A worldly view of education
It is human nature to look for the familiar in the unknown. When I experience something new, I often find my reactions starting with, “That reminds me of…” or “It’s similar to…” Accordingly, when I recently visited Taiwan and Hebei Province in China, I was struck by the many connections I found between education efforts in Iowa and the Chinese and Taiwanese education systems.
The first stop on my trip was the Global K-12 Education Research Association conference, graciously hosted by the Shijiazhuang Foreign Language Education School (which has sister school relationships with the West Des Moines, Clarke and Oskaloosa community school districts). The focus of the conference was students’ mental and physical health. I had the honor of giving remarks at the opening ceremony in front of an audience of several thousand students and educators (everything in China is on a grand scale). I was pleased to highlight several of the strides we’re making here in Iowa, including:
- Developing high-quality physical education and health standards;
- Creating a statewide Children’s Mental Health System Board to improve access to services;
- Implementing social-emotional learning strategies to create a more holistic approach to education; and
- Empowering schools to spend federal and state funding to ensure students receive a well-rounded education, including physical education and access to school counselors.
I also attended several sessions on student mental health and well-being. The presenters were from several US states (including Oskaloosa Middle School Principal Andy Hotek), China, Australia, Denmark, and Costa Rica. I was struck by the common theme that rose above the cultural differences: implementing a holistic approach to student development is critically important. Each educator recognized the necessity of supporting students’ emotional and physical health and preparing them for successful lives and careers.
For example, Yinfu Yang, the Secretary General of Chinese Society of Education in China’s Ministry of Education, described the “Core Attainment of Chinese Students.” The areas of focus included developing a humanistic and scientific culture base; encouraging independent student development both academically and socially; and preparing students to participate fully in their community and the broader Chinese society. These characteristics immediately reminded me of the four key areas (content knowledge and skills, transition skills, learning skills, and self-understanding and engagement strategies) in Iowa’s college and career readiness definition.
Following this outstanding conference, I traveled to Taiwan to visit schools and to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Ministry of Education. The MOU provides a unique opportunity to develop education partnerships between Taiwan and Iowa, particularly related to potential teacher exchanges. There is significant demand for English teachers in Taiwan and given Iowa’s recent adoption of the Seal of Biliteracy and the growing importance of world language skills, this MOU provides a foundation for exciting opportunities for educators both in Taiwan and in Iowa.
I was incredibly impressed by my hosts from both Taiwan’s Ministry of Education and local schools and was again astounded by the number of commonalities between our two systems, including a focus on:
- Relevant and engaging standards, curriculum and instruction
The six schools I visited in Taiwan shattered any pre-conceived notions I may have had about a test-centric education system focused on a narrow curriculum. Each of the schools were extremely student-centered. For example, the Taipei Nanhai Experimental Kindergarten was focused on experiential learning. Students planted a garden, climbed a rock wall, and led experiments. The students also presented me with a book they wrote, published and illustrated.
And at Ci-Xin Waldorf School, I had a fascinating conversation with a middle school history teacher. His masterful teaching of the Ming Dynasty moved students well beyond rote memorization and instead encouraged them to draw meaningful comparisons to the pace of European cultural development during the era and helped them glean insight into the lasting lessons of the time period.
In addition, each of the schools emphasized a well-rounded education, including the arts and physical education. Student from Wulun Elementary School in Keelung City demonstrated their puppeteering, musical and linguistic skills in a performance using their native Taiwanese language. In addition, the school’s jump roping team dazzled me with a synchronized routine. And in one of the highlights of my trip, students from the National Taiwan College of Performing Arts put on a spell-binding performance including opera, acrobatics and gymnastics.
- Strong Career and Technical Education and high-quality career pathways
Students, teachers and the principal at Wulun Junior High School were eager to share the real-world connections happening in classrooms throughout their building. They were rightfully proud of their “maker-space” in which students had access to a 3D printer, a laser engraver and other tools of business and industry. I also had the chance for some hands-on involvement in the Family and Consumer Sciences course, in which the teacher taught me how to make Cong You Bing (also known as Chinese scallion pancakes, which were delicious).
I was also impressed by my visit to Taipei Municipal Daan Vocational High School. This school of nearly 3,500 students sends 95% of its graduates on to post-secondary education. The school offers rigorous coursework in five career clusters encompassing 10 separate departments ranging from mechanical engineering to graphic design to computer science. One of the student projects they shared with me was a year-long effort in which students designed, built and programmed a model car that could be driven with a mobile phone application (which the students also created).
- Extensive Teacher Development and Professional Learning
Unsurprisingly, the role of the teacher was central to each of the schools. While there were some similarities, including large open offices that housed entire “departments” of teachers to encourage collaboration, professional learning also looked different in the schools I visited in Hebei Province compared to Taiwan. While the schools in Shiajiazhuang provided teachers with several hours daily for lesson study and planning, the schools in Taiwan had schedules more similar to the United States in which planning and professional development were on top of a full teaching schedule. In both systems, mentor teachers played an important role (though none of the schools had a leadership approach as extensive as Iowa’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation system).
While differences between Iowa and Taiwan and Hebei Province were easy to spot, like an unbridled passion for badminton and tai chi and easy access to delicious hot pot restaurants, it was the important similarities that made the most lasting impression. I am confident there will be more opportunities in the future for educators from Iowa to share in this important cross-cultural learning.
Opening Ceremony, Global K-12 Education Research Association Conference, Shijiazhuang Foreign Language Education School
MOU Signing Ceremony at Taiwan Ministry of Education
Taipei Nanhai Experimental Kindergarten
Ci-Xin Waldorf School
Keelung City Wulun Elementary School
National Taiwan College of Performing Arts
Keelung City Wulun Junior High School
Taipei Municipal Daan Vocational School
Teacher Office at Shiajiazhuang Foreign Language School
Tai Chi at Shiajiazhuang Foreign Language School (Mountainous Region)
Hot Pot Restaurant in Shiajiazhuang
Favorite Picture (Keelung City Wulun Junior High)
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