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Moving beyond rote learning

Trung Chau
Friday,  May 20,2016,11:04 (GMT+7)
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Moving beyond rote learning

Trung Chau

Ms. Sheila McLeod - PHOTO: Courtesy of the CBE

A group of educators from the Canadian Calgary Board of Education (CBE) has made a third trip to Vietnam over the past three years to learn more about Vietnamese education and culture. Sheila McLeod, director for Global Learning/Corporate Partnerships at the Calgary Board of Education, grants the following interview on the purpose of the trip and how it can help Vietnamese students studying in Canada develop a global mindset.

Q: Vietnam has been the chosen as a destination for Calgary educators’ international study tour program. What is the outcome?

A: There have been a number of outcomes.  Some are specific and some very general. They are to understand how others perceive and deliver education, to learn about a country where we have a number of students from and to build cross-cultural understanding.

What would you say about the strengths and weaknesses of Vietnam’s education after the third trip?

I would hesitate to say as we were only there for a short time. We always caution ourselves not to make judgments after only a brief visit in several schools. However, it is clear that the challenges that Vietnamese educators face are the same as the ones we face are keeping students engaged, ensuring that the curriculum is relevant and interesting, inclusion of all students into the mainstream and one of the things that I have heard frequently is the pressure that students face in order to get into the universities that they wish.
We saw vast differences in the quality of technology available in the schools we were in compared to our schools. In some cases, the equipment was dated and basic. In some the technology was current (like iPads) but the use of them was very traditional. Again, only having seen a few schools we do not wish to make a generalization about the state of technology. What we do have in Calgary in our school system is a strong technology and learning plan that sees technology as a tool to assist learning across the curriculum. We have embraced technology as something that the younger generation has as an extension of who they are. That their devices are not seen as a problem or forbidden object, but rather as something that can help students learn, collaborate, research etc.

Educators from the CBE pose for a group photo in front of the Reunification Palace in District 1, HCMC during their Vietnam visit - PHOTO: Courtesy of the CBE

What are the challenges for Vietnamese students to become engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with global thinking?

The very fact that Vietnamese families are choosing to send their children so far away to get an education ensures that they will develop a global mindset. The opportunity to learn alongside students with such diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds in Calgary is phenomenal. They have the opportunity to learn not only in the classroom but through every interaction with their new classmates and friends. 
One of the initial challenges is in the way students are expected to learn and collaborate in Calgary classrooms. Students take a great deal of responsibility for their own learning. Students are not vessels into which content is poured. Rather, students have many opportunities to move beyond rote learning and content knowledge. Students work together with others to create knowledge and meaning. As teachers, we expect learning to be metacognitive and transformative which means that students know what they know, how they know it, how they show it and what they need to learn next. 
Sometimes Vietnamese students are surprised (pleasantly) that there are so many choices of subjects and options. We encourage students to be well rounded – to take courses that interest them as well as their required courses. All students must have a balance of academic and option subjects. Our option choices are substantial ranging from culinary studies, fashion design, art, music, sports therapy, languages (French, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, German, Punjabi) plus many others.

Do Calgary educators have any special plans to improve the quality of intercultural understandings and support Vietnam’s education and Vietnamese students?

We hope to continue to grow this study tour each year. The interest from our staff is very high.  Each group that returns from Vietnam tells such great stories about the warm people, the rich history, the delicious food and of course, the educational components. We are always looking for new ways to authentically connect with our Vietnamese counterparts and would welcome any suggestions as to how we might do this again. As well, we will continue to warmly welcome Vietnamese international students into our schools. After all, we are a high performing school district with very progressive practices designed to help students reach their potential – Vietnamese parents really love that.

Reported by Trung Chau

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