British teacher creates warm international school community
David Priest never thought that eating spicy food would one day bring him to Changsha, in Hunan province.
When Sino-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park's international service company considered candidates for the role of principal at an international school in Changsha in 2010 Priest was a frontrunner.
After graduating from the University of London with a bachelor's degree in physical education and music in 1978, Priest worked and lived in Japan, Kenya, India and Thailand. Although he was keen to take up the role in Changsha due to its reputation for strong spicy food, he was worried about the living conditions in China.
"I thought that living in a developing country would be difficult," said the 58-year-old, who had to deal with water and power outages when he lived in Kenya.
With low expectations for Changsha, Priest was pleasantly surprised after arriving in the provincial capital.
"I found that life in China is convenient, and it's becoming better and better," he said, adding that he has seen construction of a local airport, a high-speed railway station, subways and big shopping malls during his five years in Changsha.
"English signs are in many areas of the city and make it easier for foreigners to live here."
After helping establish Changsha WES Academy, including staff recruitment, equipment procurement and student enrollment, Priest has tried to create a warm and friendly environment in the school.
The principal said that among the international school's students, who come from 22 countries, those from China are not as willing to relax and play compared with the others.
"Chinese students are often taught to be rigid by their teachers," said Priest. "I think that teachers should not become friends of the students, but should develop a friendly, person-to-person level relationship with them. They should make the students love to go to school, so that they can participate actively in school activities."
He said that the Chinese teaching method is to teach knowledge to students, but he believes that knowledge should be acquired by continuous exploration.
"Education should serve as a lighthouse to guide the children to experience the world and develop their personalities," Priest said.
He suggested that China should invest more in education to train more teachers.
"The class sizes should become smaller so that teachers can pay more attention and offer help to each student. Major changes should be made to the current education system."
"The world is becoming smaller and smaller," said Priest.
"Learning languages is essential for understanding other cultures. I think that a student should at least be bilingual and, apart from English, Chinese students should learn other foreign languages."