About International Students and the Nature of Our School Community

by Mr. Hugh Burke


Some parents have approached me with a concern about international students at our school, and have shared their perception that we have significantly increasing numbers of international students, notably from Asia. I actually got a call from a local journalist to ask me some questions about this, which had been told to him by a few people as though it were news. We do not keep any numbers by ethnicity normally – we care about ability and character. But I found this interesting, so I decided to investigate.

First, I found the countries where our current students were born. Here are the numbers:

Of the 527 students currently enrolled…

Australia 1 0.19%
Belgium 2 0.38%
Brazil 2 0.38%
Canada 360 68.31%
China 56 10.63%
Columbia 1 0.19%
Germany 2 0.38%
Honduras 2 0.38%
India 7 1.33%
Iran 1 0.19%
Isle of Man 1 0.19%
Japan 1 0.19%
Korea 13 2.47%
Mexico 4 0.76%
New Zealand 1 0.19%
Peru 1 0.19%
Philippines 1 0.19%
Poland 1 0.19%
Republic of Georgia 1 0.19%
Romania 3 0.57%
South Africa 12 2.28%
Ukraine 1 0.19%
United Arab Emirates 1 0.19%
United Kingdom 32 6.07%
US 19 3.61%
Venezuela 1 0.19%
Total 527

As seems clear, most of our students were born in Canada, and we draw the rest from around the world. We do have a very multicultural school, populated by Canadians from around the world. As an IB World School, we should perhaps have an even more multicultural blend, but we are still one of the most multicultural schools outside of Vancouver.  Still, we are lagging behind in attracting international students, and we may need to work harder at it.

On investigating, I found that we only have 15 actual international students – students here on an international visa, which represents 2.8% of our student population. This is too low by most measures. When we look at the Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows school district, in which we are located, the numbers are a bit different. Of the roughly 15,000 students in the district, 564 are on international visas, or about 3.7%. That is, there are more international students by percentage in the local school district than in our school. And the District wants more….

Meadowridge 2.8% International students

School District 42  3.7% International students

In an article on December 5, 2013 in the Maple Ridge News, the headline read, “District competing for international students”. In the article, Michael Polan, the District Manager for International Education, states that every single school district is trying to attract international students, using staff and resources to make sure that they are successful. The students enrich the local district financially, and strengthen the education in the schools. As Mike Murray, the Chair of School District 42 told the international students, “Please know, you enrich our school system by being here”.  The fact is that international students bring resources to the community and bring high achievement and an international orientation to our schools.

When we consider the Lower Mainland, we have fewer international students than we should have, in part because of the location of our school in Maple Ridge. Fortunately, we do have a rich ethnic mix.  We are behind the local school district in attracting international students, perhaps because we do not actively recruit from so many countries. As a result, we may be missing the financial and educational opportunities that we might otherwise have. Also, we will not lower our entry standards, which can be very challenging for new international students. We do have a pilot programme to assist outstanding students who are a bit challenged by English (but would not be considered ESL by local districts), and need help for one year or less, and the results so far have been that these students are achieving very well, and will not need further help in most cases. The programme pays for itself because we charge an additional fee for it. As well, international students pay significantly higher tuition in order to cover various costs, and so represent a net gain for our school finances. Fortunately, our school is still one of the lowest-cost premier international schools in Canada for international applicants.

At the moment, we are receiving many applications from all over the world. The last two acceptances have been from Japan and from the United Kingdom. We will continue to insist on high standards, and committed families. Frankly, we do not care about their ethnicity; great families come from all over the world, and Canada has been built by such great families. We do know that we are lagging in recruiting international students.

The final question is whether or not our numbers of international students is significantly higher than in the past, and what effect this has on the community sense. Well, ten years ago we had nearly 40 international students in a population of about 440, so the percentage has decreased over time – a worrying trend for an International Baccalaureate World School. As well, we have a lower percentage of kids who take the bus, so people seem to be moving closer to the school than we had in the past, and may be forming a geographically closer community. I want to invite parents to visit the school at about 5:00pm from Monday to Thursday, just to witness the many, many students who linger after school, play sports, take clubs, and so on. In fact, we now have more sports teams and more clubs than we have ever had; the indications are that our kids and families are participating more fully than ever.

So, the bottom line seems to be that we are low in our numbers of international students on any comparative basis, but one result has been an even closer community. As our school becomes better known worldwide, we will continue to attract outstanding international students, and we will continue to ensure that all new students and their families are woven fully into the fabric of our school community. With any luck, we will increase the number of international students who can meet our standards, and who want to come to our International Baccalaureate Continuum World School in Maple Ridge.