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Posts Tagged ‘Singapore’

Interest in the education system in British Columbia and Canada generally seems to be at an all time high. Likely, in part driven by high PISA (International testing) results, edu-tourism is flourishing and the world is very curious about what is going on in Canada.  This week I am giving a talk to an audience of largely American Superintendents, which has forced me to try to crystallize exactly what it is in our part of the world that is so interesting.

When we look at structures, our Canadian system has a lot in common with our US counterparts.  We have locally elected Boards of Education throughout most of the country, we have local accountability, a mix of involvement of different levels of government, generally high community engagement in education and strong teacher associations.  We lack the Federal involvement in education present in the United States and seemingly most places in the world, and generally don’t have the ability to raise any funding locally for the school system.   Throughout North America you can find quite a bit in common with how we organize education.

Our system seems to strive for this highly sought after combination of strong equity and high quality.  We seem to have dismissed the idea that one needs to either have one or the other and instead we have committed ourselves to both.  And we also seem to have this unwavering belief that no matter how “good” our system is, we need to continue to change, grow and get better.  There is a sense that we can always improve.   Trying to tightly describe the BC or Canadian uniqueness is a challenge, but I see these as some of the areas that stand out:

We Are Doing What We Always Say We Should Do

The entire BC curriculum has been redesigned.  The prescriptive nature of the curriculum has been reduced with a greater focus on big ideas and the allowance of flexibility and choice in learning for teachers and students.  Interdisciplinary learning has been embraced allowing the teacher a greater opportunity to be creative and innovative in the design of their learning experiences.  Core competencies are the foundation of the curriculum with a focus on communication, thinking and personal and social competency.  Now these areas that we have always said are important, but often in the background have been pushed to the foreground.  And finally, the curriculum has been Indiginized and a focus on the First Peoples Principles of Learning has been emphasized throughout the province.

A former Superintendent colleague of mine, Mike McKay, would often say, “Will What We Know Change What We Do?” – with our system we are trying to make the answer now.

Curriculum

The shift in curriculum is as much about the how as the what.  The move to big ideas, has seen a move to more inquiry based learning.  The curriculum is seen as relevent and ever-changing.  Rather than being static as it has been in the past, it is seen now as nimble, being able to shift as the world shifts.

Assessment

BC does not have high stakes assessment.  Students in British Columbia write Foundation Skills Assessments in grades 4 and 7 in reading, writing and numeracy and then a literacy and numeracy assessment in grades 10-12.  These results are shared with students and families and inform practice but they do not appear on report cards, nor are they part of any school marks.  Teacher judgement is highly valued and they along with schools and districts design a range of assessments (more than just traditional tests) to support students. Increasingly passion projects, portfolios and capstone assignments are a large part of a student’s program

We Have Learned From Others

When I look at our system in BC now, I would describe it as a “mash-up” of what we are seeing around the world.   One can see elements of Finland, Singapore and New Zealand in our system.  International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement have also clearly been influential.  Teachers have looked locally – to schools in their district and our province, to Alberta and Ontario, to High Tech High in San Diego, and many other places and they have all influenced what we do.  BC has always prided itself on being a highly networked province and this extends around the globe, and our system reflects this.  We have taken good ideas and made them ours for our context

No Franchises

BC has this delicate balance of having a lot common with others but not sameness.  Schools and districts share some tenants but are not trying “scale” work to all be the same.  It is this idea of networks.  We are trying to connect and build networks, focusing on diffusion, not replication.

It is hard to pull the BC or Canadian story together.  I don’t think anyone can listen to someone speak about our system or visit our schools and say, we should be like them.  Just as we haven’t done that as we looked to evolve our system.  We are immensely proud of our school system, and it is wonderful to be somewhere that recognizes the world is rapidly changing, so as proud as we are of our past and present, our future needs to change to ensure we continue to have this pride.

Below are the slides I am using for this presentation this week.  It is a work in progress, so any thoughts to help make these ideas more clear are always appreciated (if you are viewing this via email you may need to go to the website to see the slides).

 

 

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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.

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As we look at increasing “personalized learning” in British Columbia, we have been encouraged to look over the fence and see what are neighbours are doing.  It is not a local, provincial, or even national trend to evolve schools to better embrace “21st century skills“, the movement is happening around the world.

For the past two days, Ontario has hosted Building Blocks for Education:  Whole System Reform and featured big thinkers from around the world including Michael Fullan, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Timo Lankinen the Director General of the Finish National Board of Education.   The conference is connected to the  Ontario government’s education plan:  Reach Every Student – Energizing Ontario Education.

With thanks to those tweeting from the Conference, and some late-night viewing of the keynotes that were webcast, here are some of the more interesting insights I found looking over the fence:

Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, Singapore:

  • the first building block to success is the principals
  • the role of politicians is sometimes to get out of the way
  • 20% of Singapore’s government spending goes to education
  • recognized that performance art can help promote 21st century skills

Timo Lankinen – Director General, Finish National Board of Education:

  • In Finland grade 1’s spend only 3 hours in school a day
  • Focus is moving from literacy and numeracy to arts and physical activity
  • Teachers salaries are not higher, but it is a very valued profession
  • 21st century skills are a key part of Finland’s success
  • All teachers in Finland hold a Master’s Degree

Michael Fullan, Special Advisor to the Premier of Ontario:

  • Transparency is here to stay
  • Relevant and personalized curriculum is helping grad rates
  • Role of central government in education is strategy, manage evaluation, explain to taxpayers what is happening
  • clamour for autonomy occurs with bad policies and bad leadership
  • not acceptable in definition of professional teacher or principal to say “leave me alone” – it is a balance between autonomy and integration

Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education:

  • “the fight for education is a daily fight for social justice”
  • Department of Education needs to be an engine of innovation and not a compliance office
  • Interesting – 2000 high schools produce 1/2 of US dropouts – call them “dropout factories”
  • US is in the midst of a quiet revolution in school reform
  • Courage not resources will transform education in the U.S.
  • In the U.S. the kids that need the most help get the least

Andreas Schleicher, Special Advisor on Education Policy, Directorate for Education, Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD):

  • once you remove the influence of social background, public schools do better than private schools
  • use statistical neighbours and interrogate data
  • technology enables non-linear learning
  • best systems attract great teachers and give access to best practices and quality
  • schools need to focus on the things that our kids will really need to know – learning how to learn and collaborating with others

There is some reassurance in knowing so many jurisdictions are having the same conversation. Many of our conversations in West Vancouver and the directions we are moving sound similar to those being implemented around the world.  The challenge, though, when we look at Finland, or when others look at us, is to take the ideas and apply them to what can be very different local contexts.

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