Several members of Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) took a ministry-assigned trip to China in early November, now they have returned to central Alberta with a much greater understanding on how education is structured on the other side of the world.
Superintendent Larry Jacobs, Assistant Superintendent of Inclusive Learning Services Amber Hester and two school principals from the division visited China.
Upon arrival, Jacobs made a presentation Minister of Education, detailing the advancement of initiatives such as 21 Century Learning and Inclusive Learning.
The WCPS team toured many schools in Beijing and throughout the province of Guangdong at the early, mid and high school levels.
“They are going through a process very similar to ours, restructuring their whole curriculum,” said Jacobs.
His team met with the minister, teachers and principals to talk about China’s curriculum, teacher’s training and budgets.
Jacobs says China’s curriculum is extremely content oriented with a rigid structure Alberta would have held 50 years ago.
“When you explained how some of our schools work, is it even something they could fathom?” asked Trustee Pam Hansen, to which Jacobs’ answer was “No”.
While touring classrooms, Jacobs saw rows of desks with a teacher either at lecture podium or a chalkboard. In the schools, teachers use little technology and students none. “They have tons of technology in their society, they call it a rest; being peaceful away from technology,” said Jacobs.
Jacobs did not see inclusive classrooms that would be found in Alberta. “I walked through 40 to 50 classrooms and I didn’t see anything that reminded me of behavioral challenges.”
He guesses students needing extra support are educated in a separate system.
“They have the ability to differentiate but I got the impression, by their response, they differentiate based on physical limitations,” said Jacobs.
China’s students write two important exams; one at the end of Grade 9 to decide what high school they can attend and one at the end of high school to determine an appropriate post-secondary stream.
“It’s such a highs stakes test, they have tremendous security around it,” said Jacobs. He counted approximately 20 cameras just at the unloading dock where the tests are scored.
The WCPS team also toured a privately funded pre-school, where children as young as three attended. “I think it’s a lot like we would do it, it’s very play oriented.”
Grade 1 is where the difference between China’s and Alberta’s educational systems emerges. When Chinese students reach Grade 1, the remainder of their schooling is content driven.
“They focus very hard on their alphabet . . . it’s more the concept,” said Jacobs.
The alphabet means written characters. “It would be more the context of our kids understanding a word,” said Jacobs.
Teachers in the country are therefore experts in their field, many with master’s degrees. “The teachers are trained to make sure they taught from a Chinese perspective,” said Jacobs, referring to the training college.
However, Jacobs added that they do not make as much as an Alberta equivalent would. “It doesn’t draw the highest talented people in the country.”
For Jacobs, his biggest realization from the trip was a view on how education systems can vastly differ. “Probably a deeper understanding of the complexities they face.”
The Chinese, with their culture driven education system, have already recognized that the weight of their culture will make it difficult for their students to operate in other countries. Jacobs applauds them for acknowledging they need a system that is more understanding of the world.
In a scenario where a student from Alberta and China, both of similar level of intelligence, were taken to a country unfamiliar to them both, Jacobs feels the Albertan student would fare better. “We have the ability to work in teams, we have the ability to innovate . . . they’re very bright, they just don’t have the same framework.”
“When you think about our society, it has to contemplate so many different points of view,” he added.
Jacobs presented his trip to the WCPS board of trustees at its Friday, Nov. 21 meeting and trustee Bob Huff wanted to know how the division, with its new knowledge, can better position students to compete with the rest of the world. “I think what we’re dong is absolutely perfect in terms of raising critical thinkers,” said Jacobs.