Shanghai skyline: Pearl Tower
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International high school
International high school
A group of teachers discussing their lessons
A job interview at an international school
Shanghai skyline: Shanghai Tower
Shanghai skyline: Shanghai Tower
Leader interview

Aug 1, 2017

Interview with Stephen Woolbert

Stephen Woolbert has been living and working in China for the past 8 years and is the Deputy Academic Director for Dipont Education.

He started his career in China with Dipont as Head of Economics for AP, before becoming a Centre Principal in Wuxi and finally moving into his current role in 2014 based out of Dipont’s head office in Shanghai.

In an industry that has been growing steadily over the last 10 years what would you say have been the biggest changes/challenges you’ve seen in China?

In 2009 we had 9 or 10 schools, fast forward to 2017 and we have 27 schools and counting. At present the sector is not showing any signs of slowing down, so we have to be very focused on staff recruitment and retention. Teachers on the international circuit tend to carry out shorter tenures in general, so we have been working on ways to try and increase teacher retention. In fact, it’s something we’ve seen a great improvement on in the last few years. Having mentioned the fact that we are always looking for highly qualified and experienced teachers to join our team, we know we need to be competitive in this already saturated market. Quality of instruction and the proof of great academic results in the school will always be highly valued. On top of this I would say that the tried and tested method that has been working for Dipont since 2003 is the clear and consistent management structure we have in place. We are a professional and experienced outfit and we have a breadth of staff from all across the world. This makes for a truly International education company. Strength lies in professionalism and a solid structure. The support structure includes heads of department, Center Principals, who are expected to be developmental leaders, the Academic Quality Management team, who provide curriculum support across the Dipont system, and the external training we send teachers to throughout the year. For these support positions, the company always advertises internally before going externally.

There’s also a need here to get Chinese parents on board with a different teaching style, that is somewhat different to what has long been ingrained culturally, and to prove that there is value and results in the western style of teaching that is to some families unfamiliar. This can take patience, time and continually advocating the methodology whilst working on achieving results. A great way to do this would be in making a concerted effort to collate data following up on the success rate of those students that went on to get accepted and graduate from the colleges of their choice.

Have you seen a particular shift in attitudes or teaching styles and structures over the past 8 years? 

Absolutely. Within China we’ve got two different educational cultures operating here. The national Chinese curriculum which is heavily test focused especially on the International Higher Education Entrance Examination (GaoKao). The teaching style is intense with a heavy emphasis on academic results in a rather traditional style of long hours, hard discipline, teacher instruction and student note taking with one syllabus for all. The Western education style uses a different approach that encourages more critical thinking, debate, and independent research. Different syllabi cater to different student ability and there is a less instructional set up to the classroom dynamic from the teacher. The growth in popularity of international schools in China has encouraged what I would hope is a greater balance between the two teaching methods, drawing on positive elements from both sides and finding a harmonious learning environment for the students. The aim is to fully prepare these students to be able to flourish and continue their studies in colleges and universities mainly in the US and UK.

One final general question, what do you see as the key benefits/advantages for educators working in the China?

For sure one of the most enjoyable aspects of living in this country is the teaching. Chinese kids are such a receptive audience and very eager to learn. They are a hardworking and ambitious student body. It allows the teacher to just focus on the academics and curricula and see really fulfilling results. China also still has a relatively low cost of living and Dipont provides housing and other benefits which allows a teacher to save roughly 50% of your earnings. We are constantly assessing how competitive we remain within the market too, to ensure we can provide the best for our staff. I would also say that Dipont has built a really relatable and familiar feeling establishment. This model is what a Western teacher will already have experienced so it should feel like an easy transition. Besides this, China is also a great hub for travel around the rest of South East Asia. Japan, Bali, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, to name just a few, these are all within a few hours’ flights and become affordable destinations when you can save a large portion of your earnings.

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