Dipont Education opened its first two independent schools, RDFZ King’s College School Hangzhou and Nanwai King’s College School Wuxi, in September 2018. Since then, both have gone from strength to strength. Jeff Zhu, vice president at Dipont, responsible for the development of the schools, looks back over the first year and where the schools will go from here.
Dipont: Where are the schools now, in comparison to when they opened last year?
Jeff: When the schools opened in September 2018, they each had around 800 pupils. Now, in their second academic year, they have increased their enrolment figures to around 1,300 pupils each. This is remarkable because when we opened we weren’t sure whether parents in smaller cities like Hangzhou and Wuxi would respond to our hybrid model of internationalized education – there simply hadn’t been any schools like ours operating in those cities. Parents have been really enthusiastic about our educational approach and enrolment figures look healthy for next academic year too.
D: But the success of a school isn’t solely measured on enrolment figures, is it?
J: No, absolutely not. What’s been really heartening to hear is how our schools are having a transformative effect on pupils. Our model is very student-centered and responsive. We’re aiming to create a challenging – but supportive – environment. We’ve a lot of students who have transferred from other schools and many of their parents have told us that their child used to have to be dragged to school but that they now can’t wait to get to school because they enjoy it so much. That’s so encouraging to hear. We’ve heard the schools referred to as ‘smiling campuses’ because everyone, from pupils to teachers to visiting parents, is happy and enjoying their time there.
D: How do you plan to evaluate the schools’ ongoing success?
J: As well as ensuring that we’re creating nurturing, respectful and happy environments for everyone in our school community, ultimately success will be measured on where our pupils go after they graduate from us. We need to wait a few years before they are taking A-levels (and eventually the I.B.) but we’re hoping that by the time they are, having gone through our immersive bilingual system, that their English levels will be high or near-native. We would hope that they’ll achieve results that are on a par with pupils studying at the very best schools internationally. These results will enable them to study at the very best higher education institutions around the world.
D: What have been some of the challenges of the past year or so?
J: Language is an ongoing challenge – we’re trying to create an immersive bilingual environment, not just a Chinese school with some English classes added on. We’re teaching subjects and lessons in a mix of both Chinese and English. Obviously, Chinese is the first language of the vast majority of our pupils, so we need to ensure that they are learning what they need to while taking into account the difficulties of studying in another language. Some parents have expressed concern that their children are picking up subject content at a slower pace, especially in comparison to pupils studying in an all-Chinese environment, so we need to make sure we’re doing all we can to support students in their language learning. This includes increased English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction and adapting our curriculum model to reflect students’ learning pace. But, it’s early days yet and research shows that pupils in dual-language immersion programs can actually outperform peers who only study in one language. Our students will pick up their pace dramatically in the coming years and be extremely adept at working in the two languages – skills that will stand them in very good stead in the future.
D: How important is it that parents are supportive of what the schools are trying to do?
J: It’s absolutely crucial. By sending their children to our schools, parents are indicating that they’re supportive of our model. Indeed, many say that they love our vibrant, diverse and bilingual campus cultures. But, of course, we’re doing something very different and at times parents might struggle with that process, especially as it involves their children’s education. As we progress, working more closely with parents to explain what’s happening and to ensure their buy-in is going to be really important.
D: What’s next for the schools?
J: Well, there’s really such a lot still to do, it’s a journey of evolution for everyone involved. We’ll keep reacting and responding to challenges and opportunities as we move into a new phase of development, after our crucial first year. Each of the schools will continue to develop their own cultures and identities, staff will become more settled and experienced, and students more comfortable in the learning approach. We’ll continue to expand our provision and open up grade levels. Away from Hangzhou and Wuxi, we’re in the process of opening new schools in partnership with King’s College School, Wimbledon, in Chengdu and Changzhou. In addition, we’re well on our way to opening Shanghai Huaer College School Kunshan, which combines Chinese and American education. The demand for internationalized education in China is huge, we’re really just scratching the surface. There’s plenty to keep us busy for the next few years!