Look for the Bear necessities

Maple bear recently opened its first school in Hong Kong at Tseung Kwan O. The kindergarten is the Canadian private education brand’s 10th in greater China, alongside nine kindergartens and elementary schools in Zhengzhou and Lanzhou in the mainland.

Maple Bear academic vice president Lenna Glade said she is happy that Hong Kong parents take a sophisticated approach to education.

“The parents I met here in Hong Kong seem to be interested in our program, as our shared goal is to ensure kids really enjoy learning.”

From its first school in India back in 2005, the global network has expanded to 423 across 20 countries, with every school focused on engaging children in learning.

A unique feature of the network’s curriculum is that it allows students to adopt both local and international educational pathways.

Maple Bear offers an English-immersion program for preschool years, where teachers speak English to provide an environment that helps children engage with the language.

After kindergarten, the schools switch to a fully bilingual format, typically a 50/50 ratio, allowing students to move between the two systems and either stay in Hong Kong or go abroad eventually.

“We are not teaching English as a second language but teaching it as if it was the first language,” Glade said. “They’re in an English environment so children can understand and be able to work in English within a year after they join the kindergarten.”

Maple Bear developed its own curriculum, which grew out of the one established by the Canadian Education Centre Network. That is its selling point, as Canada’s education system ranks highly in the Programme for International Student Assessment results, particularly in science, math and reading.

The literacy program is another outstanding part of the school’s curriculum, which teaches students foundational skills in reading and writing.

Based on an activity-driven approach, reading is complemented by group discussions, drama plays and other activities. For example, students will be asked to predict what is going to happen in a story and explain why, or how would they change the story if they were writing it. These questions are used to foster students’ critical thinking.

Three Little Pigs is one of the most popular stories at Maple Bear schools, with students being asked to play characters, draw or even build the pigs’ houses. “They are always really involved in it,” said Glade.

Bilingual immersion and learning through play promotes the curriculum’s aim to educate a child physically, socially, emotionally and intellectually.

Glade explains that in some education systems, especially in Asia, students are afraid to speak up because they are scared of making mistakes.

But Maple Bear seeks to change the way students learn in Hong Kong, offering a comfortable environment for children to build a relationship with others and take risks – that is, try new things and make mistakes.

Three-year-olds are asked to bring their own toys and present them to the class while answering questions raised from their peers. “Making mistakes and asking questions is crucial in our system, and right from the early stages, we’re developing their skills in being able to communicate effectively,” Glade said.

A prescriptive curriculum means that Maple Bear teachers in Hong Kong give the same lessons as their counterparts all over the world. Glade believes in maintaining quality through training, ensuring that teachers must be able to respond to students’ needs and observe how they absorb information.

Every year, mentors are sent into each school to help teachers develop learning strategies. Professional development workshops are also offered on a variety of topics, as well as graduate education programs at partner universities, which are open to all teachers.

Having trained teachers for the past six years, Glade says Maple Bear believes that the more training it can offer, the more it will benefit teaching and the entire program.

(This article was published at The Standard on December 10 2019: Education: Look for the Bear necessities )

Look for the Bear necessities

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