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What I Learned While Preparing for China

What I Learned While Preparing for China

Yesterday I flew to Shanghai with Elaine Crebo, our Coordinator of International Students, and today we will be taking a 400 kph bullet train to the city of Hangzhou (pronounced Hong- joe). On Sunday, I have been asked to be a keynote speaker on the subject of "Creating a Culture of Creativity and Innovation" at an international education conference for over 200 educators from over 10 English speaking countries, including 90 Chinese principals. We are also there to invite Chinese student summer groups to visit Aberdeen Hall in August and organize potential exchanges for Aberdeen Hall students and faculty. I am really excited about these opportunities.

Internationally, Canada's education system has a very good reputation regarding creativity and innovation, and there appears to be an appetite to examine our methods. In particular, British Columbia's new curriculum has received praise from abroad, as well as, from a number of other Canadian provinces. It is also nice to realize that Aberdeen Hall's reputation has spread beyond the Okanagan Valley. 

Preparing for this presentation has been intensive, but it has also been a worthy and rewarding experience. In specific, I found myself using a different lens when re-examining the new BC curriculum and Aberdeen Hall's programmes.   

After some introspection, I realized that when it comes to developing creative and innovative students, it's not all about having a large number of new programmes, but rather it's having a rich collection of diverse courses that work together to create innovative and creative students.  I initially thought that perhaps we did not have enough 'new' offerings, courses such as robotics, digital design, computer studies, -- the programs that have been heavily influenced by the recent explosion of communication technology.  I then realized that many of our best courses are the traditional ones taught by excellent teachers.  Medieval Arts Fayres, Greek Mythology units and well-crafted mathematics lessons are highly effective for the development of critical reasoning skills, as well as, a student's sense of imagination.   Music, art, and courses in social emotional learning also play a crucial role.  It is this rich diversity and our sense of balance that contributes to the creation of innovative and creative students.    

"the very best school has yet to be created"

My second revelation may appear rather elementary; however, as I examined the process which leads to the development of creative and innovative skills, I realized that students need to be surrounded by creative and innovative teachers. Furthermore, if we are serious about having a significant stable of creative and innovative teachers, it is imperative that the administration and yours truly demonstrably role model this behaviour.  We must hire and train our faculty creatively, and innovate constantly. We regularly preach to our team: "the very best school has yet to be created." 

Additional important considerations include the selection of a carefully crafted curriculum, developing a culture of trust and safety, and personalizing our programme for each student.   

There is little doubt that the Chinese education system has created the world-best test takers who consistently lead the rankings in standardized test results.  Their scores in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and TIMMS (Trends in International and Science Study) are consistently in the top few percent, however this has not translated to a similar level of success with achievements such as international patents, Nobel Peace prizes and innovative companies.   

China has ruled in international commerce and world economy for most of the last 2 millennia, with the exception of the last 2oo years or so. And make no mistake, China is set on returning to the top where it rightfully believes it should be. Never in the history of time has there been anything that remotely resembles the explosive growth that China has observed in the last 40 years.  In that time, some estimate that they have moved as many as 400 million people from poverty to the lower-middle class.  These are people that were impoverished, and now have homes, jobs and are legitimate consumers. As we speak, China is emerging as the world's largest economy and with 1.4 billion people and their economic impact, it will be monumental.

There also appears to be a sort of 'westocentricism' that believes that China has aspirations of being westernized, however, they have a unique and rich cultural history which they intend to preserve.  China certainly still has major problems including poverty and environmental controls, however, they are also making tremendous strides.  Interestingly enough, in certain ways, China is even becoming a bit of a model nation for innovative environmental controls.

I look forward to following up shortly to report what I learn from this fascinating country.

With warmest regards,

Chris Grieve

Head of School

What I Learned While Preparing for China
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