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 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.