Chinese Education: Shanghai’s Success Story

If you’ve read my post on Finland’s enviable education system, you’ll know why educators and politicians are recommending North American schools to adopt many of the policies Finnish schools employ for student success. However, there is a new side to the debate, with analysts arguing for a closer look at Shanghai’s education system instead and its international success. It has already been well documented that Chinese students rank high on the world stage in terms of math and science test scores, but this success has often been mitigated with criticisms of how Chinese students acquire these standardized test results (i.e. saying students lack creativity; subjects are drilled into their heads via rote memorization; students lack a balance and study for over 14 hours a day…).

With 23 million inhabitants, Shanghai is the most populous city in China, and is also its largest economic center. In 2009 and 2012 the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranked Shanghai-China’s 15-year-old students the best in the world for all three of its major categories: math, reading, and science. What is particularly impressive though, is that Shanghai has “the highest share of disadvantaged students in the top 25 per cent range on PISA tests”. Regardless of demographics, Shanghai has successfully removed poverty and a low income background as variables affecting a child’s – and thereby a school’s – testing performance.

So, what is the big reason for Shanghai’s educational success? Is it administrative funding? School infrastructure? Cultural approach to learning? The answer: Teachers and teaching excellence.  But the answer isn’t simply that Shanghaiese teachers are better educated.

Eight Teacher Policy Goals Under SABER-Teachers             Image (c) World Bank 2013

Rather, teaching time is organized differently than in other education systems globally. Teachers spend only one-third of their time teaching, and the rest is spent on professional development and lesson preparation. Teachers are provided with  peer review and constructive feedback, and are constantly exposed to the best teaching methods whilst being provided with time to deepen their knowledge of the subjects they are responsible for teaching.

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Ontario: Special Education Needs

While controversy continues to swirl around the province’s policy changes to autism services, children who require special education are struggling to get their rightful education. According to a 2014 People for Education report, “half of Ontario’s elementary school principals said they have told students with special needs to stay home from school for all or part of the day”. Students with special needs are often glossed over and are too easily cited as “disruptive” to other students in the traditional learning atmosphere of public schools. Schools are legally required to accommodate a student’s needs, however many schools currently do not have the capacity to provide for special education needs.

A personal report published by the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth revealed that in 2015 “many youth felt shut out by educators who had low expectations of them”. Unfortunately, right now parents’ options for helping their special needs children seems to be dwindling to either homeschooling their child, or enrolling them at an independent special needs school. This is not a feasible solution to the oversight of the public education system. It seems parents are currently carrying the brunt of the responsibility for their child’s special education needs. 

According to OurKids, there are only two independent special needs schools in Mississauga, one of them being Oakwood Academy, the sister school of St. Jude’s Academy. Oakwood Academy is the only recognized school in Canada using the Developmental Individual Differences Relationship-Based (DIR®) model, and offers an individualized education program that is developmentally-based and multi-sensory. Their team of professionals includes Developmental Therapists, Certified Ontario Teachers, Clinical Psychologists, an Occupational Therapist, Speech Language Pathologist and Music Therapist.

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“Global Citizenship” and its Importance

For the few Ontario private schools that are certified International Baccalaureate World schools, one of their key identifying attributes is promoting and instilling the concept of “global citizenship” in their students for the benefit of the world and millennials themselves. But what exactly does it mean to be a global citizen and why has it become such an important part of the International Baccalaureate (IB)? I have often mentioned this concept, but today I am dedicating this post to its definition.

Fostering global citizenship is the third priority of the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI). Their bona fide treatise on global citizenship has been reproduced in part here for your convenience:

“The world faces global challenges, which require global solutions. These interconnected global challenges call for far-reaching changes in how we think and act for the dignity of fellow human beings.

It is not enough for education to produce individuals who can read, write and count.

Education must be transformative and bring shared values to life. It must cultivate an active care for the world and for those with whom we share it. Education must also be relevant in answering the big questions of the day.

Education must fully assume its central role in helping people to forge more just, peaceful, tolerant and inclusive societies. It must give people the understanding, skills and values they need to cooperate in resolving the interconnected challenges of the 21st century.”

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Private Schools Offer More Choice

In Ontario, public schools have strict zoning rules dictating which children can attend the school. The only way parents can have any say in where their child attends public school is if they are willing to move to a different neighbourhood altogether so that they can access a particular public school. Some exceptions apply if a child is enrolled in a specialized program at a distant public school, but these are rare cases.

Mississauga private schools on the other hand do not implement geographical restrictions on their student population, so that anyone is free to attend regardless of their home location as long as they meet the admission requirements.

Without this essentially insurmountable restriction, parents are free to pick from a plethora of options for their child’s future. There are many different types of private schools: Montessori, faith schools, boarding schools, single gender schools, prep schools… Each private school boasts of different affiliations, and there are many private schools across the financial spectrum, from the more affordable to the big investments like Upper Canada College.

But there is no need to rule out private schools with higher annual fees. Most private schools have a financial assistance program in addition to scholarships and bursaries to help families enrol their children.  

So in conclusion, private schools provide more options for your child’s education. They do not limit attendance based on zoning rules, and offer many more learning models than traditional schooling, such as inquiry-based learning and concept-based learning. They come in all shapes and sizes, and offer many more programs in addition to the standard provincial curriculum.

New Skills for a New World

Private schools excel at providing the tools that allow students to cultivate twenty-first skills necessary for future success in the changing global job market. Please take a look at the two info graphics below. With our multidisciplinary approach as well as our inquiry– and content– based learning models, students at St. Jude’s Academy are provided with an advanced education imparting the most sought-after career skills, which are listed in Table 1. From complex problem solving to cognitive flexibility, our students graduate prepared for the Digital Age’s New World with a toolbox of skills that the traditional learning curriculum employed within Ontario’s public school system often does not provide. 

To cite the World Economic Forum (WEF): “work today is increasingly collaborative and focused on solving complex problems in creative ways. Work is also more trans-disciplinary than before: just look at how Google hired psychologists to help coders design fonts, and anthropologists to better understand how their users think and behave”. With an ever-changing job market and  an increased value placed on  creativity, students will capitalize from the innumerable benefits of a private school that helps them to be flexible, ingenious, and that also understands the challenges of the twenty-first century.  These highly desirable skills listed by the WEF are not so easily acquired: they demand rich, human interactions and regular practice. To become complex thinkers, manage relationships, and be emotionally intelligent, students need an institution to provide them with a teaching philosophy (like the whole child approach and SEL) committed to augmenting their education experience.

work blog list

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Why You Should Consider an IB School

St. Jude’s Academy (SJA) is one of the only full IB World Schools in the Peel Region in Mississauga. SJA offers the official IB World PYP, MYP, and DP programs, which represent a continuation of learning excellence from Junior Kindergarten to grade 12. These inquiry-based programs are internationally recognized and revered as one of the highest standards of teaching. The specially certified IB teaching staff encourages and supports children to become critical thinkers and lifelong learners through these series of interconnected, academically rigorous programs. Teachers provide stimulating learning experiences focused on the strengths and needs of individuals in order to help all students reach their full potential.

As an IB World school, SJA offers an international standardized education. I recognize that I have mentioned the value of a standardized education here on my blog before, but it is difficult for me to overemphasize its benefits! The Ontario education system, both private and public, does not offer the same level of standardized education as IB World schools which follow the highly successful Geneva model that was established in 1968. An IB DP diploma is automatically recognized by many prominent international universities  as a reputable high school degree representing the advanced education received. But besides carrying more weight for post-graduate success, a student receiving an IB World education will develop invaluable lifelong skills to become a world citizen of the twenty-first century. They are imbued with a sense of drive, purpose, and unlimited possibility for their role on the world stage. IB World students do not just received an excellent education… they become excited about their education! With the rise of chronic student absenteeism and learning apathy, inspiring students to take an interest in their education is no mean success, and motivates them to perform to the best of their ability. .

The same way it is so important for our global economy to have a standardized system of weights and measures and currencies, it is equally important to have a standardized education!

To read more, please check out my previous post on this topic.

Private Schools: A Solution to Absenteeism?

In the United States of America, 1 in 8 high school students are a chronic absentee. For a different perspective on this same issue, we could also say that 62,000 children miss class every day of the school year, either for legitimate reasons or because they are cutting class. Unfortunately there are no existing statistics relating to Canada specifically, but generally speaking our country also suffers from some level of chronic absenteeism as well. This is characterized as when a student misses 10% or one full calendar month of their school year for the purposes of simply skipping school. A student may skip school for a number of reasons, such as social anxiety, avoiding a bully, or due to bad habits with an aversion to learning and authority.

Once a student becomes an absentee, their future success immediately becomes at risk. They are more likely to fall behind in their classes, unable to catch up, and often become high school dropouts. The American Department of Education reports that absenteeism has even been tied to poverty, poor health, and criminal records later in life. Statistics Canada also reports that a student’s academic performance in high school is almost a perfect indicator for predicting exactly how they will perform at university, thus leading to their conclusion that the formation of good study habits in high school provides the bedrock for future habits and behaviour at university. The contrapositive of this fact, then, is that students skipping school will probably not fare well in university or at their jobs if they cannot kick this dangerous habit immediately. Attendance is a key factor in academic success.

There a few ways private schools can help overcome this complex issue. As Ms. Nelson mentions in her post, private schools deter bullying by having the freedom and authority to deal with bullies more stringently and effectively than public schools can with their red tape. The small classroom sizes at private schools also work to bolster teacher supervision, which keeps bullies in check, but also allows educators to be more aware of students missing from class. Reducing teacher oversight prevents students from falling between the cracks of the school system and turning into chronic absentees, which is more likely to happen in crowded public schools. At St. Jude’s Academy, the academic success and welfare of each and every student becomes our personal goal; and as an IB World school we impart a love of learning in our students by doing everything we can to help them achieve their aspirations for the future.

But what are your thoughts? What do you think the education system needs to do in order to stop more children from missing school so much?

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Why Do Parents Choose Private Schools?

As I mentioned in my popular Finland School post, there are no private schools in Finland. Miksi? Why? Because the country is so committed to national public education there is no need for private schools which cannot offer a better quality of schooling than what already exists. Ontario is not so fortunate. The proliferation of private schools in our province indicates that the public school education system—for a variety of reasons which I will not go into—is not able to deliver the quality of education parents want to provide for their children. And do not be misled by the rampant myth that only the elite take advantage of enrolling their kids: numerous surveys reveal that parents from all income, occupational, and educational groups send their children to private schools.

That is because Ontario parents are becoming disillusioned with our public school education system, especially after the massive teachers’ strike in 2015 which disrupted countless classrooms, cancelled extracurricular activities, and jeopardized students’ university applications when assignments ceased to be marked. Private school families will never have to worry about the threat of labour strife because of the nature of the institution and the private subsidization of teachers’ wages. In return, families also benefit from the following characteristics they report as having influenced their decision to make the switch to private school:

  • a safe environment for their children
  • dedicated teachers with additional certification (for IB World schools)
  • an emphasis on academic quality
  • a commitment to student success: no student left behind (only 85.5% of Ontario students graduated high school in 2015, a rate which has increased but according to  The Toronto Star only because we are devaluing the OSSD. An IB Diploma  can never be devalued)
  • no bureaucratic red tape interfering with innovation and lesson plans
  • private schools educate the “whole child” and develop student character

All of this helps to explain why there has been a significant growth of private school enrolment in the last two decades.

South Korea: A Study in Education

In keeping with my recent posts’ international bent, I would like to travel halfway across the world to take a look at South Korea’s education system and explain why it is so successful, as well as some of its shortcomings. I will address its unique features, and also identify how some schools in Canada already share similar characteristics. For my popular post on Finland’s School Model, please click here. In case you were wondering, the featured image of this post is the Korean Bell of Friendship in California.

As in Finland, teaching is a highly respected and desirable profession in South Korea. Their teachers receive competitive salaries and job stability, in return for acquiring rigorous academic credentials and professional qualifications. Due in part to South Korea’s complex job market, elementary teachers are from the top 5% of the high school academic cohort. The Korean government encourages teachers to undergo professional development throughout their careers by favoring candidates who receive additional certification with promises of promotion. This is in contrast to Ontario’s education system, whereby a candidate who graduates teachers college is considered “done”, having “finished” their qualifications. But continuing to receive training and professional development throughout their careers ensures that Korean teachers will never become complement at work, and instead adds new skills to their arsenal to adapt to our rapidly changing Digital Age. That is why I wanted St. Jude’s Academy to be an IB World school. In order to teach at St. Jude’s, our educators had to undergo additional training to become IB certified. This is to adhere to Switzerland’s strict international teaching standards, and to ensure the students will receive an international standardized education.

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Private Schools, Boys and ADHD

There has been a developing trend in North American education, whereby despite occupying a majority in several specialized programs (like STEM), in a general sense male students are lagging behind their female peers: around 60 per cent of university populations are female, and in school girls perform better than boys on standardized tests. In attempting to explain these developments, researchers are pointing towards two issues that seem diametrically opposed: the misdiagnosis of ADHD in students and the very high rates of ADHD diagnoses for boys.

Some symptoms of ADHD in children include trouble keeping still, excessive daydreaming, difficulty sleeping, and copious activity. In a traditional learning environment—where students are expected to remain seated and focused on a single activity for long periods of time—ADHD is often misdiagnosed as a learning disability in boys when they fail to perform well on assignments. ADHD is not a learning disability, though it does affect learning. On the other side of the coin, there is a proliferation of ADHD diagnoses in boys when in reality most boys are simply kinetic learners (which more and more educators are realizing the need to recognize). Kinesthetic learning provides a constructive outlet for pent-up physical energy by providing a more hands-on learning approach, but it is most often associated with PE class. Research has also shown that concept-based learning—tackling multiple concepts within a lesson instead of maintaining a steady uninterrupted stream of unchanging verbiage—can also maintain a child’s focus and direct their attention.

While the correct diagnosis of medical neurobiological disorders is an issue that falls outside the purview of my authority, I can contribute to the discussion on how private schools are helping both kinetic learners and ADHD students. St. Jude’s Academy specifically is equipped to engage male students who have been perfunctorily labeled as simply “hyperactive” by the public school system: we do not confine our students to desks, we let them move around. Our curriculum is designed to accommodate physical health and it also promotes student interactivity.

Private schools provide individualized learning and possess greater resources to help these students thrive. If any student begins to fall behind, they are not left behind. Thanks to small class sizes or small student-teacher ratios, teachers can come up with and implement a learning style for specific students that will allow them to demonstrate their true potential.

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