The Power of Thought, the Light of Ideals. The "KingLead Global Leading Principals" series aims to discover leading principals worldwide, leading the development of the industry with principals’ ideas, igniting passion with their beliefs, and cultivating talent by promoting social progress and human development. While the world around us may change rapidly, ideals are lasting.
The following is an exclusive interview with Fei Jianhua, Principal of Dulwich International High School Suzhou.
About the Principal
Principal of Dulwich International High School Suzhou
Principal Fei Jianhua is a provincial-level English teacher with more than 30 years of teaching experience. He used to be the principal of Suzhou Lida Middle School, vice-principal of Suzhou Middle School, and the founding principal of Dehong Chinese International School. He assisted in the establishment of Suzhou High School-SIP (SHS-SIP) and Dulwich International High School Suzhou and will be officially appointed as the principal of Dulwich International High School Suzhou in August 2022. Principal Fei Jianhua believes that children are like seeds: Education can help them grow, and the school helps inspire and encourage their unlimited creative potential and enthusiasm for learning.
Swipe right to see the English version
Dulwich International High School Suzhou is an international school of overseas education for teenagers aged 14-18. The school was established in 2012, adhering to the educational philosophy of its founding school – Dulwich College London – focusing on providing students with a challenging and academically-integrated approach to learning.
Based on the UK National Curriculum, students at Dulwich International High School Suzhou will take IGCSE examinations at the end of Year 11. This is followed by A-Level qualifications awarded by Cambridge International Education Assessment (CAIE) and Edexcel in Years 12 and 13. The language of instruction in the school is English, so every student can benefit from a structured cultural curriculum.
Bridging the East and West,
Always Putting Students First
KingLead: How did you get into the education industry? Could you tell us about your previous educational management experience?
Fei Jianhua, Principal of Dulwich International High School Suzhou: I started working with Dulwich in 2003. Back then, I was the vice-principal of Suzhou High School-SIP (SHS-SIP). When we founded SHS-SIP, local officials hoped that our school would be a more international and school rooted in Suzhou Industrial Park, capable of some international cooperation.
During that time, we discovered Dulwich College in the UK, which was also the first public school in the UK to go abroad to China. In 2003, Dulwich College established the first Dulwich International School in Shanghai, now called Dulwich College Shanghai. We had full contact with the principal of Dulwich College London at that time, and we admitted its brand. So, when we built the campus of Suzhou High School-SIP (SHS-SIP), we established a concept that we called the ‘global learning village’, which is a campus for children of expatriates located at a Chinese campus. This was a unique experiment in the country at that time, and we wanted to really understand the differences and similarities between the operation of schools for children of expatriates and Chinese local schools. We wanted to understand international education through this ‘experimental field’.
By 2006, we had successfully established Dulwich International High School Suzhou, and then, with the support of Suzhou Middle School, we established the ‘Dulwich International School Suzhou’ brand. In the process, I had more contact with this Dulwich International school, so I also learned more about the growth and development of Dulwich.
I was the vice principal of Suzhou Middle School at that time, and we had to communicate with the top leaders of Dulwich College almost every week. Even until now, our schools share playgrounds, theaters and other facilities. We send Chinese teachers to Dulwich College in London, and they also send teachers to tutor our English teachers. Students from our two schools also interact.
For me, I was an English teacher and have experience teaching overseas. I taught in the United States in 2001, so I hoped to absorb some excellent elements of international education and integrate them into our Chinese education. In 2015, I was the principal of Suzhou Lida Middle School, and at the same time, Dulwich College was going to start Dehong in Shanghai. I felt that this was an opportunity for me to better understand international schools and incorporate the advantages of international education into Chinese education, so I left Suzhou and founded Dehong in Shanghai. We started to build Dehong in 2015 and officially opened it in 2017. It’s already been 5 years!
KingLead: What is your philosophy for running a school? How did your experience of working in the field of international education affect the way that you look at education?
Fei Jianhua, Principal of Dulwich International High School Suzhou: During my five years in Dehong, I saw that the development of the school had become more and more in line with my vision; that is, the elements of the international curriculum had been integrated with the basis of the Chinese curriculum. As a Chinese principal, I think Chinese curriculum has many advantages, but we would like to integrate some features of international courses on the basis of Chinese courses. This is a lofty goal, but in the process of implementation, we knew we will encounter various problems. Combining two independently excellent ideas together may not always turn out equally excellent. We must learn from each others’ strengths and fully use and practice our own strengths. At the same time, we will certainly face difficulties.
The Chinese national curriculum is a complete and systematic framework, which is based on our strict curricular system. International courses, especially British courses, emphasize holistic education, integration between different courses, innovative literacy, critical thinking, experiential learning, etc. We also have these elements in our domestic curriculum, but there are some challenges in implementing them.
I think that every child is different, but if we attribute the success of education only to whether the child can enter a so-called ‘top university’ or not, that means in fact, we only focus on the top students. We do need to pay attention to the top students and give them proper space to develop, which is very important.
However, many people regard the number of students admitted to top schools like Tsinghua University and Peking University as the only criterion for judging the quality of a school’s education results, which leads to a certain degree of neglect of the ’middle-level’ or ‘lower-level’ students. However, in terms of judging a person, there are actually no such ‘middle-level’ or ‘lower-level’ children. Dulwich Education Group has a philosophy – ‘student first’ - which does not mean to put the top students first, but to put all students first.
When I was the principal of Suzhou Lida Middle School, I put forward the concept of ‘differentiated teaching’. Every child is different, and there must be differences between children. What we need to do is not to eliminate the differences between children and make all children the same as the children who can pass the entrance test for Tsinghua University or Peking University. This is unlikely to be achieved.
Instead, we must adapt to each child’s individual growth and development and give them more support – enough ‘soil’ and ‘nutrients’ so that each child can grow up in a way that suits them. This is the most important thing. Therefore, in either Dehong Schools or Dulwich International Schools, the educational philosophy is the same. We hope that every child can truly become who they want to be.
Every child has different cognitive tendencies and learning abilities. Gardner's ‘Multiple Intelligences Theory’ tells us that every child learns differently - some children are good at listening, but not at communicating; some children are more interactive and need to learn in the process of asking questions; some children are hands-on, but may not be good at asking questions or writing essays.
If a little boy in kindergarten is constantly taking his toys apart, you will often find that this is actually how he learns. In the process of each child's growth, it is very important whether we can pay attention to their cognitive tendencies and learning abilities, so as to give them a suitable path for development. As far as our current education method is concerned, there is still relatively little we can do. The reason is that we are still practicing pedagogy from hundreds of years ago. That is, all the goals of a class are the same. Children all follow the same syllabus.
In fact, the real education is to follow people’s development. Dewey once said: What is the purpose of education? Education has no purpose; only people and society give it purpose. The founder of Suzhou High School New School, Wang Maozu, was originally the provost of Beijing Normal University, and he was also a student of Dewey. He once said that students should ’have the ability to change the environment and not succumb to a bad environment’. My understanding of the purpose of education comes from Mr. Dewey and from Western education, which is focusing more on people themselves.
The growth of a person is more important than the external purpose, which is what we now call the ‘children's position"’: to discover how we should educate from the child, rather than instilling all the purposes and viewpoints into them. Although children eventually have to adapt to the development of society, we must first explore the laws of their own growth. Therefore, education for us has two aspects: on the one hand, what we want to give our children; on the other hand, what kind of growth the children need. These two aspects should be combined, and this is also the place where there are differences between Chinese and Western cultures that need to be integrated.
Dewey had a saying: ’Education is growth’. Growth refers to the natural development of a person, and education is to help a person growing in a natural environment. When we combine Chinese and Western education, we must integrate these two viewpoints into our practical actions. On the one hand, we must combine the advantages of domestic courses to help children's knowledge develop better because this is necessary for social and national development; on the other hand, we must not ignore the developmental needs of people, so we must practice good, holistic education. Therefore, we need to establish two systems in the curriculum: One is the system required by social development, and at the same time, the other one must benefit each child’s development.
KingLead: As the principal of the school, how do you practice the school's philosophy and culture at work?
Fei Jianhua, Principal of Dulwich International High School Suzhou: In fact, the most troublesome thing about being a principal is that even if you have a good idea, but in practice, it is not enough for the principal to do it alone. You have to have a good teaching staff who are capable of implementing your ideas, or you and your teacher continue to have conflict while learning from each other, improving as a result. These are all things that must be done.
Some parents choose one school because the school buildings are extraordinary; some because the curriculum is good; and some because the principal is very good, but these three are not the most important. The most important thing would be that the school's teachers are good because the teachers are the essence of implementing the teaching in the school. No good teachers are equal to no school.
So for us, we must attach great importance to the cultivation and practical training of teachers. First of all, you must recruit teachers who share the same values and vision as you, so that you can implement your ideas. When teachers enter the school, there must be some differences between them, such as differences in competence, knowledge, and communication. How to integrate them well is a problem that management needs to solve.
First of all, we must know that every teacher has specific strengths and weaknesses, but just like how we treat our students, we must magnify the strengths of teachers, improve the gaps in their knowledge, and use excellent teachers in suitable positions through good managemet, so as to help the overall development and management of our school.
This semester, Dulwich International High School Suzhou started on August 15th, and we started our two-week teacher training from August 1st. The purpose of providing training to all teachers is to make teachers clear about our philosophy, and to implement it into every minute of a class and communication with students.
Of course, we will still have problems of one kind or another, and we must continue to solve them when we see them. Because every teacher is different, it is especially important to learn from each other, help each other, and form a team to support each other. This is also a characteristic advantage of our Chinese education. Through lesson preparation groups and teaching groups, teachers are not fighting alone, but as a team. I think that the establishment of the team is the foundation of the implementation of this concept. This is my point of view.
Helping Students “Hunt” for Knowledge to Help Them Grow
KingLead: Could you please tell us what your opinion is on how to understand the position of a school and develop its unique features and characteristics?
Fei Jianhua, Principal of Dulwich International High School Suzhou: The school's orientation should be based on its location and student. Dulwich International High School Suzhou is rooted in Suzhou Industrial Park, so firstly, its purpose is to serve the economic and social development of Suzhou, especially the Suzhou Industrial Park itself, and at the same time, meet the diverse needs of parents for education. But the most important thing is to pay attention to the development of students. The school should use its own high-quality courses to promote the development of students and make each student become a whole person. At Dulwich, we take full advantage of the international resources of Suzhou Industrial Park and the global educational resources of the EiM Group, of which Dulwich is a part, to serve the development of students.
KingLead: In terms of school construction, what innovative attempts and practices does Dulwich International High School Suzhou have?
Fei Jianhua, Principal of Dulwich International High School Suzhou: School construction must meet the needs of curriculum implementation. Therefore, school construction should be from the inside out. The layout of learning, activity, and living spaces are all developed around students' learning needs and the curriculum. Our courses require students to have classes under the class-selection-system-teaching method; therefore, the space layout will meet the needs of effective classroom teaching. At the same time, in order to ensure that teachers have more opportunities and time to contact students, teachers' office spaces and students' learning space ares also staggered and integrated.
KingLead: In your opinion, what is the greatest competitive advantage of Dulwich International High School Suzhou? How do you develop and maintain it?
Fei Jianhua, Principal of Dulwich International High School Suzhou: The competitive advantage of Dulwich International High School Suzhou comes from the team of teachers and learning resources. We have a complete teacher recruitment system and a strict teacher management and training system, which are fundamental to ensure the quality of teaching. Dulwich has a high proportion of foreign teachers, and our high-quality foreign teachers benefit from our strict selection of foreign teachers and high-quality training.
At the same time, we share the resources of the EiM Group, in which there are more than ten schools, more than 10,000 students, and thousands of teachers around the world. Students in our school have the opportunity to participate in various activities organised by the EiM group almost every month, including drama festivals, technology competitions, sports competitions (such as the Dulwich Olympia Games), music festivals, and arts festivals. Students also have more opportunities to participate in high-level global academic competitions.
KingLead: Dulwich International High School Suzhou is not only one campus of Dulwich College in Suzhou, but also has a strong brand. What do you think the school still needs to improve?
Fei Jianhua, Principal of Dulwich International High School Suzhou: I just became the Chinese Principal of Dulwich International High School Suzhou, and I am still learning more about the school right now. It will take some time. Of course, any school has areas that need to be improved. From my point of view, our school now provides courses in the A-Level system, and we should pay more attention to how to connect with the current domestic curricular system. Due to our school only being a high school, while many children may transfer from bilingual schools or international schools, most of the children come from public schools. How can they be acculturated into the international curriculum system? Although the connection between A-Level and the domestic system is relatively smooth, there are still some differences in learning methods.
If these children study abroad in the future, their test scores alone will not be enough to succeed in college. We can train for A-Level exams like many high schools, and it is not too difficult for children to get high scores, but the real responsibility for children is not only to have high scores from training, but also to let children succeed in college and life in the future.
We at Dulwich have a saying: ‘Grow in Dulwich, thrive in life’, it sounds like a slogan, but in fact we hope to see children can go further in the future. This requires us consider how to make a child have a smooth transition before and after their education here? After many children come, they are accustomed to ‘being fed’ things from the teacher, but when they arrive at the university, the teacher will not take the initiative to give knowledge to the students, so this requires a transitional curricular system.
In fact, this is a very serious challenge for us. As domestic education is becoming more and more competitive, children may become more and more dependent on teachers to keep all their after-school hours in order. This generates a problem in which children don't know what to do when they are given time for self-study instead of homework. In fact, the process from the teacher ‘feeding’ the children to children start to taking the initiative to ‘hunting’ is the process of transitioning between different educational philosophies.
A child who grew up in an international school may be more comfortable because they know what their goals are and keep moving toward them. But children from other systems may have these problems and could even develop anxiety, which comes from not knowing how to adapt to a more independent style of learning. Many parents worry that their children will not understand all their English classes. This anxiety is actually unnecessary. As an English teacher, I can say that children can basically understand after a month of school, but the adaptation to new ways of learning is sometimes a difficult process.
KingLead: What are the development objectives and plans for Dulwich International High School Suzhou?
Fei Jianhua, Principal of Dulwich International High School Suzhou: No matter how high the goal is, if it is not done step by step, it means that there is no goal., so we have to grasp every detail of all work in the moment. I think this is the most important work goal at the moment.
In general, we are now exploring how to better integrate the domestic courses and international courses. From a ‘zoomed-in’ perspective, as a manager of the school, I am more concerned with the details of management. When the details are in place, the goal can be achieved.
KingLead: How do you think Dulwich International High School Suzhou will continue to improve its influence in the future?
Fei Jianhua, Principal of Dulwich International High School Suzhou: I think the most important thing to improve influence is to continuously develop our school better and stronger. Our influence lies in our internal mechanisms and management, as well as the satisfaction of parents. I can say how good my school is, but whether people agree with me or not? The most important thing is that parents and students agree that we are good, which is important. So I think our mind should be more down-to-earth and to manage the school well, so that students can develop and parents can be satisfied with the development of their children. That is the foundation.
Respecting Differences and
KingLead: In your opinion, what should a future-oriented education model look like?
Fei Jianhua, Principal of Dulwich International High School Suzhou: In the future, education will pay more attention to the individualized development of people, so education will pay more attention to the particularities and differences of each individual. The traditional class teaching system that adapts to the development of large-scale industrialization will gradually be replaced by adaptive learning methods that are suitable for the development of human personality and based on digital learning. School education will be more inclined to ‘blended learning’, combining online and offline teaching.
KingLead: The quality of students' learning is very important to both schools and parents. Do you have any insights and suggestions on improving the quality of students' learning?
Fei Jianhua, Principal of Dulwich International High School Suzhou: Learning ability is an important dimension related to the quality of students' learning. The first is to have a clear ‘learning drive’, which includes having the ability to plan ahead and be self-disciplined, rather than just be forced by the external motivation of teachers, parents and exams. The second is to learn to ‘inquire and explore’. It is not only to know the standard answer through learning, but also to question and explore your learning to find a reasonable solution. That is to say: Instead of waiting for the teacher to feed you the knowledge, you should take the initiative to discover problems and seek the best solution to those problems through exploration and practice. The next is also to have the ability to learn cooperatively. Will students work in teams and compete reasonably? The ability to learn cooperatively is an integral part of learning ability.
Due to the current state of education, which is generally test-oriented, some children regard passing the entrance examination as the only driving force for learning. As a result, after completing the key tests, some children will tear up their books and test papers, smash their desks and chairs, and think that their hard work has finally come to an end. Although some children have good test scores, they have no internal drive to study after entering the university, and some of them even have problems such as skipping classes, indulging in the Internet, cheating in exams or essays, etc. This is the problem of our education because entering university is the real start of an academic career, and learning should be life-long.
Behind the 'lifelong learner' philosophy of Dulwich is treating students as human beings, not exam-passing machines. From a schooling perspective, it is much harder to make a child a ‘lifelong learner’ than to ‘make that child get good grades. The research on problem-solving skills, the pre-judgment of the idea of a problem, and the training of children's ability to solve problems are actually a hundred times more difficult than ’studying children's cognitive tendencies, discovering children's unique advantages, encouraging children to explore and innovate, and developing children's higher-order thinking’.
In my more than 30 years of teaching, I have also helped children take exams, but I prefer to be a tutor of children's drive to self-development. I think this is the reason why Dulwich students are different. Plus, sometimes it would cost some challenges even failures for children to grow up. At Dulwich, we are not afraid of children failing and making mistakes, instead, we see them as an important part of the learning experience. We will encourage children to find motivation in life from failures and mistakes, becoming a person who can grow up through adversity.
This is also, as you can see, what Dulwich cares about: that ten, twenty, thirty years later, the children are still so optimistic, so enthusiastic and so fond of learning. After studying at Dulwich, you will see profound changes in their attitude, cooperation, and communication skills, which are the foundation for them to meet unexpected challenges in the future.
KingLead: What kind of people do you think can be called innovative talents?
Fei Jianhua, Principal of Dulwich International High School Suzhou: Innovation is not created out of nowhere. Therefore, the accumulation and reserve of knowledge is essential, but today's knowledge and capabilities may be eliminated in the future. The ‘smartphone’ that we cannot put down today may be replaced by some form of ‘metaverse’ in the near future, and what we call ‘mathematical computing power’ today may be replaced by the ‘programming language ability’ of the future. Therefore, the innovative talents, as I understand it, should be those who, on the basis of certain knowledge and abilities, constantly think critically and put ideas into action. They will continue to identify problems, analyze problems, and research to find solutions to those problems. They will have the courage to trial and error and not afraid of repeated failure; they can face challenges and setbacks very positively, can be inclusive and empathetic, have the ability to devote themselves fully to their passions, and possess the life-long learning ability and hold some self-improvement expectations all the time.