Little Schools concept exported to China

CATHERINE HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 30/04/2012
Little Schools owner Maria Johnson with Hugo Plimmer, left, Katie Hubbard, Zach Webb and Nina Blades.
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ

SUCCESS STORY: Little Schools owner Maria Johnson with Hugo Plimmer, left, Katie Hubbard, Zach Webb and Nina Blades.

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When Wellington woman Maria Johnson started her first preschool nine years ago, she was determined it would first and foremost be about quality teaching.

Four preschools later, she is exporting her brand of early education to China, starting with a university preschool in Xian.

"It is very exciting," she said of the opportunity. Since she first opened in Khandallah, Johnson's Little Schools business has expanded to three schools in Wellington and one in Auckland.

Her philosophy was to have a structured learning environment which gave children a head start when they entered school while still fostering a love of learning.

Her move into China was sparked 18 months ago by a visiting delegation of top principals from Singapore. She was asked to consider setting up there, but the cost of living was too high for her.

"It made me stop and think, well, we really do have a good quality early education programme and the demand in Wellington's been huge and so let's look at taking it overseas and why not start with China?"

After deliberation, Johnson picked Xian, where both her husband's firm and government body New Zealand Education had contacts.

Johnson found the Chinese government was investing heavily in early education, and eventually she was introduced to the principal of Jaitong University, one of China's best universities. Negotiations are under way to allow Little School to open three international classrooms within the university's 1500-pupil preschool.

Johnson said the demand for an English education in China was like it was in Japan 30 years ago.

"There is a huge push now for English-speaking teachers in Chinese classrooms and most of the schools would say that they offer English classrooms. But the English that is taught there is very pidgin English."

Paperwork willing, Johnson hopes to send three teachers to Xian next year, and a business development manager to handle interest from other cities.

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- The Dominion Post

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