learn from this system, as there is a dearth of people who are professionally qualified for many different trades. In Germany, under the law all professionals and skilled persons need a similar formal training to enter any particular profession or trade,' said Mr Schierschke. At the same time, the headmaster was quick to dispel any apprehensions that discipline at the GSIS has a touch of the so-called Prussian drill. 'Students at our school enjoy a relatively wide sphere of freedom but they learn at the same time that their freedom must not infringe or interfere with the freedom of others,' he said.