Saturday, January 23, 2016

Kathleen Wynne caught in Hong Kong school dispute

Kathleen Wynne caught 

in Hong Kong school dispute


Kathleen Wynne was expecting to meet Canada’s business elite at the Island Shangri-La Hotel in Hong Kong last week.
She wasn’t expecting a small cluster of students and their parents, who stopped her on the way in with a sheaf of letters calling for a “thorough investigation” into the Canadian International School of Hong Kong – a place, the letters said in 28,851 words, that has left students “terrified for our futures” amid a fierce education spat now in its third school year.

In the buttoned-down code of Hong Kong politesse, unexpectedly door-stopping a foreign leader was not far from launching a revolution. But it marked the latest escalation in a battle between the school’s leadership and its moneyed opponents, one that has bruised the reputation of the highest-profile Canadian education institution in the Asian financial centre.
The school, with its totem poles and exposed Douglas fir beams, is a maple leaf landmark on a Hong Kong hill.
Lately, though, it has stood out as a battleground, amid a dispute over who should control the school and parental anger over the loss of well-liked administrators and teachers – a sometimes dirty fight that has now also ensnared the top levels of the Ontario government.
When Marc Frankel, an international education consultant, visited earlier this fall, he found a mess. Each side blamed the other, which “only winds things ever tighter into a death spiral where bad behaviour begets bad behaviour unless someone backs off,” he said.
There is little sign of that happening.
In the past 12 months, the school has fired numerous administrators and teachers – some in the final hours of the last day of school – brought in extra security and consulted legal counsel about whether it could boot students to get rid of parents it considered troublesome.
A fired vice-principal has, in response, taken the school to the city’s Labour Tribunal, and other court battles are ongoing. Parents and students have waged a letter-writing campaign to authorities in Canada and Hong Kong, some seeking to have the school stripped of its right to issue an Ontario diploma.
The spectacle of the school fighting its own has created headlines in Hong Kong, which is home to roughly 300,000 Canadian passport-holders.
It comes, too, amid an expansion of Canadian-curriculum schools across Asia. The Hong Kong school has been among the top Canadian diploma institutions in the region. The ugliness there has put Brand Canada “under threat,” said Damon Hambly, who has five children enrolled but plans to take them out of the school after this year. “This needs to be stopped. I would think that the Premier would be keen to ensure that didn’t happen,” he said.
In an interview, Ms. Wynne argued that the row in Hong Kong has not tarnished Canada’s educational image, saying: “I’ve spent a lot of time in education, and I really believe that we have a great brand.”
The school’s issues are not her province’s problem, Ms. Wynne said. “What we’re seeing is a governance issue,” she said. She added: “It is up to the organization – because it’s an organizational challenge – to sort those out.”
When school leadership requested a meeting with the Ontario Ministry of Education in July, it was told “the ministry does not become involved in issues of school governance and operations,” a government spokeswoman said.
The school, meanwhile, is accusing parents of using their children for a “political stunt” at the Shangri-La to “advance their own personal agenda.” Spokeswoman Melanie Hnetka said the school is changing – although it’s not clear in which way – and some have had trouble adapting to that. “There comes a time when the leadership has to say ‘enough is enough’ and we need to move forward,” she said.
Enrolment and applications have remained steady, she said.
“The atmosphere in the classrooms and in the hallways is calm, focused, lots of happy faces, lots of joy,” Ms. Hnetka said.
But some students have left, among them Zehra Jafree, who is now attending Grade 11 at the Chinese International School in Hong Kong. She was one of the students who handed the letters to Ms. Wynne, all signed anonymously. She hopes the Premier will take pity on their authors. “The least we wanted was more attention from people in charge, from people who could maybe shut down the school,” she said.
The dispute has soured the school atmosphere, she said. “It feels like you’ve walked into a cemetery or something, and it’s so creepy and gross and I hate going into that school now, I really do,” she said. “That’s not what a Canadian school should be like.