I have been a long-time admirer of the work of UBC’s former President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Martha Piper. And, in the past two weeks I have had two opportunities to hear her speak directly about the road ahead for education in British Columbia; first, in roundtable discussions focussing on the qualities of an Educated Citizen, with the Honourable George Abbott, B.C.’s Minister of Education, and this week as she keynoted the BC School Trustees Association 2011 Academy in Vancouver.
On both occasions, Dr. Piper referenced the work out of Singapore and the influence of Lee Kuan Yew on her thinking. She recalled his advice, and the three key points he shared:
1) the importance of multiple languages
2) the value of being scientifically literate and technologically savvy
3) the need to study cultures and religions
In the most recent session at the BCSTA Academy, Dr. Piper framed these key points in context to her five suggestions to foster creativity and global citizenship. She restated these suggestions, and not only “preparing students for the workforce”, as an essential role of our K-12 system:
1) A Commitment to Languages
There are a series of new languages required to be competitive. Should we have all students learn two, or three languages? How can we infuse literature from other countries and expose our students to foreign language films? The research is clear that the learning of languages will boost creativity.
2) Integrate Humanities and the Arts into Curriculum
We have become focussed on areas relatively easy to test. Areas that we have agreed are increasingly important to support creativity push beyond these traditional core areas. These areas will not be able to be evaluated on a bubble sheet, but will be used in the “test” of life and living.
3) Embed Global Citizenship
We need to make connections to the real world, so students in a science class understand how the science in the lab is changing the “real” world. These kind of connections need to be made at all levels, in all classes.
4) Embrace Community Service Learning
We need to build citizenship in students and within communities that is part of the school experience. As well, constructive projects that connect with and build community need to be a role for our schools.
5) Build Unique Environments
Each community is different, so programs should be flexible enough to tailor to community needs to best serve the students of each school and district.
Dr. Piper put a different frame on some of the personalized learning discussions, but with familiar themes around global citizenship. However, her stress on languages is not one I hear often. She spoke about our goals of creating tolerant, compassionate and respectful environments, making students feel welcome and secure as they pursue their passions.
We can all point to examples of teachers, programs and even schools embracing the ideals that Dr. Piper speaks about. The challenge is acknowledging and sharing the great practices around them: the schools who have found ways to add Mandarin to their school day, or integrate Social Studies, Music and Math in their inquiry projects, or have a scope and sequence for global citizenship, or encouraging all students to participate in meaningful community engagement, or have taken ministry curriculum and tailored these documents for their schools. There are excellent examples of these practices, but are largely pockets of innovation.
I have heard a number of speakers on their way forward, and found Dr. Piper’s views of incremental change and focussing on citizenship to resonate with many of my hopes for our system.