MORE THAN JUST CLASS: A student shoots a video in an extra-curriculum activity on the RDFZ campus on November 23 (WEI YAO)
Sunshine pours into a cozy, warm room on a winter afternoon in Beijing, where a 59-year-old British man talks in a low and melodious tone about his long relationship with China.
"This is my 15th trip to China. I first came here in 1995 when I was the authorized biographer of (former British prime minister) John Major. Then I started to come back because I was interested in Chinese education."
His name is Anthony Seldon, headmaster at Wellington College in Britain, and also a political historian and commentator. This time around he was in China for the opening of Wellington College International Shanghai on November 25, which is the second satellite school Wellington has opened in the country. The first branch opened in Tianjin in August 2011.
Besides setting up international schools in China, Seldon has established cooperative programs with the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China, often referred to as RDFZ, and it's this relationship which sheds light on the potential future of China-Britain academic ties.
Seldon's ties to RDFZ began in 2008 when he invited the latter to become a member of a group he runs including elite high schools from around the world. RDFZ headmaster Liu Pengzhi agreed to join. Seldon said that he was impressed with Liu's appetite for building bridges abroad.
"She has a tremendous zest for overseas contacts. She has a vision of the school being connected with the most iconic schools abroad," Seldon commented. "She was very keen to meet people."
Wellington College is among the more than 30 overseas high schools RDFZ has built up ties with in the past decade. Other such schools include Phillips Academy Andover and Phillips Exeter Academy in the United States, Eton College in Britain and Ressu Comprehensive School in Finland.
"Against the backdrop of globalization, we should keep up with the trends in education across the world," Liu said at a school master training center she founded in Shanghai in October. "We need to know what high schools in the rest of the world are doing in order to progress in the right direction."
During the past four years, Wellington College has helped RDFZ to improve its A level courses and to start its IB (International Baccalaureate) courses.
A level features a focused range of subjects for specialist study while the IB offers a balanced selection of languages, sciences, humanities and arts along with a course in the theory of knowledge and an independent research project.
In 2009, 70 students in the China-foreign cooperation class of RDFZ were admitted to British, American, and Australian universities, while the figure rose to 108 in 2011 and is expected to surpass 260 in 2012 according to RDFZ website.
"Every year, Wellington College sends their teachers and other faculty members here to help make our curriculum more full-fledged," said Li Jing, Deputy Principal of RDFZ.
Earlier this year about 10 teachers and department heads visited RDFZ. Next January, one music teacher from Wellington will have a workshop with RDFZ teachers to discuss methods of teaching music.
In addition to academic collaborations, the two schools have carried out a variety of cultural exchanges. For example, RDFZ students brought to Wellington their dancing and musical performances and Wellington students came back with Shakespeare's Othello directed by Seldon himself in April 2010.
Seldon is keen to set up schools in China. "We are not in China to take money out of the country. We are trying to provide great opportunities here in China for contact between our children and teachers in England and the children and teachers here," Seldon said.
Wellington College opened its Mandarin Center on June 2, the largest center in Britain dedicated to teaching Chinese culture and Mandarin.
Seldon has realized that China culturally and economically is going to be as important to Britain this century as America was in the 20th century, which is why he has been pushing his students to learn Mandarin.
"With America it's easy because we share one language and many people have family connections with America. With China one has to work harder because it's a bit further away and because there's a significant linguistic difference," Seldon said.
RDFZ has sent teachers to the Mandarin Center. Currently there are 91 out of 1,050 students at Wellington learning Mandarin and Seldon has joined them as an avid learner.
Looking into the future, Seldon believes the relationship between the two schools will grow closer. "Because digitalization is transforming education, we can have joint classes together in Beijing and Britain within 10 years," he said. "I think we'll have a more successful and a more peaceful world if we are friends and can cooperate."
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