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.
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.
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.
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.
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 resourcesto 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.