The process of establishing the London Chinese Community School (formerly known as the Indo-Chinese Refugee Chinese school) began in 1978 when the British government allowed Indo-Chinese refugees to settle in this country. Indo-Chinese refugees flooded into Britain up until 1982. Although there were a number of Chinese schools teaching primarily in Cantonese based in London’s Chinatown, this was not a good environment for study, lesson times were short and transport was inconvenient. Some people began to feel unhappy about the situation.
In order to find a solution to this problem, a number of people who had previously worked with the Chinese community in Vietnam felt dutybound to undertake the arduous mission of setting up a school for children of Chinese descent.
Nothing is impossible. With this in mind, the school’s founding aim lay in continuing Chinese cultural traditions and enabling children of Chinese descent to receive the type of cultural education their would expect in China. After many months of planning and negotiation, ILEA finally agreed that the John Evelyn Centre could be used free of charge for weekly Chinese language classes. The Chinese School came into being at the end of June 1982.
At the outset there were only 26 pupils who were split into four classes receiving three hours of teaching per week. There was a complete lack of funds or any equipment. The task was both complicated and difficult, yet the organisers were determined to stride eagerly and bravely forward. There were no textbooks and teaching materials had to be supplemented by photocopied handouts. In London it was almost impossible to find textbooks that could be adapted for teaching Mandarin. Furthermore, work was extremely arduous, with everyone taking on dual roles. It is important for everyone who was not there to appreciate fully the difficulties of those early days. Due to earnest teaching, strict pupil control and a dedication to duty, the staff to the school earned the respect of the parents. Pupil numbers rapidly increased to more than 200 by early 1983. In the same year a parents’discussion meeting was held to co-ordinate the expansion of the school. It was decided to increase lesson times to five hours per week and to add some new lessons. The choice of lessons offered was totally independent on the needs of the Chinese community. As there weren’t many bilingual Mandarin and English speakers in the community, a Chinese- English translation class was started in 1983. It aimed at training a number of bilingual pupils within the community. For more than a decade the school has supported and encouraged pupils to blend into mainstream British society. Ex-pupils have successfully entered professions such as finance, law, medicine, accountancy, construction and the arts. People from all areas of society have lavished praise on the school.
The school now has 332 pupils divided into eleven classes with fourteen teachers. Although there are only five hours of classes as week, in order to improve the standard of their teaching, teachers have undertaken in-service training, have participated in correspondence courses and teacher training provided by the British authorities- some have even undergone teacher training in Taiwan during the summer.
The school employs a variety of teaching materials and equipment to stimulate pupil interest. The school has up-to-date audio-visual teaching equipment such as VCRs projectors, amplifiers, overhead projectors, photocopiers and printers. There is also a well-stocked library, which offers assistance to teachers and pupils alike. Snooker and table tennis tables, which are maintained by youth workers, have been set up to allow pupils to undertake physical and mental relaxation at break times.
Another extracurricular activity is the teaching of folk dancing to those interested. The school’s dance troupe has more than fifty members and is able to put on large-scale cultural performances. In recent years the troupe has performed in public by invitation on more than ten occasions.
Although the school is only small, progress has been marked. Due to the variety of activities offered, it should not really been seen as an ordinary Chinese school. Since it was established, many VIPs have visited the school. Worthy of special mention are the two visits by Her Majesty Inspectors, who were very impressed by the range of classes offered, from moral education to music. They felt that the teaching of English-Chinese translation was the most effective way of teaching language. They also commented favorably on the children’s interest in learning Chinese and their respect of discipline. The school administrative committee struggled arduously and without complaining for many years. Their struggle was eventually noticed by the relevant authorities. The saying ‘one who upholds justice shall not be alone’ is certainly true. Over a number of years the school won funding from Lewisham Council’s Racial Equality Commission, ILEA and the EU Social Fund. The Oversea Chinese Affairs Department of R.O.China provides textbooks and equipment. Other charitable organisations have offered assistance. And finally, of course, there has always been strong support from the parents. Without all this support, the school would never have achieved such great results.
At the end of 1983 the school was successful in receiving Urban Aid Funding from the local council. This was without doubt the school’s greatest success. The funding was used to implement the Indo-Chinese Refugee Self-Help Plan, which acted as a mouthpiece for the Indo-Chinese community and fought for the rights of fellow refugees. That a single, powerless organisation can sweep aside all obstacles in an unfamiliar environment is unimaginable. However, the staff worked in unison to develop teaching standards, to contribute to society and to promote racial harmony. Due to the mounting expenses of renting school buildings – – not to mention all the above-listed problems – – in 1984 the school started in earnest to gather funds to build new premises. After more than a decade of hard work, as well as assistant from Mr.Yung-Fa Chang, Chairman of the Evergreen International Shipping Company, the Deptford City Challenge and National Lottery Charities Board, construction of the new school was finally completed at the end of November 1998. The community centre now offers the following services: information, advice on health, social clubs, Chinese language classes, meals for the elderly, home help, advice on employment, education on alcoholism and drug abuse, and old people’s day centre. The Chinese Community School and Community Centre will continue to serve the needs of the Chinese and Vietnamese people of Southeast London.