Foreign students flocking to School District 43

Patricia Gartland is head of School District 43
Patricia Gartland is head of School District 43's international education program, which is seeing a boost in enrollment this year.
— image credit: FILE PHOTO

School District 43 will see a huge influx of fee-paying foreign students in September, which will give the financially troubled district a huge boost as it reels from this spring's round of budget cuts.

As many as 300 more international students have enrolled in programs from kindergarten to Grade 12 in SD43 schools — 30% more than budgeted. They will add $4 million more to SD43 coffers beyond the approximately $13.6 million that was anticipated for the 2014/’15 school year.

"We are absolutely ecstatic," said Patricia Gartland, the assistant superintendent responsible for the program, who said registrations are still coming in and credits year-round marketing efforts, summer school and other programs tied to international ed. for raising SD43's profile in the global education marketplace.

"We are getting the name of Coquitlam and the Tri-Cities out into the the world," she said. "People understand that we have outstanding achievement and graduation rates, and in Greater Vancouver, we are the destination of choice."

The jump in enrolment was not anticipated and is surprising given the fact that fees were increased from $12,000 to $13,000 annually last year and the province's education funding and labour dispute troubles have been widely publicized.

Gartland said families considering enrolling their students here are sophisticated and aware of these challenges but they pale beside other practical considerations, including lifestyle and societal conditions, and the fact Canada is a peaceful country that has one of the best education systems in the world. If families are worried about current job action, she said, it's not preventing them from sending their kids to B.C.

"They understand that it will be resolved," she said.


For School District 43, the 15-year-old international ed. program is a boon, providing funds to hire 67.3 FTE teachers for the current school year and $400,000 in grants to schools that host foreign students. Another $5.1 million went to directly into SD43 coffers, benefitting all schools.

The profile of international students puts them at the top academically and as English speakers, according to a report prepared for the board of education. In fact, about 47% of students already speak a Level 5, the highest level for English language learners, and the average course mark was 77%.

After they graduate, the students typically enter post-secondary education in demanding programs, according to the report.

"They are excellent students and appreciate the value of education," Gartland said.

Even after the economic downturn of 2007/’08, foreign students still made their way to Tri-Cities schools, and one reason may be ties between SD43 and China. The district has a Confucius Institute paid for by the Chinese Education Ministry, where students, including non-Chinese students, learn Mandarin and Chinese culture.

The Confucius program is China's Good seal of approval for K to Grade 12 education and strengthens ties between the district and the Chinese education system.

As well, SD43's international ed. runs other programs that attract foreign students, including its popular summer school program, TOEFL testing and Mandarin speech contests, and with China now allowing K to 12 students permission to study abroad, the district has been able to capitalize on the trend, with the proof being this unprecedented hike in enrolment.

"We've been very present in China encouraging students to study here," Gartland said.

If there is any tarnish to this golden opportunity, it is that the numbers always fluctuate and Gartland said the district never knows exactly what enrolment will be until the money is in the bank. For now, however, the bean counters at SD43 can rest over the summer knowing at least one of their revenue streams for 2014/’15 is assured.


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