China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative is most commonly associated with infrastructure and trade. But it is also manifested in the growing Chinese communities in some of the world’s more international cities.
Dubai is now home to at least 200,000 expatriates from mainland China, for instance. And many of them have families, creating new demand for a wider range of services dedicated to their community.
So the opening of Dubai’s first Chinese school on September 1 was welcomed by many parents.
The new facility – Chinese School Dubai – has been modelled on Hangzhou No. 2 High School, a much-respected college that sees 10% of its graduating students admitted to Tsinghua and Peking University each year. Founded by American Christian missionary WS Sweet in 1899, it claims to inculcate a “deep academic foundation, excellent core literacy and a strong sense of innovation”.
“Chinese School Dubai will inherit the glorious tradition and advanced education concept of Hangzhou No. 2 High School, providing the children of overseas Chinese in Dubai with basic Chinese education of high-quality,” added Li Xuhang, the Chinese Consul General in the emirate.
As the first state-sanctioned school outside China it will follow the national curriculum but include lessons on Arabic as a second language and Islamic studies.
The Chinese press is reporting that the school will also teach the ‘moral ideology’ classes that are compulsory in China, although under the broader title of “morality and law” classes.
The school is hoping for 2,000 enrolments over the longer term but it opened last Tuesday with 186 students and 37 teachers – some of whom were recruited in China by the Hangzhou Education Bureau
“We are honoured that the first Chinese-curriculum school outside of China is opening in Dubai. We look forward to the new possibilities and connections this will bring to our education community,” said Abdulla Al Karam, director general of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, in his words of welcome.
Xinhua points out that students of all nationalities can apply to study at the school, which is being seen as a pilot project for promoting Chinese education internationally. However, the local Chinese community are going to be the core customers (fees are a little lower than other international schools in the city too).
Mao Yiming, a long-term resident of Dubai and founder of the Chinese expatriate website Dubai Ren, offered this take: “Unlike domestic parents, who often worry that their children cannot learn English well, Chinese families in Dubai are more worried about their children’s poor Chinese literature”.
He also distinguished between three types of Chinese families in the emirate. Type-As see life in Dubai as a springboard to a fuller integration into the international scene, with plans to send their children to Western universities. Type-Bs hope to maintain their children’s Chinese language skills and sense of Chinese identity, but also want them to get a more international education and take a wider range of extracurricular courses. Type-Cs expect to be in Dubai for a shorter period of time and are more focused on finding an education for their children not too distant from what they might receive at home.
“Chinese School Dubai is mainly targeted at C-type families, and indirectly provides an alternative to B-type families”, Mao believes.
Meanwhile the new flagship school in Dubai is opening at a time when governments around the world are taking a more cautious view on the spread of Confucius Institutes – state-backed centres that promote Chinese language and culture. Some of the universities hosting these institutes have come under pressure to close them. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been particularly vocal in attacking what he deems their political motives. Indeed, all the Confucius Institutes on US university campuses are likely to close before the end of the year, after Washington said it would require them to register as “foreign missions”.
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