“The highest goal of education is to change more people, to make people understand and tolerate each other, and to bring people with different cultural backgrounds together and reduce conflicts. The world is full of conflicts because people don’t understand and tolerate each other. Nearly 10,000 Maple Leaf graduates have gone all over the world as advocates for that goal.” – from Sherman Jen’s speech at the convocation of Royal Roads University, Victoria, BC, Canada upon receiving his Honorary Doctorate of Laws, June 19, 2013.
The most fundamental and profound change in China during the past 40 years has been her active integration into the world and globalization in all aspects, while the most pronounced character of the continuous five thousand-year Chinese civilization is the emphasis on education. Therefore, it is not surprising that China is now the Number One source country for international students, sending over 662,000 students of all ages overseas for further studies in 2018 alone. International schools in China, now numbering approximately 1,000 across the country and increasing rapidly, are prospering.
Of course, the number of students attending international schools only represents a very small portion of the over 250 million students in China, which means there is much room for growth, given the increasing affluence of Chinese middle-income families. Twenty-four years ago, I founded one of the very first international schools in China, Maple Leaf International School – Dalian, which has grown into the largest network of international schools in China, operating under China Maple Leaf Educational Systems. We were the first that introduced the British Columbia, Canada curriculum to Chinese nationals and created the bilingual-dual diploma model. As of 2019, 21 grade 12 classes and over 16,000 MLES graduates have successfully completed our high school program and become a significant part of the wave of Chinese studying in post-secondary institutions abroad.
I was born and grew up in China. My first post-secondary degree was earned at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, where I became fluent in English. After completing my degree, I was assigned to the Hebei foreign trade department, where I negotiated with foreign businessmen in the daytime and taught English classes in the evenings. Three years later I moved to Hong Kong, where I built a successful clothing export business, but I lost interest and sold my business in order to emigrate to Canada.
Two events in Vancouver answered my restless longing to do something significant with my life and started me on the path to Maple Leaf. The first was an accident in which my one-year-old daughter fell and gashed her head open. My wife, who spoke no English and was home alone with our daughter at the time, grabbed the bleeding child in her arms and ran out into the street. The first car to come down the road stopped and the man driving the car took the mother and daughter to the hospital, checked them in, and waited until they were looked after before leaving. When I was told the whole story, I meditated for a long while without speaking. In silence, I firmly made up my mind to do something valuable and significant to promote friendship between China and Canada to reciprocate the great kindness shown to my family by a complete stranger in this new country.
The second instigating factor was the education my children received in Canada. Their learning was so profound and so different from everything I knew of education in China. On the surface it looked very simple, and yet it was clear that they were being challenged to engage in their learning, to question and express their own opinions, to be very actively involved. I believed that this style of educating children was very important in preparing them for the future. I realized that children in China, in addition to the strength and richness of their traditional education, also needed the opportunity to experience this style of learning.
I immediately wrote to the Premier of British Columbia, Canada, and three months later the Government of British Columbia endorsed my plan to introduce the BC curriculum to students in China. I began to promote Canadian education to officials in various cities throughout China. This led to the first international school license approval in China for Chinese students enrolled in a high school program. Maple Leaf International School opened in 1995 in Jinshitan Holiday Resort Zone in Dalian, China.
Chinese parents were initially very nervous that the dual Chinese-BC graduation certificate meant their children were forfeiting the possibility of entering a Chinese university, so I gave my personal guarantee to each of the parents of those original 14 students that I would find a place for their graduate in a Western university. This reluctance to experiment with a dual graduation certificate faded very quickly, as evidenced by the rapid growth of Maple Leaf schools.
Confucius said, “Filial piety is the basis of ethics. It is the origin of education.” If we can develop in our students an appreciation and sense of responsibility for the beauty of our Chinese traditional culture which they have inherited, while simultaneously preparing them to take positions of leadership on the world stage, we will have fulfilled our ethical duty to the next generation.
Educating our children with a strong grounding in their own Chinese culture and identity is of primary importance, but augmenting that with a knowledge of the English language in which most trade is conducted globally, and teaching them to think critically and analytically in the style of Western cultures opens many doors in diplomatic and business relationships that would not be theirs if they were familiar only with Chinese ways. I believe my strongest contribution to education in China has been to give Chinese students an opportunity to be influential on the world stage, because the blending of the best of East and West in their education teaches them to see things from more than one perspective. The more Maple Leaf Educational Systems expands its operations, the more students will benefit from this unique opportunity.
In 24 years from 1995-2019, Maple Leaf Educational Systems has grown from one school of 14 students in Dalian, Liaoning, China to more than 90 schools with over 41,000 students in three countries. MLES offers a dual BC Dogwood Diploma and Chinese high school graduation diploma in 11 cities in China, including Dalian, Chongqing, Hainan, Henan, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Wuhan, Xi’an, Yancheng and Zhenjiang. MLES schools in Ordos-Inner Mongolia, Pingdingshan, Jinzhou, Pinghu, Huzhou, Wifang, and Haikou offer the Chinese K-9 program with the BC Graduation Program in their future. My goal is to establish the largest global school system in the world that blends the best aspects of Eastern education and culture with Western educational content and methodologies. I expect to be offering this unique Maple Leaf curriculum to 100,000+ students in 10 countries by 2025.
Maple Leaf has completed its fifth Five-Year Plan as part of the organization’s strategic vision. My team and I are currently developing the sixth Five-Year Plan. Our goal for the next five years is to open more elementary and middle schools that will seamlessly integrate with high schools for a total student population of 100,000 students by the year 2025. This pyramid-shaped organizational structure will serve as the framework for expanding Maple Leaf Educational Systems to include approximately 25,000 high school students, 25,000 middle school students and 50,000 elementary schools over the next six years.
With the expansion of the Maple Leaf Global Education System, high school students will be able to complete different semesters at Maple Leaf campuses in different countries, all as part of the same Maple Leaf Global School. I want to prepare students thoroughly to be global leaders in the international world of tomorrow.
My message to students everywhere, and especially Maple Leaf students, is to think not about your own benefit, but about the benefit of your family, your friends, your community, your country, and your world. There are many critical problems in this world that need to be solved: environmental pollution, population expansion, energy resource depletion, food production, and many other pressing issues. Make up your mind to be part of the solution, rather than contributing to the problem. Set high goals and work persistently to achieve them. Set excellence before you and do not be satisfied with less. Chinese students – know where you are going; you are the future of China and the world.
Recognitions of Achievement
Dr. Sherman Jen’s journey has shaped him to be the leader he is today. His innovative educational leadership has been recognized by both Chinese and Canadian governments. The below-mentioned awards and titles conferred on him attest to his superior achievements in this field.
- Most Influential Figure of China Private Education (2004) – China Education Innovation and Development Forum
- Outstanding Achievements Award (2008) – Government of British Columbia
- China Times Top Ten News Figures in 2011
- Governor General’s Medallion (2013) – Governor General of Canada (Queen’s Representative)
- Honorary Doctorate of Laws (2013) – Royal Roads University
- Friendship Award (2014) – Chinese National Government
The continuous effort of Maple Leaf Educational Systems schools to educate children with world-class curricula that combine the best of East and West is resulting in graduates who are fully equipped to further their education in the world’s top universities. Listed among the Forbes list of potential Chinese listed companies in 2017, and The 10 Best International Schools in China 2018, Maple Leaf schools are maintaining a reputation for providing a high quality education.