A recent drug bust that resulted in the detention of several international school students has caused widespread concern among parents and teachers in Beijing’s international community.
Coincidentally, the municipal government recently announced a city-wide education campaign in 100 primary and middle schools (including international schools), according to the South China Morning Post.
The incident has prompted many families to ask what steps international schools are taking to prevent students from breaking China’s strict drug laws.
Anthony Carman, secondary school counselor at Beijing City International School (BCIS), says he coordinates preventative drug programs for secondary students in partnership with an American organization called Freedom From Chemical Dependency (FCD). Every year, the school hosts week-long intensive workshops on campus.
"The FCD presenters are all ex-addicts and are able to work with students to develop strategies and procedures they can use to say no to drug and alcohol use when they are presented with an opportunity to experiment,” says Carman.
Andy Puttock, Principal of the British School of Beijing (BSB) Shunyi, says such policies are especially important because young people today face pressures in ways that are far more dangerous and pervasive than ever before.
"Social media and the internet, travel and independence have all contributed to changes in youth culture, as have changes in family circumstances," he says. "We therefore believe that school has a strong role to play, along with parents and government authorities, in protecting our school family."
BSB has a zero-tolerance policy for drugs – standard practice for many international and public schools – and lessons about the dangers of illegal substances via the school’s Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) curriculum.
"This program is under constant review as new issues arise and as we look at the best practice worldwide in drugs and alcohol education," says Puttock. "We believe that proactive and positive action to reinforce the educational message must be at the root of what we do, but we will also not hesitate to take punitive measures, including involvement of the authorities, against anyone who tries to bring drugs into our community in any way."
Carman says BCIS has a policy to test students for narcotics in case of suspicion, but anti-drug education is more efficient than tackling a problem after the fact. Such preventative measures better equip students for the pressures of real life because they will have "thought about these issues prior to being exposed to or being offered drugs, [giving them]a credible and thought through reason to say no."
Sara Bandel, a community relations and marketing specialist at the International School of Beijing (ISB), says "our teachers and counselors conduct appropriate and periodic discussions and educational opportunities" about drugs at their school, focusing on the legal and health consequences of narcotics use, and how families can stay safe within their host country.
She adds that ISB also offers annual workshops in conjunction with FCD to help students make safe and healthy choices that will help them avoid drugs.
Puttock says that the recent news has not prompted BSB to change its approach. "Such events are always a reminder to us to review and revisit our advice and guidance to students, staff and parents, and we have done so," he adds.
What has changed, says Puttock, is the added incentive for intentional schools to be more collaborative in their anti-drug efforts. Those measures include greater liaisons between the student councils of various schools, joint forums with input from professionals, and very close partnerships with government authorities.
These new broader efforts will help international schools better address the problem as a community, sharing ideas and practices that can help keep all of students safe.
"We will continue to develop this over the coming years," says Puttock. "The main resolve we have is to ensure that [preventative drug education]doesn’t just happen because of recent events, but as a tangible sign of our long-term commitment to support and protect our students from undesirable outside influences."