I was joined on the Shanghai study trip by fourteen other principals and senior staff from the Department of Education and Training. My travel mates included principals from city schools such as Melbourne Girls’ College, Croydon Hills PS and Malvern PS to rural schools from Swifts Creek P-12, Birchip P-12 and The Alpine School.
I had an absolutely amazing time and I have gained so much from the trip to Shanghai. Within this blog entry I hope to give you a brief insight into my time away and what I can bring back to assist our students in their learning journey.
The Study Trip
During my time in Shanghai I undertook a wide variety of activities. They included:
- Lectures at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (SUFE)
- Visits to primary and secondary schools
- Attended an International Principals Forum
- Visited a range of Australian owned businesses
- Attended a briefing by Austrade
- Meeting with Gill Callister (Secretary, Department of Education and Training)
- Cultural visits to a range of Shanghai destinations
It was within the lectures at SUFE that I was able to receive an insight into the Shanghai education system. I learnt about the high performing Shanghai schools that regularly appear at the top of international rankings. While there are outstanding results the school system in Shanghai is extremely competitive and the pressure to achieve is significant. Key areas of concern for the Shanghai Education Department include:
- The exam based educational system guides students to memorise information and follow instructions, to please both teachers and parents. The long-term effects of not questioning authority and cramming for tests have stifled creativity.
- The role of the teacher is to lecture while the student’s role is to listen and watch. The students are expected to memorise what they have heard, and then be able to reproduce it.
- Too much emphasis on memorisation and standardised testing.
Future initiatives of the Education Department include:
- A curriculum linked to 21st century skills such as global awareness, creativity, civil literacy and international language proficiency.
- Social-emotional well-being of children and young adults should be elevated.
I found these lectures extremely interesting as Shanghai education authorities are clearly aware of the importance of personal wellbeing, creativity, international mindedness and the ability communicate with a wide range of people in different ways.
Templestowe Park’s current initiatives into STEM, inquiry based learning, positive education and intercultural understanding correlate with the future goals of the Shanghai Education Department. Maintaining a balance of rigour, wellbeing and creativity is a challenge for education systems around the entire world.
There were three school visits on the trip.
- Shanghai Ganquan Foreign Languages Middle School
- Shanghai I&C Foreign Languages School
- Shanghai Baoshan No.2 Primary School
The Ganquan Foreign Language School consisted of over 1400 students and they have a close sister school relationship with Keysborough Secondary College in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. The Principal (Principal Liu Gua Hua) of the school was a charismatic and exuberant man who had connections to Melbourne as his daughter currently lives in Hawthorn with her young family. There were 60 international students at the school and they had a school focus on cultivating students with a global perspective. Mr Liu Gua Hua had a strong belief that his teachers should be passionate, have wisdom, be great thinkers and have lots of energy. I couldn’t agree more with these traits.
The second visit was to the Shanghai I&C Foreign Languages School and this is where we participated in Victorian and Shanghai Principal Forum. This provided my colleagues and me with the opportunity to meet with high performing Principals from Shanghai and discuss the future of education within our region and to share our beliefs in school leadership and education. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet with school leaders and discuss our school settings and provide advice. It was very valuable and I really enjoyed the experience.
The final visit was Shanghai Baoshan No.2 Primary School. This is a school that caters for over 1600 students over two campuses. We visited the Grade 3-5 campus. We were lucky enough to observe an English lesson and it was very different from what you would see in a language class in Australia. The lesson was presented in English without a word of Mandarin being spoken. The students were placed in rows and it was a very explicit way of teaching. While at times we use this method of teaching in Australia, it is more common for our students to participate in discussions and small group work.
The facilities of the school were outstanding and they had their very own specialist Science room and TV studio. It felt a bit like home as these are two programs we have introduced this year. I was able to glean some great ideas for our Science and STEM program and we will incorporate this into our curriculum in the coming months.
Once the tour was completed we had an opportunity to have a meeting with the School leadership team which was an enlightening experience. The most important goal of the school is that all students are happy and it clearly made me think of our positive education program and what we are attempting to achieve at Templestowe Park.
I thoroughly enjoyed every school visit and the opportunity to explore schools from a completely different culture. While there were obvious differences within our schools there were just as many similarities. No matter wherever you are across the world all principals and teachers want the very best for their students and will stop at nothing to make this happen.
The trip allowed me to visit a range of Australian owned and Chinese businesses to learn about the opportunities for young Australians in China, entrepreneurship, and what skills our students will require in a rapidly changing workforce.
Australian businesses that we visited included:
- The Design Catalogue Architecture Firm
- Yellow Earth
At every one of these businesses I managed to meet someone from Melbourne, and more specifically, two from the Templestowe area. A very small world indeed.
These visits led me to think about the skills of interpersonal communication, creativity intercultural understanding, and entrepreneurship that we can teach our students. These areas are all part of the new Victorian Curriculum to be introduced in 2017 and I have been exposed to where these beginning skills that we teach our students may end up in the future.
Meeting with the Secretary, Ms Gill Callister, Department of Education and Training
Ms Callister scheduled time in her important trip to Shanghai with the Premier, the Honourable Daniel Andrews, to meet with the principal group to discuss the trip. It was an excellent opportunity to share our experiences with Ms Callister and to learn about the Victorian Government’s aim to provide our students with the 21st century skills to prosper in the changing world. This was a real highlight of the trip and it was exciting to find out shortly afterwards that Ms Callister reported back to senior members of the Department the excellent learning experiences that we have had.
The experience of participating in the Leading Asia Capable Schools course and the study trip to Shanghai has made a considerable impact on me as a principal. The importance of preparing our students with the skills and attributes to be successful in an ever changing world was really brought home to me through this amazing experience.
Our students need excellent communication skills, creativity, STEM skills and intercultural understanding. I am proud to say that I have come away more confident of our school programs and the teaching methods of our fantastic staff. Students from Foundation to Year 6 at Templestowe Park are consistently given the opportunity to think for themselves and problem solve. We should be very proud of our school and community, and know that our school can perform on the world stage.