Going public is wise choice

Technology | Lisa Kao 16 Apr 2019

Canada has long been a hot destination for Hong Kong students seeking overseas education. Its safe, friendly environment is well known, and the less stressed education system is an attractive factor.

The international executive director of the Canadian Association of Public Schools, Bonnie McKie, explains the system for international students studying in Canada.

The association comprises more than 130 publicly funded school districts. It is non-profit and promotes the international education programs of Canadian public schools.

Just like Hong Kong, Canadian's elementary and high schools are divided into public and private schools. But the differences does not lie in tuition fees. Public and private schools have similar fees. Public schools educate everyone, while private schools are usually based on religion and choose their students.

Among the two kind of schools, more than 95 percent of Canadian parents choose public schools for their children. Public schools are also gaining popularity with international students.

"Every year the international students studying in our public high schools are increasing by 5 to 10 percent," said McKie. "Last year over 40,000 international students studied in Canada."

The international students come all over the world, including Brazil, Mexico, Germany, Vietnam, Japan and Hong Kong. "But for most of the schools, mainland China had the largest percentage, followed by South Korea." They usually go abroad at the age of 14 or 15. "But there is a trend of coming at a younger age, around 12 to 13," said McKie.

Public schools are spread across all 10 provinces of Canada. Every province has its education system, but in general they are less stressful. "The primary difference between Hong Kong and Canada is the lack of formalized exams."

Not ranking the schools, there is no national or provincial exams in most provinces, even for university entrance.

"Universities look at high school records of the 11th and 12th year, and also other experiences like volunteering, hobbies and interests, to see whether they are engaged in the community."

International students may have to take a English proficiency test for universities, but it depends on the duration of their studies in Canada. "In some cases, a student of four years may not have to take one," said McKie.

Despite having no standardized exams, schools are not totally exam free. There are quizzes throughout the semester.

And year-end assessments can be done through exams, presentations and projects.

"But for many students, it is less stressed," she said.

For Canadians, instead of allocating schools based on their academic results, it is more likely for students to go to schools in their neighborhood or close to their interests.

"We have 130 members from the west coast to the east coast. They have some specialized projects, like sports academy, dance academy or music programs," said McKie.

But the schools provide the same core subjects, with some specialized courses.

Another difference depends on location. "Students have more urban activities if the school is located in big cities," she said. "If it is in the countryside, they have more outdoor activities like camping and skiing."

Most international students prefer well-known cities - like Vancouver and Toronto - because of its name.

But in recent years, programs from other areas have started to appeal. Most of the schools have 10 to 20 years of experience hosting and educating international students, and some 30 years.

McKie said each school has a similar education system and similar activities and teams for students.

"We have all different types of students - very shy, very outgoing, curious, brave." She said the students generally improve their language skills and become more independent after they have studied in the country.

Seeing the increasing number of international students coming at a younger age, McKie recommended them to study abroad at the age of 14 or 15 for grade nine and ten.

"This will prepare them for post secondary. By the time they graduate, they will be very proficient."

Some parents would like to send their children earlier, but McKie said most schools place students to host families only at the age of 12. "They can come a bit early. But from my experience, grade nine to ten is sufficient for them to perform well."

She said that most international students will adapt to the new environment within a month.

To apply for a public school, there is no minimum requirement in English proficiency. "They will look at the last two years of school results. They can get a place as long as their grades are good." IELTS do not have to be taken.

"When they arrive in Canada, they have to take a test to see what level of English they have, and determine what appropriate courses to take."

McKie recommended students to apply a year before to ensure they can be placed with a suitable host family. She suggested choosing schools based on their study interests, environment and career path.


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