At an Australian school about an hour outside of Beijing, Chinese students are learning English – fast.
“I promise to be responsible, I promise to be responsible, and do my best, and do my best,” they recite after their Australian teacher.
It is a new way of teaching in the East.
Western methods are replacing traditional Chinese ones taught in local schools.
Student Niki Geng said before she started at the school, she could speak only minimal English.
“The class is very small. I can ask questions if I have a problem and the teacher will answer me right away, and in traditional school I can just write it down and ask the teacher after class,” she said.
There may be less pressure in class, but there is high demand from Chinese families.
The principal and chief executive of Haileybury International School, Nicholas Dwyer, said this is because of several reasons.
“Firstly there’s the curriculum. They study the same subjects that they will have at university and they get a VCE and an ATAR score so the pathway is there. Secondly they really get to understand our Australian western culture,” he said.
Student Oliver Wang said as a result, getting into tertiary education courses overseas becomes easier.
“If I come to this school it will make it an easy pathway for me to go to an Australian university,” he said.
Niki Geng wants to study psychology at Melbourne University.
“China has not got a perfect system to study it, and Australia does, and I want to sudy there. And the weather is very good, Beijing has a lot of air pollution,” she said.
This education model was brought here from the Haileybury school in Melbourne, three years ago.
The two campuses have student exchange programs.
In Beijing, class numbers have grown from 150 to 400, but the school is only operating at a third of its capacity.
Bilingual teachers are essential – half are foreigners, half Chinese.
Year 12 homeroom teacher Dawn Yang is one of them.
“We also educate them to be Chinese from their heart wherever they go they will be Chinese,” she said.
In China, there are constant concerns youth are becoming too “westernised”.
Mr Dwyer says the school tries to maintain tradition and culture.
“So even though they might look and sound as if they’re Western, I don’t think it’s fair to categorise them that way – and it’s a bit dangerous. [It is ] much better to think of them as becoming global citizens so that they can work comfortably across a couple of cultures,” he said.
Oliver Wang said his family sees it as important for East and West to meet.
“In my family we keep the tradition really good. Also in the school. We have Western education in China but we still keep our tradition. Our way of culture keeps going from our life,” he said.
The push by schools like Haileybury fits with Trade Minister Andrew Robb’s vision.
He believes Australian education exporters could be teaching up to 10 million overseas students in less than a decade.
And Mr Dwyer said the Chinese market is becoming much more lucrative.
“The Chinese government has lifted restrictions on private schools and the ability for private schools to make a profit. There are a lot of investors who see this as a good way of making a profit and contributing to the development of their country,” he said.
But Niki Geng said Australia has more to offer than just education.
“Can I say that I love coffee, and the coffee in Australia is better than here.”