President of the Canadian Association of Public Schools – International, Sheila McLeod, talks about supporting international students at the primary and secondary school level, creating pathways to higher education and cultivating Canadian global citizens.
The PIE: How are international students allowed to study at publicly primary and secondary schools in Canada? Do they pay tuition?
SM: We have the ability, unlike the US, to be able to take students into public schools. The students do pay tuition fees, and they differ across the country depending on if it’s a larger city or a more rural area, or which province they’re in.
The PIE: How long do most students study in Canada?
SM: There’s a wide range of different kinds of interest in it. Some of our students, particularly from Latin and South America, would come for one semester – which is five months – because they’re here for language and culture experience.
“Sometimes we get some students who are here with their mothers”
Mostly our Asian students would come here for the majority of their high school – at least two years – but more and more we’re seeing three to four years. Sometimes we get some students who are here with their mothers because they see it’s a great opportunity for their child to come to Canada to get an international education and mum looks after the children if they’re in elementary.
The PIE: Where do most of the students come from?
SM: We’re always intent on diversity and having a diverse range of students. Like most places in the world we tend to get a lot of our students from Asian countries and in any school in large cities, you would have up to 32 different countries and languages represented in any school. So we get students from a lot of different places but smaller numbers from certain countries.
Our largest number of students for the most part tends to be from China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan. Then we would have places like Brazil, Germany and other European countries.
The PIE: What markets are you looking to move into?
SM: We want to continue to nurture our big markets but all of us put efforts into emerging markets. Some of our emerging markets right now would be places like Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Ukraine. CAPS-I has missions that would go to those kinds of places for our membership to be able to explore those, for most people, relatively new markets.
The PIE: What programs are in place to go on to study at Canadian higher education providers?
SM: All school districts and schools would have programs in place to support a pathway. So there would be different kinds of support in the schools around helping students to seek out different universities to make sure they have the right courses in order to be able to get into those universities or colleges or technical schools.
The PIE: Have you seen an increase in enrolments since the US election?
SM: I think it’s too early to know if we’ve seen an increase in enrolments quite yet. I would say that there feels like there’s an increase in interest that could potentially be due to that but it would be very hard to say at this point.
The PIE: What’s the marketing strategy of CAPS-I, are you selling ‘brand Canada’ or is it focused on regions and cities?
“All school districts and schools would have programs in place to support a pathway to further education”
SM: CAPS-I itself is a national organisation so we market as a national organisation to promote international education in Canada. It’s a national voice that we speak with and then everybody else works to promote our own school districts and we might do that regionally, we might do that provincially.
The PIE: Do schools have dedicated international recruitment teams?
SM: It depends. There is a whole variety of different models. Large districts would have – we don’t call them recruitment teams – we would have people who are responsible for the marketing of our international programs.
What is traditionally thought of as recruitment in the language school sector is a little bit different than our approach. Ours is really about educating parents and students about what the opportunities are, what the long term prospects are for their students and then the students and families make their decisions based on where the best place for them is.
The PIE: What about promoting mental wellness of international students. Has that been a challenge for CAPS-I members?
SM: I think mental wellness generally for anybody in any school is becoming more and more what we’re focusing on and making sure we have the right support. The same thing would apply to international students. We are possibly identifying more students that have mental wellness challenges and we want to make sure that we have the means to support them because of course if you’re having some emotional challenges, being away from home without any support network and without any family, it’s likely to get exacerbated rather than get better.
The PIE: So what support systems are in place at CAPS-I schools that might not exist at other Canadian schools who don’t teach international students?
SM: We have schools that have international students and also schools that have immigrant students in most of our school districts, so we have very strong English language learning programs for them. At the same time that they’re doing their academic program they’re building their English academic skills as well.
Many schools would have things like an international student coordinator who’s there to really function as the advocate for each of the students who are there. Again, because they don’t have family there to protect their interests. So we want to make sure that we have eyes on those students to make sure that they’re doing well academically, emotionally, physically.
“Being away from home without any support network and without any family, emotional challenges are likely to get exacerbated rather than get better”
The PIE: Where do most of the students stay?
SM: For almost all districts homestay would be the primary mode, sometimes it’s with family members. So in that case students would find there own. Sometimes it’s with homestay organisations who do that and some school districts do their own homestay placements.
So those would be families that were vetted – they go through security clearances, there’s homestay inspections, there’s interviews. We want to make sure that we’re putting students into healthy, supportive environments.
The PIE: Have you seen an increase in refugee students? What programs in place to support them?
SM: In the international world we would consider refugees and immigrants in a very different kind of category and generally I would say that those would be outside of the scope of what many of us do. However, yes of course Canada has received a large number of refugees, immigrants always but refugees over the last few years. The latest ones were the Syrians – Canada was very aggressive in taking in Syrian refugees so we’ve had quite a number in the last couple of years. And we’re delighted to receive them.
In the K-12 sector they’re welcomed into the schools and they get the full supports they need plus extra kinds of supports they might need based on the kind of trauma that they might have experienced in the past or gaps in schooling that they might have.
Language training would be available for the parents. Canada does have language training programs for new refugees and immigrants who arrive.
The PIE: What are your thoughts on the future of international education from your perspective as president of CAPS-I?
“Short-term program or 10 days away on a cultural language exchange are better than nothing I would say”
SM: I think what we can look at is how CAPS-I has grown over the last 10 years. Our first few years we were very focused on how do we market for international students; how do we get them in; how do we support them; how do we go into emerging markets; how do we build programs. That’s what we were all doing over the last 20 years.
And as we look at the last couple of years, particularly this year, there’s a much greater focus on internationalisation. So school districts are realising that while it’s really wonderful to be able to receive international students into our schools, it’s really important for local, domestic students to be able to have similar opportunities and to be able to go out and experience those kinds of things.
Sometimes it is not possible for students to travel for economic or family reasons, but how do we make sure that our students have those competency skills in order to be the global citizens that they need to be in the world? As our international students are gaining great cross cultural skills and they become bicultural and bilingual, how do we get our own students to be that way?
It isn’t particularly the mindset of Canadians to send their children away when they’re in high school. It tends to be something that they wait to do when they go into post-secondary. We’re hoping to shift that. Sometimes it’s just short-term programs, sometimes it’s only 10 days away on a cultural language exchange. But that’s better than nothing I would say.