School District 54 officials recently travelled half way around the world on an international education trade mission.
Superintendent Chris Van der Mark and educators Craig McAulay and Mark Fehr were three of the B.C. education officials invited on the tour of Beijing and Harbin. The purpose of the 10-day visit was to see if there are cultural exchange possibilities between the two countries.
“It was a pretty neat adventure,” Van der Mark said. “We’ll certainly be looking to create and facilitate chances for students to go on exchanges. If we get to the point in the next few years if we’re bringing in 10, 15, 20 and getting a chance to send that many the other way, it’s a great opportunity.”
The trip was paid for by the Harbin Education Authority.
The size of some of the schools they visited was staggering, Van der Mark said. One facility had more than 5,500 students. SD 54, by comparison, has 2,100 students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 in the entire district.
In the past, SD 54 students and staff have been involved in exchanges with countries in Western Europe, Mexico and South America. An exchange with China could open up a whole new world of opportunities to kids in the district, Van der Mark said.
The Bulkley Valley is an attractive area for Chinese students because there are very few people in the area who speak their language.
“They don’t want their kids to come over to Canada and default to speaking Manadrin,” Van der Mark said. “They want Canadiana. They want a Canadian experience.
“The other thing we have, which you could fully appreciate if you have been there, is clean air.
“Our only limiting factor is capacity, in terms of providing home stays for kids.”
But it wasn’t all business. While in China, the educators visited the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China. Van der Mark said the Great Wall was, “…the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen.”
While the tourists were gawking at the historic sites, the Chinese people were staring at Van der Mark, the six-foot-six SD 54 superintendent said.
“I think I caused a couple of car accidents, literally,” he said. “I could have made money, charging for photographs. They couldn’t get enough of me.”
Despite some of the overwhelming differences between China and Canada, Van der Mark said they are having the same conversations there about personalizing education.
“They’re asking the same questions, educationally, that we are,” he said. “At the end of the day, there are a lot of similarities in education. We want to meet every kids’ needs. We want to make sure no one falls between the cracks.
“It’s not easy for us to do. Imagine it on that scale?”