Hudnut, Huybrechts discuss high school education at Chinese conference

By Alice Phillips

President Thomas Hudnut and Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts traveled to Beijing and Shanghai, China this summer as Harvard-Westlake joined the World’s Leading School Association as the first school from the United States.

Six schools from the English-speaking world were invited to the conference alongside seven Chinese public magnet high schools. Eton College, which was the first English-speaking school in WLSA, nominated Harvard-Westlake.

The aim of the conference was for principals from all schools to exchange ideas and engage in discourse about the different educational systems around the world, Hudnut said.

“One of the best things I got out of the experience was getting to know some headmasters from other English-speaking schools,” Huybrechts said.

“If our students ever wanted to do some sort of collaborative exercise with students in China I now have some friends who are Chinese school administrators.”

The Chinese system is exam-driven, meaning principals must tailor their curricula to one test that determines a high school student’s eligibility for and placement in college.

Hudnut said that teaching to a placement test inhibits schools from promoting the creativity, critical thinking and individual initiative that is valued at schools such as Harvard-Westlake.

“I think all of us visitors sensed the frustrations that the principals have with their system that mandates the preparation of students for one particular test and the straight-jacket that that really puts on the educators,” Hudnut said. “The Chinese system stresses one-size fits all conformity that is at odds with human potential.”

Although WLSA is a fledgling organization, Hudnut said that a Chinese delegation plans to visit Harvard-Westlake when they come to the United States in October.

“What we would like to see come out of this is an identified topic or research project that teams of students from schools in various parts of the world could work on, then they would come together at the end of the school year in a culminating exercise,” Hudnut said.

Huybrechts also spent time in Singapore prior to the WLSA conference.