East and West can trade educational expertise

Writing in The Times last week about GCSE reform, Michael Gove stated that introducing higher standards and ambitions, including more demanding questions in Maths and science, was needed to help state school students “compete with their contemporaries in Singapore and Shanghai, acquiring the skills that the rich pay handsomely to pass on to their children and that are the guarantee of future opportunity.”

Mr Gove is right to aspire to the exam results of the best – Shanghai and Singapore lead the Programme for International Student Assessment league tables for performance in Maths, whereas the UK is placed 28th out of 65 OECD countries. However, competing with students in the East is just one side of the story and there are huge gains to be made from taking a collaborative approach as a global community.

This week we were delighted to welcome students from Singapore and Beijing to The Perse as part of the Strategic Alliance of Global Educators (SAGE) partnership, which brings together schools and pupils from China, Singapore, USA,  Australia and the UK. The partnership is creating a global 21st century learning environment for 21st century learners. It unites forward-looking and innovative schools from around the world to bring students and teachers together and share best practice (see Duncan King’s guest post about his visit to Beijing).  Such global partnerships are essential for UK education. A mostly European perspective is no longer good enough – globalisation affects education as much as any other sphere of the economy. We must prepare our pupils for a world of global inter-relationships that requires not just emotional intelligence to get the interpersonal relationships right, but cultural intelligence to understand other perspectives.

Working together on environmental issues1The visit from our Singaporean and Chinese visitors was an exciting opportunity for our students to meet face-to-face with the peers with whom they’ve collaborated virtually. They took part in an inter-school research and presentation project on environmental issues facing the UK, Singapore and China, from the ‘Beijing Cough’, to the decline of the bee population. In the process they learnt about the challenges of 21st century living in other countries and the importance of working together to solve environmental problems.

Our curriculum increasingly has a global flavour. We have global studies, which introduces students to the cultures of Japan, China, Portugal, and Brazil, and to Arabic and Italian; and a programme that includes not just the traditional modern foreign languages of French, German and Spanish but also extra-curricular GCSE opportunities in Russian, Italian, Japanese and Mandarin. We have regular exchange programmes with a range of nations, including students from Japan and the USA (a group from Pennsylvania is also with us this week). In addition, all Perse overseas trips, even sports tours, have a ‘global studies’ dimension where pupils learn about the culture of their destination.

While we can and should learn a great deal from, and about, other countries, Mr Gove might like to note that the SAGE partnership is not all about East teaching West. While Singaporean and Shanghai students lead the PISA tables for exam performance, their schools have realised that good test results are not enough and that their students need a more holistic education. Like their Western equivalents, they need to acquire the teamwork, creativity, problem-solving, communications and resilience skills that will enable them to succeed in a global economy. The top Singaporean and Chinese schools have done their homework and know that the British independent sector leads the world in developing rounded students with the right personal and inter-personal skills. We look forward to continuing to work with our SAGE partners on the acquisition of academic skills and knowledge in the classroom and the development of the wider person.

Nanyang and Peking

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