The Toronto District School Board is right to be backing away from an agreement allowing the Confucius Institute to offer language and cultural programs at local high schools. The institute is subsidized and controlled by China’s Ministry of Education. Its teachers are hand-picked by Beijing to offer instruction steeped in the Chinese government’s biased, undemocratic point of view. Why former board chair Chris Bolton saw fit to invite China’s one-party state into Toronto’s classrooms is something he has failed to explain. (He resigned last June.) Trustees sensibly voted earlier this summer to delay the rollout of the culture programs. They should next vote to cancel them entirely, to preserve the academic integrity of our public schools.
Unsurprisingly, Beijing has not taken kindly to the board’s efforts to dissolve the agreement with the Confucius Institute. The TDSB is now having trouble finding local vendors in China to open an office to recruit international students to study at Toronto high schools. An internal e-mail sent to trustees from education director Donna Quan suggests their reluctance stems from the fact that they see work with the TDSB as “a risk.” The risk is that Beijing will be displeased.
Why would Toronto’s school board care what the government of China thinks of it? Because public schools are increasingly in the game of for-profit education, marketing themselves abroad and seeking international students as cash cows. In 2012 alone, more than 23,000 new foreign students, primarily from China, paid as much as $14,000 a year to attend Canadian high schools. Plans for a TDSB Chinese recruitment office appear to have been dashed – and that’s probably a good thing. Dabbling in international recruitment may appear lucrative, but it invites unintended consequences. A public school board task should concern itself with the public education of Canadian students, not foreign policy.