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Embassy school provides multicultural experience

Updated: 2013-05-23 02:01
By Mike Peters ( China Daily)

To fully appreciate the long and close ties between Pakistan and China, the best place to start may be in kindergarten.

Specifically, the kindergarten at the Pakistan Embassy College in Beijing. It's a melting pot of bright young faces, where kids from more than 50 countries undertake traditional schooling and also learn to be global citizens.

The honor of creating the country's first international school — founded in 1969 at the behest of then-premier Zhou Enlai — went to Pakistan, which was among the first countries to recognize the People's Republic of China.

"It started in an apartment in the Diplomatic Residence Compound," said Asif Ehsan, vice-principal, who has become the institutional historian after working there for nine years. "Then they rented four or five rooms for a few years when the numbers grew. The first building on the embassy campus was built in the 1970s, and the newest block, Cambridge Block, was completed in 1985."

Today the school takes about 400 students under its wing — 200 from Pakistan and 200 from around the globe — from kindergarten through A-levels (US high school). Families can choose a UK curriculum or a Pakistani course of study. Parents in most diplomatic families, or those in international business, choose the former.

"A parent's first question is usually, ‘Are your classes taught in English?'" said the school's principal, Shagufta Saqib Ansari.

All diplomas are issued through the University of Cambridge, where the Pakistan embassy school is registered and certified as an approved examination center. "Once they have completed O and A levels," Ansari added, "our students can go to any university in the world."

While this accreditation sets the school firmly in the global education mainstream, other aspects of its mission set it apart. You can find the occasional precocious scion of an Egyptian or Italian diplomat — "People think I'm American because of my English," a well-spoken level-four student assured China Daily on Tuesday — but the admissions office also makes a point of saving places for youngsters from war-torn and undeveloped countries. Students from such nations often get a discount to attend.

"So our school is not so business-based," Ansari said, smiling. "Our primary goals are about the education and also strengthening ties with China."

Priorities in education are traditional, with emphasis on classroom learning.

"We have a few clubs like other international schools," the principal said, "and our students are introduced to Chinese culture through music and other activities. But a British-style education, with a public-school outlook, is one of the attractions here for many parents.

"We are also less expensive than other international schools," she added, noting that there are about 80 such schools in Beijing's Chaoyang district alone.

About half of the teachers are from Pakistan, where the school has no trouble recruiting top teachers. "Last month we had 3,000 applicants for four vacant posts here. So, we can choose teachers from the best institutions in Pakistan," Ehsan said.

"The school has played an important role in promoting people to people contact and cultural ties between Pakistan and China," Ansari said. Noting that the school now offers O- and A-level students both leadership training and internships in China thanks to active links with Chinese education agencies and businesses, she's proud that the school has all the hallmarks of today's global village.

"We are not just preparing our students for the next grade level," she said.

"We are preparing them for life."

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