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Friday, June 01, 2007

Censored B.C. schools in China 'sub par'

Curriculum's watered down if hot topics avoided, experts here say

Janet Steffenhagen has sure done her homework. What does Shirley Bond have to say to that? It would be in Shirley's best interest not to confuse Canada's standards with China's. Oh BTW, this is what is going on in China's classrooms these days - it is quite far from the Confucius make-over and polished image that we're fed through the media.

Vancouver Sun: Published: Friday, June 01, 2007

B.C. schools in China are making false claims if they say they are delivering the B.C. curriculum while also avoiding hot topics such as Tiananmen Square, China's relationship with Taiwan and its human-rights record, educators said Thursday.

Schools that are unwilling to tackle controversial issues are delivering a watered-down education that is not worthy of a B.C. graduation diploma, said Charles Ungerleider, an education professor at the University of B.C.

"An education is designed to lead you out from the narrow confines of your previous knowledge and experience," said Ungerleider, who was deputy education minister from 1998 to 2001. "If education doesn't do that, it has failed you."

Schools that avoid controversy will devalue the B.C. diploma, he added.

Ungerleider made the comments after The Vancouver Sun published confidential excerpts from handbooks distributed at two B.C.-certified schools in China warning teachers to avoid "politically sensitive" topics such as Tiananmen Square, Taiwan, Tibet, the Dalai Lama, Falun Gong, Japan and China's human rights record.

The handbook said the growth of foreign high schools had prompted the Chinese government to apply strict ideological scrutiny over textbooks and instruction in those schools. It told teachers to feign ignorance if students asked about those topics.

The schools -- Grand Canadian Academy in Tongxiang and the B.C. Maodun High School -- are certified by the provincial government to teach the B.C. curriculum and award B.C. diplomas. Education Minister Shirley Bond said Wednesday she remains confident they are doing that, despite the handbook.

Others were skeptical.

Wayne Axford, who teaches History 12 at Burnaby Central secondary, said one of the advancements of the B.C. education system in the past 25 years is the willingness to examine sensitive subjects and look at issues from all sides.

He said several sections of the B.C. curriculum would naturally lead to some of the forbidden topics. For example, History 12 students are expected to understand the impact of the Cold War on China and the Middle East (which needs mention of Taiwan), evaluate economic change in China (which raises questions about rights and freedoms) and understand the struggle for human rights (Tiananmen Square).

"I can't imagine teaching History 12 without controversy," he said. "That's what makes it interesting."

The B.C. agent for the schools, David Maljaars, said the section of the handbook warning teachers away from politically sensitive issues no longer exists.

But a former Maodun principal said he does not believe that means teachers are now free to teach as they would in B.C.

Doug Roy, who resigned in January, said he was not only told by the school to avoid controversy, but he was also cautioned by local Communist party officials to watch what he said.

But a representative of another B.C.-certified school in China -- Sino-Bright School in Beijing -- said teachers in that school approach the curriculum exactly as they would in B.C. "There are absolutely no restrictions on what they can teach," said Brian Fichter.


Still, he said he wasn't surprised that some schools worry about Chinese oversight. During a recent seven-month stay in China, he said his phone calls and e-mails were monitored and he was followed everywhere by government officials.

"They knew where I was all the time," he said. "But are my teachers restricted? Absolutely not."

Don Currie, a former principal with B.C. Maple Leaf schools in China, said he was warned by Chinese department heads in his school to avoid certain topics, but he told his teachers to teach as they would in any B.C. school.

"There were never any repercussions," he said.

jsteffenhagen@png.canwest.com

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