|A class at Chadwick International school in Songdo in the Incheon Free Economic Zone. (Chadwick International)|
The recent selection of Songdo as the location for the secretariat of the United Nation’s Green Climate Fund is good news ― not only for the Korean government, but also for international schools in the free economic zone, said Jeff Mercer, headmaster of Chadwick International.
“We’re very thrilled about the GCF, which will be coming to Songdo very soon. We’re very optimistic. It will be very meaningful for us to raise the ratio of international students,” he said in an interview with The Korea Herald.
Located in Songdo in the Incheon Free Economic Zone, Chadwick International is a prestigious education provider with its main campus on the Palos Verdes in south Los Angeles, California.
Established in 1935, Chadwick is one of the U.S.’ most renowned private schools for kindergarten to Grade 12 students.
Chadwick International was built in 2010 on more than 46,500 square-meters. Its abundant facilities include a gymnasium, swimming pool and a 700-seat indoor theater. Inside its main building, there is also a tele-presence room, where students at Chadwick International regularly participate with Palos Verdes students in joint classes and projects.
Now in its third school year, there are about 700 students, nearly 90 percent of whom are Korean. But, Mercer said, it plans to double the number in the next five years.
|Jeff Mercer, headmaster of Chadwick International|
The 44-year-old headmaster, who will complete his term in Korea as he heads back to the U.S. campus this summer, admits he has had a “wonderful” yet “challenging” time in Songdo.
On one hand, he has to stress the school’s reputation to attract new students, while on the other hand, he has to make sure to adapt a different education format here.
He admitted that the school, in particular, had been hampered by a recent admissions fraud involving several foreign schools ― so far more than 90 parents reportedly bought forged documents from brokers to meet the requirements for enrolling their children in foreign schools.
“We’ve been lumped in (with foreign schools); that’s not something that has affected us,” he said.
Under the current law, only children who have lived overseas for more than three years or have a parent with foreign citizenship are entitled to study at the foreign schools.
He pointed out that the rule, however, does not bind international schools built in Free Economic Zones, like Chadwick.
“So we don’t have those families (who forged documents) on our campus,” he said.
He said, however, it was understandable why the parents so desperately wanted to send their children to foreign schools here.
“I’m not going to sit here and say it’s okay to forge passports, but we have to look and understand what the issue is and why these parents want that kind of education,” he added.
Herald: Can you briefly explain Chadwick’s curriculum?
Mercer: The three most critical parts of our missions are: academic excellence, development of exemplary character and self-discovery through experiences.
For the academic excellence standpoint, this is what we talked about students being at the center of learning with the guidance of teaching faculty.
One thing that we offer that is different to anyone else is we had this one school, two campus approach, so we’re really working to create in both Korea and Palos Verdes with same mission.
Herald: What are the difficulties in bringing your education format to Korea?
Mercer: There have been some challenges. Especially, when you are working to explain what is all about as a school, what the philosophy and what the vision is, it’s really important parents understand. And here in Korea for many parents this style of (Chadwick) education, in which we put students at the center of the learning experience, is new to them.
Herald: What is the current ratio of students to teachers, and local to international students?
Mercer: We have a student-to-teacher ratio of 8:1, and currently about 10 percent of them are international. We understand we need to grow our international population as an international school. We do everything we can but these are challenging times for international schools in Korea; there aren’t many expatriates living in the country.
But now we’re very thrilled about the Green Climate Fund, which will be coming to Songdo very soon. There will be thousands of jobs associated with GCF and with associated companies. So we are very optimistic.
Herald: What is your perception toward the criticism that only affluent parents send their children to international schools as an alternative to sending them to study abroad?
Mercer: It’s a concern. I am not going to lie. It’s a concern in Palos Verdes as much as it is a concern here ― international private education is not something that everyone can afford.
We believe we can help keep families intact. Families don’t have to leave the country to receive a Western education that they desire. But, we also know that if we only educate the very elite members of Korean society, we’re not doing it right, so we have to continue to find ways to provide opportunities for others.
Herald: Chadwick International will have its first graduates in 2016, and some parents here will be eager to see their college admission rate.
Mercer: My personal opinion about that is, we need to be careful about using that figure as the way we evaluate our effectiveness. We know that the most important thing for our children is to develop their skills all the time.
Where do they go to college? If it is Harvard or it’s one in Washington, if it is the right fit for children then the child will be in wonderful shape. There are thousands of wonderful colleges out there. We’re going to put children into some of the most selected colleges, but we want to make sure that if our students know who they are, and understand what is important to them ... then I think we’ve done our job.
By Oh Kyu-wook (firstname.lastname@example.org