By Dale Bass
Kamloops This Week
During one of his trips to China, Terry Sullivan met a young adult woman who spoke almost perfect English.
The School District 73 superintendent asked her where she had learned the language, expecting to hear about a school somewhere.
He was wrong.
Instead, she told him her family did not have the money to send her to a school that would help her with her goal to learn English, so she turned to the Internet, using an economics site — with no interest in the topic itself — and later other sites to teach herself.
“That was how determined she was,” Sullivan said.
It’s why many of the 110 international students now studying in Kamloops schools are here, he said, to learn to speak the language that dominates not only the Internet but the international world of business.
District surveys have shown almost all — 96 per cent — of these students aren’t planning to become doctors or lawyers or teachers, Sullivan said.
They want to go into business.
Their presence has its own business benefit in many ways.
All are attending secondary schools, the educational sector that has continued to experience an enrolment decline. Without them this year, the final number that not only dictates funding from the government but all the academic aspects that roll out from it would have been 185 rather than the 75 fewer students recorded in the final enrolment report.
The immediate economic impact is the $1.5 million the international-student body has brought to the district, plus another $200,000 that comes from SD73’s offshore courses offered throughout the world.
Apply basic economic spinoff principles and the impact on the local community is more like $2.5 million, he said.
Students come from almost every part of the world.
There’s a large contingent from China, Sullivan said, but there’s a growing interest from South American countries — in particular, Brazil, where the country’s president Dilma Rousseff has put an emphasis on education and learning English.
Students can take advantage of the district’s home-stay program while in Kamloops. Some take just a semester of school, Sullivan said, while others might stay for a year or up to three years of education.
There’s a challenge for teachers sometimes, he said, particularly if the student’s English skills are poor.
But, the district uses some of the money generated from the international program on English as a second language courses.
Each school with an international student also gets $4,000 per student to assist it with any of the teaching challenges that might crop up.
“We give as much support as we can,” Sullivan said.
“And, we don’t blow our own horn but I think it’s fair to say our education system is highly regarded.”
A study done a few years ago on an optimal number of international students pegged the target number at between 200 and 300, Sullivan said. Factors used in determining the figure include the number of home-stay families involved, domestic enrolment numbers and what the basic infrastructure that keeps all the schools humming can handle.