How to build an iconic bilingual school? —An exclusive interview with AISL Harrow Experts

In recent years, world is increasingly connected, and China is playing an increasingly central role internationally. China’s international education industry is growing rapidly in tandem with a growing demand. Moreover, affected by the new trend of “Double Reduction” policy, the market has begun to explore a new pathway for internationalized education to allow it to truly meet the needs of Chinese families.

While many parents want their children to have the opportunity to go to the very best universities globally, they also want them to be able to travel abroad without losing sight of their cultural heritage and to become a spokesperson for Chinese culture as well as a truly innovative, internationally competitive, and complex talent. Particularly in response to the “Double Reduction” policy and the ongoing trend for private schools to convert into public schools, an increasing number of schools are investigating ways to create a bilingual curriculum.

Since 2020, AISL Harrow Schools has opened four bilingual schools—the Harrow Innovation Leadership Academy—in Chongqing, Haikou, Zhuhai and Nanning. Despite being only two years in operation, these Harrow branded bilingual schools have developed swiftly, dominating not only several respected international school rankings in China, but also seeing exponential rise in student numbers and reputations among parents and communities.

So what is it about these British bilingual schools that makes them stand out in the complex market environment of China? Dr. Ahmed Hussain, Chief Education Officer of AISL Harrow Schools, and Dr. Max Caruso, Head Master of Harrow Innovation Leadership Academy Zhuhai, give their answers from their own perspectives on curriculum innovation and school governance.

Dr. Ahmed Hussain
Chief Education Officer, AISL Harrow Schools

Dr. Ahmed Hussain is the Chief Education Officer of AISL Harrow Schools, responsible for the development and design of the HILA Bilingual Curriculum. He was an Associate Professor in the School of Education at Durham University, a member of the editorial board of the Journal of International Education Theory and Practice, a member of the foreign expert group of the Shanghai Pudong Education Bureau and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Teachers in the UK.

Dr. Max Caruso
Head Master, AISL Harrow Zhuhai

Dr. Max Caruso is Head Master of Harrow Innovation Leadership Academy Zhuhai. He was awarded as the Distinguished Educational Leadership Award by the Australian Council of Educational Leaders in 2013 and was selected as one of the most influential educators in the UAE in 2020. Having held senior leadership positions in a number of schools in Asia and China, Dr. Caruso has an in-depth understanding of the educational needs of Chinese families.

A New Adventure for a 450-Year-Old Name

Located in the Hengqin Guangdong-Macao Deep Cooperation Zone, AISL Harrow Zhuhai has attracted the attention of many parents and students since its opening in 2021. As a regional benchmark bilingual school and the only Harrow-branded bilingual school in the Greater Bay Area, Harrow Zhuhai has not only attracted many local families, but has also been chosen and recognised by many Hong Kong, Macau and expatriate families.

Commenting on the initial vision for AISL Harrow Innovation Leadership Academy, Dr. Ahmed Hussain, Chief Education Officer of AISL Harrow Schools, said that as the world becomes more connected, China is beginning to play a pivotal role in all arenas of the world, profoundly influencing the changing landscape of the world. Harrow recognises that the internationalised education in China will need to find a balance between ‘globalisation’ and ‘localisation’, which means that schooling needs to produce not only international talent with a good command of English and an understanding of the world, but also with a deep understanding of Chinese culture and the ability to bring Chinese values to life. This means that schooling needs to produce not only international talents who are proficient in English and understand the world, but also transcultural talents who understand Chinese culture and can bridge China and the world.

So, with the goal of cultivating more Chinese students to become truly bilingual, bicultural and future-oriented leaders, AISL Harrow Innovation Leadership Academy(HILA) was born. Harrow Innovation Leadership Academy Zhuhai (Harrow Zhuhai), located in the Hengqin Deep Coexistence Zone, is the perfect embodiment of this philosophy.

At Harrow Zhuhai, the quality bilingual education is rooted in traditional Chinese culture, and we hope that every student who receives a bilingual education will develop a sense of identity and a passion for exploring bilingual learning, and a clear understanding of the benefits of bilingualism, so that language learning does not stop at subject textbooks, but can also be practised through immersion in our bilingual atmosphere across all subjects, says Dr. Max Caruso, the Head Master. The bilingual atmosphere of our subjects allows you to develop a bilingual mind and to secure the lifelong benefits of language and cultural learning.

A Unique Approach: Blending Classics and the Future

As one of the sister schools of the renowned 450 years Harrow School in the UK, the most attractive element of a Harrow Zhuhai education seemingly lies within its world-class branding and the legacy of its century-old educational excellence.

Nevertheless, Dr. Ahmed Hussain said that HILA ‘s fundamental competency lies in its innovation. Dr. Hussain indicated that Harrow’s education in Asia retains the core of British education to nurture excellence and elite, while at the same time creating a new era of bilingual education through forward-thinking teaching and learning and a variety of innovative educational models and approaches to nurture future leaders who values their own culture identity but also keeps an international perspective.

Dr. Ahmed Hussain emphasised that while rigour in education remains a priority, HILA has strengthened its commitment and focus on the following areas: firstly, strengthening the sense of Chinese identity; secondly, to focus on establish a pastoral framework that supports the children as a learner as well as an individual; thirdly, ensuring consistency between curriculum philosophy, objectives, implementation and assessment, and equipping students to think critically, solve problems, act independently and challenge adversity; and finally, the curriculum is highly flexible, and we can provide learning opportunities that are appropriate to the nature of knowledge and the needs of our students.

This means that this Harrow-branded bilingual school not only replicates the core elements of a Harrow education in its entirety, but also incorporates Chinese elements as a fundamental requirement in teaching and school operations, and brings in the most cutting-edge educational methodology to perfectly integrate Chinese and Western teaching methods and curriculum.

Dr. Max Caruso further said, the school will implement Harrow’s philosophy of holistic education, which will enable students to develop their physical and mental health, and through Harrow’s rich educational resources, students will have ample learning and leadership opportunities in different areas. The iconic House System, rich and varied outreach activities and boarding life will enable students to enhance their interpersonal skills, critical thinking and creative abilities to solve problems independently, all of which are hallmarks of a Harrow education.

At the same time, the school’s innovative curriculum is rooted in the solid, well-established Chinese compulsory education syllabus. The pedagogy of the curriculum incorporates Harrow’s teaching approach to personalised learning objectives, with classes focused on inspiring creativity, enquiry and independent learning, and a multicultural blend that gives students the perfect opportunity to open their minds and understand different cultures.

Educational Excellence for Life and Leadership, Creating a Student-Centered School

Although Harrow Zhuhai and other Harrow branded schools in the region have been in existence for a comparatively short time, they have already gained a great deal of local parental recognition and support, and the number of students has grown exponentially. The two Harrow experts, who have been in the education industry for over 30 years, also shared their experiences and insights on how to make a good school.

Dr. Hussain said that a great school is not only about academic excellence, but also about preparing students for their pathways in and out of school and throughout their lives. This means that the school understands the individual development of each student and provides opportunities to realise their strengths in a way that is specific to them, taking an interest in their dynamic development at school.

For this reason, Dr. Ahmed Hussain said, the role of the Head Master is crucial to creating a great school as the Head Master leads the culture of a school. Campus culture is the foundation of a school’s success and is vital to the school. As an example, Dr. Ahmed Hussain cited the criteria for hiring a Head Master for HILA. In addition to an excellent academic background and extensive management experience that meet Harrow Standards, the Head Master of a HILA must have a deep understanding of Chinese culture and sufficient organisational and management skills in a cross-cultural environment to establish a bilingual campus that is in keeping with Chinese cultural traits.

As a Chinese son-in-law, Dr. Caruso fits perfectly the profile of a HILA Head Master as described by Dr. Hussain. Having served as the Principal of several international and bilingual schools in China, and with a love of Chinese culture and a passion for education, Dr. Max Caruso accepted the Headship of Harrow Zhuhai earlier this year.

Dr. Caruso said, I am honoured to be the Head Master of Harrow Zhuhai and this is the highlight of a long career for me. I strongly agree with Harrow’s four values of Courage, Honour, Humility and Fellowship, and Harrow bilingualism philosophy is a great match for me. This is a place that carries 450 years of Harrow’s historical glory and honours over 5,000 years of Chinese cultural heritage, and I hope to lead Harrow Zhuhai to carry on this legacy.

Dr. Caruso is committed to making Harrow Zhuhai the a gold-medal bilingual school. He said that a great school is one that holds an open mind, full of love and hope, blending with all teachers, students, and parents to form a learning community, united in working together for the same goal and vision within the Harrow family. In doing so, he will need to rejuvenate the process of teaching and learning and to create a vibrant and happy learning environment where students love learning and school life.

Each student is unique and education needs to be tailored to their uniqueness, recognising their achievements and progress are in different areas. We will also involve students in our school management in the future, for example, students will also have the opportunity to participate in heads meetings and express their ideas and suggestions. I hope to lead the children to tackle one challenge after another and to provide them with a wider arena for leadership practice while achieving their personalised educational development goals.

A New Benchmark for Bilingual Education in the Greater Bay Area

The essence of bilingual education at Harrow Zhuhai is a legacy of Harrow’s centuries-old education, combined with cutting-edge educational thinking and methods from around the world, and rooted in traditional Chinese culture and wisdom. Harrow’s core values – Courage, Honour, Humility and Fellowship – are integrated into teaching alongside traditional Chinese virtues, innovating and developing a new path for bilingual education.

In the new era, Harrow Zhuhai will be bold enough to take on the important task of promoting high-quality personalised schooling, taking on the glory of a century-old brand while exploring the future development of bilingual education, actively cooperating with families, building learning communities, creating a new pattern of bilingual education, establishing a new benchmark for bilingual education in the region, and nurturing outstanding leaders with “Chinese souls and global perspectives”.