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Linking students and schools: the Association of China and Mongolia International Schools

By Jim Koerschen

The Association of China and Mongolia International Schools (ACAMIS) was conceived in 1999 by a few schools in China and Mongolia that were searching for a way to have their athletic teams participate in post-season tournament play.

The first event was hosted by the Western Academy of Beijing in May 2000, with seven schools participating in basketball and soccer tournaments and a mile-long run. A few weeks later, the first annual general meeting (AGM) was held at Xiamen International School on the southern coast of China in Fujian Province. Ten schools attended this first gathering. To further extend the idea of friendly collaboration and competition; drama, public speaking and Earth Day symposium workshops were sponsored during the 2000–2001 school year. That same year, the first ACAMIS Creative Arts Festival was held.

Linking together 57 member schools

Today, ACAMIS has a membership of 57 independent schools, ranging in size from less than 300 pupils to over 2 500 in Mongolia, China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. A nine-member board of directors comprising heads of schools elected by the member schools during the AGM runs the organisation with the assistance of a part-time executive director, a full-time executive officer and a part-time assistant executive officer.

The mission of ACAMIS is linking students and schools, and the organisation’s related purposes are to:

  • broaden the dimensions of education at all ACAMIS schools
  • advance the professional growth of individuals within ACAMIS schools and similar schools
  • cooperate with other organisations and individuals pursuing the same objectives as ACAMIS
  • support national and regional networking to link ACAMIS schools • offer professional services to member schools.

ACAMIS AGM crucial for development ACAMIS fulfils these purposes by providing events that link students to enrich their learning experience. We also provide professional development opportunities for teachers and school administrators.

ACAMIS member schools are divided into six divisions for athletic tournaments. In addition, the schools take part in band, orchestral, choir, drama and visual arts events. Thousands of ACAMIS students and teachers participate in Model United Nations (MUN)1 debates, Global Issues Network (GIN)- sponsored student conferences,2 chess matches, mathematics competitions and many more events held throughout the year.

ACAMIS hosts several professional development opportunities for teachers. Prior to 2006, the AGM for heads and athletic activities directors was devoted to writing policy and developing event schedules. In 2006, the agenda was expanded to consider how best to provide professional development for school heads, aspiring heads, business managers, librarians, counsellors, athletic directors and arts and culture coordinators. This meeting now has over 300 registrants and brings in world-renowned speakers for each session.

Three key conferences for 2013

Throughout the year, we also hold conferences, run International Baccalaureate (IB)3 training sessions for Chinese teachers, sponsor workshops for middle academic managers, and provide workshops for Chinese staff who serve in our international schools. In March 2013, we hosted a conference at Beijing City International School, entitled ‘Beyond the New Basics… Keeping it Personal’. The central theme was putting people at the centre of technological advancement. In July this year, teachers of Chinese language and culture will gather at their own specialised 11th annual ACAMIS conference, this time focusing on ‘Learning, Sharing and Connecting’, at Utahloy International School Guangzhou in Guangxi, China. Expert presenters will provide professional development advice, middle management leadership skills and methods that can be used at schools to improve cultural relations.

In late September, we will host another conference at Nanjing International School in Qi Xia District, Nanjing, China, around the topic ‘Feedback for Effective Thinking’. Keynote speakers will include Ron Ritchhart, senior researcher at Harvard Project Zero, where he currently directs the worldwide Cultures of Thinking Project, aimed at supporting teachers in the creation of classrooms where thinking is valued, visible and actively promoted.

Working with APAC and EARCOS

Because of our dual approach of serving students and teachers, we believe we are a unique association in the world of international education. ACAMIS works closely with and cooperates with two other major associations in East Asia. The Asia Pacific Activities Conference (APAC) currently only consists of 12 schools, generally including the oldest and largest schools in China, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Vietnam. APAC sponsors post-season athletic tournaments in volleyball, basketball, soccer, track, swimming, badminton and others. APAC also sponsors cultural events for band, choir, forensics, drama and dance.

The other organisation is the East Asia Region of Schools (EARCOS). Membership of EARCOS numbers around 150 schools from throughout Asia. EARCOS offers two annual major conferences per year, aimed at assisting the professional development of school teachers and administrators. EARCOS also collaborates with ACAMIS in the hosting of regular technology-centred conferences.

EARCOS further supports weekend workshops hosted by individual member schools interested in sharing their experience and expertise. Both APAC and EARCOS are significant and excellent organisations. However, they offer limited opportunities for many schools that are widely scattered, small and have limited resources that may hamper their ability to network and travel. ACAMIS fills this void.

Managing growth and diversity

The primary challenge facing ACAMIS today is managing our growth. To help meet this challenge, a part-time executive director – a former head of school who had also served on the board – was employed. His primary role is to help the board move from a managing board, where board members made all the decisions and even assisted in managing events, to a policy board. It will probably take a few years to accomplish this goal, as the plan requires additional financial resources.

An additional issue is managing the great diversity that exists within the organisation. We have many small member schools in remote, rural locations that have difficulty bringing a team to a tournament. Characteristically, smaller rural schools serve the children of parents who work for civil society groups or non-governmental organisations, and these schools may lack basic resources. Larger schools are often to be found in the urban centres, have long waiting lists and serve the students whose parents work for global conglomerates. Some ACAMIS member schools are non-profits, and some are for-profit. Across all our members curricula vary: some schools offer the IB, others the UK national curriculum and still others a combination of various curricula. Most are not faith-based schools. Cultures differ widely, depending on whether schools are based in Hong Kong, Kumming (the capital and largest city of Yunnan Province in Southwest China) or Ulaanbatar (the capital of Mongolia). All our member schools report that finding and retaining excellent teachers is a challenge. However, ACAMIS continues to be committed to all member schools to fulfil our mission and purposes.

Membership linked to accreditation and government policy

Membership of ACAMIS is limited to schools that teach their curriculum in the English language. There is no doubt that ACAMIS could become much larger if we also included German, Japanese, French and other language schools. Membership also requires that schools be accredited by recognised agencies such as, but not limited to, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and the Council of International Schools (CIS). A site visit by an ACAMIS board member or the executive director to be sure the school has the appropriate and adequate facilities completes the application process.

The board is now facing the membership issue of whether or not to admit schools that teach in both English and Chinese. Historically, only schools that were identified by the government as international – meaning only students who held foreign passports – could be admitted. Today, the government is issuing licences to international schools that also admit national Chinese students and offer a bilingual curriculum. ACAMIS is well positioned to meet these challenges. Whatever the future brings, we will continue to, as our tagline says, “link kids and schools”.

Category: Winter 2013

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