Reflections on BCIS

Posted by on April 1, 2012

The Geek Squad

March is the season of Student Led Conferences at Beijing City International School. A year ago we attended our first, after we’d only been in Beijing a couple of months.

The Little Scientist

We spent an hour each with both Miles and Sofi reviewing the school work they had done over the last year. Sofi was first, we went to her home room where she showed us a powerpoint that she’d prepared that walked through each of her subjects and the main projects she’s worked on. We then walked up to her science lab where we met her self-declared favorite teacher Mr. Desari. The lab facilities are amazing, a dozen individual stations each with their own ventilation systems. We first examined a filtration experiment where dirty water was poured through dirt, rocks, and cotton and came out clear. Mr. Desari then asked Sofi what was the one thing that hadn’t been removed from the water : salt. We then went to another station where Sofi showed us how they did an experiment where they boiled the water and condensed it into another beaker leaving the solid salt behind. They measured the weight of the water before and after and were able to detect a difference in the density of the water. From there we went to one of the stations that was set up for a demonstration of determining acidic / base and PH Balance. We used PH paper strips and an electric PH meter to measure the PH factor of common liquids such as milk, water and soap. Very cool stuff.

The Value of a Teacher

We walked over to Miles classroom, he was very excited and kept running out ahead of us. We met his teacher Mrs. Diba Kader. Miles has been lucky enough to have her last year for 1st grade and then again this year when she transitioned to teaching second grade. She’s been amazing and Miles has flourished under her gentle guidance.  He is doing 100% better on his reading, spelling and his confidence around others.  You can tell his genuine admiration and pride in pleasing her.  He was excited about getting his clip-board and walking us through is projects on timelines, important people and building structures.

The Swimmer

Afterwards we went over to the BCIS pool so the kids could show off their swimming skills.  Pretty sure they just wanted a chance to swim and play around.  Stac and I sat and watched them and it gave me pause to reflect on the education of our kids in China versus that in the US.

First and foremost the school at BCIS is full of top rate educators, like the headmaster Nick Bowley and teachers. Their focus and commitment to education is not unique, I believe you find that the world over no matter what school you attend.  However it seems that in general there are more great teachers in the international areas than in the US.  Perhaps its a result of better pay (I really have no idea what their pay scale is) or perhaps its the fact that the international experience attracts a different individual.  Either way we’ve loved the teachers we’ve had in Issaquah, but I’ve been impressed by those at BCIS.

Second the BCIS facilities and staff are world class.  Maybe not as nice as a Saudi prince’s school in Dubai, but compared to a public school in Washington they are pretty great.  Clearly a building does not a schools make but they are really exemplary.

Third, they have a huge focus on technology.  While there are many small things that could be improved here they are to me mostly cosmetic/usability issues that I am overly sensitive to given my vocation. In general the focus and use of tech far exceeds that in the US.  Every week for example the headmaster, principals of the elementary, middle and high school send out an wiki/electronic news letter. Each week Miles teacher sends out a wiki link recapping the week including pictures she takes and posts while in class.  All homework and grades on online and accessible by students and parents.  Each kid in middle school and high school is required to have a Mac (purchased by parents).  Very impressive and important for the way the future is going.

I wonder how much of these last two are the result of the increased financial capability of a private education system and the corresponding high tuition. I don’t mean to criticize the tuition as its paid by my company but it is obviously much much higher than the US public school. For ex-pats living in Beijing there are few alternative education opportunities, there are no public (or free) English schools in Beijing, though there are some Chinese schools that are supposed to accomodate foreigners. However  everything is taught in Chinese and the education systems are so different that its not really an option.  Combine this with the fact that parents are able to financially comply with requirements such all students to have a computers and there is more money to spend on facilities, on teachers and education materials.  Not only this but the fact that labor in China is much cheaper means most every teacher at the school has a Chinese assistant, which is a great aide to the teacher and students in terms of attention to their educational needs.

But more important than the factor of money is the style and focus of the education itself. The inquiry based approach, the de-focus (compared to US) on standardized testing and standardized curriculum and focus on the child’s needs and fostering creative and critical thinking I feel are much more effective in achieving real learning and creating the foundation and skills for future learning. The experience has been wonderful opportunity for our children and we are grateful.  Thanks to all at BCIS and those that made this possible.

A Year Later

2 Responses to Reflections on BCIS

  1. stacey griffith

    I’m very sad to leave BCIS. The kids in just a year have grown so much and have met many wonderful people, both friends and teachers. They will walk away from their education experience here with wonderful memories and broader minds. Thank you to all those at BCIS that made their transition here smoother and their time enjoyable.

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