Gerry Foley, Headmaster of Belvedere College, was one of sixteen school principals who travelled to China recently for a seven-day visit to Beijing and Shanghai. It was the first formal delegation of Irish secondary school principals to visit the People’s Republic of China, and was organized by the UCD Confucius Institute of Ireland and co-hosted by the Great Wall Chinese Centre. The aim of the trip was to enhance the delegation’s understanding of Chinese culture and the Chinese secondary education system, and to establish links between Irish and Chinese secondary schools. What these sixteen principals had in common was that their school curriculum included Chinese studies. They have been an option in Belvedere’s Transition Year since 2006. Part of the programme has been an exchange with Wah Yan, a Jesuit Secondary school in Hong Kong. Read more:
In September 2010 the first Belvedere group to be offered classes in Mandarin and Chinese culture began their studies. The course was heavily oversubscribed and now there are twenty students in the class. They hope to continue their classes for at least four years and possibly longer if a Leaving Certificate examination in Chinese Studies is introduced. In the case of Belvedere, securing a partner school for a student exchange was a primary objective.
On 11th October the Irish principals arrived in Beijing and paid a visit to the headquarters of the Confucius Institute in the afternoon. Dr. Liming Wang, director of UCD Confucius Institute for Ireland and Mr. Wang Feng, programme manager in charge of the communication affairs of Confucius Institute, welcomed the delegation and introduced them to the headquarter’s mission and running programmes.
The Irish delegation attended the seminar on Chinese and Irish Secondary Education on 12th October. Communicating a real enthusiasm to develop possible twinning projects and exchange programs, 12 Chinese principals introduced their schools and warmly invited Irish principals to visit their school. A special demonstration of Chinese language class was organized for the delegation on the 13th October, so that they could have a better understanding of the process of learning and teaching languages. The demonstration was held in the College of International Education of Minzu University of China (MUC).
After the demonstration, Mr. Yinghui Wu, Dean of the College of International Education, introduced the department of ‘Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language’ and international students in MUC. He also invited students from Ireland to study in China after graduating from secondary schools. Two students from Belvedere College SJ have already benefitted from a scholarship for a month’s study in Shanghai University during the summer, at the end of Transition Year. Mr. Foley the Headmaster visited School 80, one of the most respected state schools in Beijing. There, he and Tian Shulin, the Principal, established an exchange for students to commence in March 2011. To have an in-depth idea of how Chinese secondary schools are running, the Irish delegation also paid a visit to Beijing New Talent Academy. It’s an internationalized boarding institute integrating kindergarten, elementary school, junior & senior high school,the Cambridge International Centre university foundation program and the Chinese language program.
Apart from educational visits and academic seminars, Irish principals also paid visits to the Forbidden City (whose entrance is pictured here), the Great Wall, Olympic Stadiums and other historical scenic spots in Beijing. The delegation travelled to Shanghai on the 16th October and visited the Chinese and Irish pavilions in the Shanghai Expo venue.
According to Gerry Foley: “It was a whirlwind visit but it confirmed my belief that teaching Chinese language and culture is essential in an education that aspires to prepare students for life. Securing a partner school for a student exchange was a primary objective for me. The rich culture and history of China is fascinating, and the contrast it presents to our experience and preconceptions, is challenging and thought-provoking. The Confucius Institute, its Director, Dr. Liming Wang, and Xiadong Li (who organised the trip, and has taught in Belvedere) were of great assistance in finalising the details of our exchange in March 2011, and in developing a Chinese Studies programme. The award of the Confucius Classroom grant from the Confucius Institute recognises the work done to date in developing this programme and will assist greatly in future developments.”