New Chinese-English school planned for P.E.I.

The latest venture of the P.E.I. monks' religious leader is a new, private school in which students will learn in both Mandarin and English, planned to open next fall.

Leader of P.E.I. monks, nuns behind new school launching next fall

Students will learn half the day in Mandarin and half the day in English, says Derek McEwen with HOPE International Education Foundation. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

The latest venture of the P.E.I. monks' religious leader is a new, private school in which students will learn in both Mandarin and English, planned to open next fall. 

Buddhist monks on P.E.I. have built extensive facilities on the Island, while at the same time an influx of Chinese immigrants to P.E.I. in the last few years means Mandarin is the main immigrant language spoken on P.E.I., as it is in the rest of Canada

The interest might be there — times are changing.— Derek McEwen

"If you're interested in being a global citizen, it would be a language that would be very beneficial to you," said Derek McEwen, the CEO of HOPE International Education Foundation, who will also be the school's principal. McEwen worked as a teacher and principal for years and was director of English curriculum for P.E.I.'s Department of Education.

Dual-immersion Mandarin-English schools are popping up in North America and Europe, McEwen points out. 

From left: Teacher Jialin Zhao, principal Derek McEwen and Bethany Doiron, curriculum director for P.E.I.'s new HOPE International School. (Submitted by Derek McEwen)

"I think it was just a matter of time for Prince Edward Island. We have people here who have a passion for that and are supporting it, so we are going to give it a go." 

The HOPE International School is the brainchild of Master Zhen-Ru, a Buddhist spiritual leader followed by P.E.I.'s monks (The Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society) and nuns (The Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute). 

Hundreds of monks and nuns have come to live on P.E.I. since 2008, and have built large complexes in Little Sands and Uigg.  

Now hiring

The school hasn't found a location yet, McEwen said, but has hired a curriculum director, Bethany Doiron, and a Mandarin-speaking teacher, Jialin Zhao. It's still looking to hire an English teacher.

HOPE International School's curriculum director Bethany Doiron and teacher Jialin Zhao on a recent school visit in Taiwan. (Submitted by Derek McEwen )

Registration for the school will open in December or January, and the plan is to first offer spots for 15 to 20 children ages five, six and seven years. The school would eventually grow to include students up to age 17 and offer the International Baccalaureate McEwen said. 

Half the school day will be taught in Mandarin and half in English, McEwen said, and ideally, half of the students would speak Mandarin as a first language, and half English.

"So for half the day the student is the language learner, and for the other half of the day they are the language model and language expert," McEwen said.

'Balance' of Eastern and Western teaching practices

"The premise of the school is that we will blend ancient Eastern pedagogical practices with current Western and 21st-century practices," McEwen said. "Because we believe there is a purpose and a right time for both, and we will be working to find that balance." 

Broadway Elementary School, part of the public school system in Venice, Calif., is one of a growing number of schools offering dual Chinese-English immersion. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Those Eastern philosophies are penmanship, service/labour, recitation/memorization and appreciation of the sustainable development of resources, McEwen said. 

For example, learning by rote, using memorization, has been eschewed in recent years by Western educators, but it will be taught at HOPE to develop concentration and persistence. It will be blended, McEwen said, with Western problem-solving skills. 

There is also an emphasis on "character education," McEwen said — starting with respect for yourself and others. 

While Buddhist principles and philosophies will be taught, the school will be open to all religious denominations, McEwen said. There will not be explicit encouragement to become Buddhist, he added, but students will be "more than welcome to pursue that." 

"Our target audience is any faith," he said. "We're just taking some basic priniciples that I think are common amongst all religions and we are using them as a foundation for our school, along with other practices." 

'Times are changing'

Tuition has not been set yet, McEwen said. The school will be funded through tuition as well as donations.

Kensington Wade just opened in London and is the UK's first early years and prep school to offer an immersive Chinese and English education for 3 to 11-year-olds, the school's Facebook page says. (Kensington Wade/Facebook)

"It's certainly not for everybody, like anything you have to pay for, but I certainly do believe there is a market for what we're offering," McEwen asserted.  

There's little doubt such a school could be popular with P.E.I.'s new Chinese community — McEwen is less confident about filling registrations by English-speaking students.

"It'll be interesting to know where Islanders will feel on that," he said. "Perhaps there's a market off-Island ... I believe we would be the only [such] school east of Ontario."

"The interest might be there — times are changing, people see what the opportunities are, so it's our hope there is the clientele," McEwen said. 

'Pretty proficient' in Mandarin

While learning Mandarin is challenging, McEwen said, learning any language is easier at a young age — if children start at age five or six, he believes they will be "pretty proficient" by age 13 or 14. 

Students at Kensington Wade Dual Language English-Chinese School in London. (Kensington Wade/Facebook )

HOPE International also plans to publish a bilingual English-Mandarin children's magazine called Wings of HOPE, and will carry out professional development for P.E.I. teachers as well.

HOPE stands for happiness, optimism, peace and excellence.


Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a bachelor of journalism (honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email