Chinese K-12 students a booming demographic for B.C. schools
May 25, 2016
Vancouver Sun | The average age of Chinese students arriving in B.C. and Canada is dropping dramatically as growing numbers of international K-12 pupils, not just college students, are enrolling in local schools.
Kurland says the statistics suggest a shift in the thinking of Chinese families about how to get their children — and perhaps themselves — Canadian residency. He pointed to recent changes in Canadian immigration law that make “Express Entry” a lottery system for international college students, causing Chinese families to seek ways to improve their chances.
“It used to be, if you are from China, and you are in Canada on a college study permit, you had an excellent chance of gaining residency,” Kurland said. “They may have had to wait, but students could say, ‘I know I’m in.’
“The new system threw all of that predictability and transparency out the window. It didn’t make sense to gamble $30,000 to $40,000 a year (on college) if the goal was permanent residence.”
Experts say sending students to Canada at a younger age speeds integration into Canadian society and improves their chances for residency in a number of ways. Kurland speculates that Ottawa may already be looking at changes to give residency preference to students who graduated from Canadian elementary and secondary schools. But there are other reasons why parents are sending their children to B.C. earlier.
Huichen Li, 26, has first-hand experience.
“I have asthma, so my parents thought coming here would be better for my health,” said Li, who is currently president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s campus in Richmond. “We thought we could get adjusted earlier by coming earlier.”
Li arrived in Canada as a Grade 10 student and attended North Vancouver’s Bodwell High School, a private international boarding school. He lived in a dorm for a year before his parents followed him.
Randall Martin, executive director of the B.C. Council for International Education, said China’s previous “One-Child Policy” put a lot of pressure on many families’ only child. If a child has the responsibility of possibly supporting all family members as they age, going abroad early can be very important, he said.
“Basically, a child has six guardians: two parents and four grandparents,” Martin said. “Ultimately, the sense from the families is that — if the state can’t support those six people — that one child has to. … And if you’ve got one child, you want the best for his or her health, and that’s not going to be in a major city in China. With the ability of all these relatives to support a student going abroad, it’s almost a no-brainer.”
The enormous market also means many B.C. schools actively court Chinese K-12 students, which concerns some in the industry.
Paul Romani, founder of Vancouver’s Pear Tree Elementary, said his school accepts very few international students, and charges all students similar fees. But many other institutions charge significantly higher fees for international students, giving administrators an incentive to go after more Chinese students, he noted.
“There are some private schools in B.C. that are increasingly exploiting the higher fees charged for international students, as well as the unbelievably generous ‘donations’ … which few B.C. families could ever compete with,” Romani said.
There is also the issue of the well-being of these younger Chinese students outside the classroom. Li recounted how the Canadian education model, with more free time and an emphasis on self-discipline, left him often feeling lost during his first year here.
“I almost felt like I had too much free time,” he said, noting some younger students who come without their parents develop bad habits.
“In China, the schedule is all laid out. Here, if you don’t have class, you can sleep until noon. You may get by like that in high school, but if you bring those habits to college, you’re not going to succeed. I was lucky because I come from a very strict family.”
Li recommends parents hold off sending their children until Grade 10 or 11.
“That way, the kids have already developed study habits and are more self-reliant, but also young enough that you can get used to living here — especially the food, which I had a hard time with — before needing all your attention for the intensity of a college education.”
Even better is if parents come with their children, he said.
Romani said schools need to be much more aware of the well-being of younger children outside the classroom.
“We are totally against the homestay family or boarding school approach for young international children,” he said, noting Pear Tree requires the students to come to Canada with a parent or family member. “It is too stressful for them to be in a new country and without their families.”
Martin note that B.C. was the first Canadian province to introduce homestay guidelines for international K-12 students last summer. Statistics show about 17,000 students used homestays in 2014-15, with an economic impact of $400 million.
“These guidelines have been brought in based upon the fact we have increasing numbers of K-12 international students, and we’re just trying to make this live up to our reputation as being a safe destination for these families,” he said, adding that B.C. has ample homestay capacity to handle the growing number of students.