I recently attended the China Annual Conference for International Education 2015 hosted in Beijing.
Representatives from more than 40 countries gathered to share global perspectives on a diverse range of educational topics. It was a fascinating experience and rich in learning. The conference was well attended by different nations but what struck me was how little representation there was from British schools, colleges or universities.
For a long time the UK has held a reputation as a worldwide leader in teaching and learning. Could it be that the lack of British educators in attendance suggests a level of complacency?
I am a firm believer that you get out what you put in. We have so much to share with practitioners around the world, but they also have experiences, knowledge and models of teaching and learning to share with us that our schools, universities and colleges will benefit from.
As we increasingly become a global working economy, so our learners will profit from more collaboration and sharing, in order to better prepare them for the work environment.
While in China I visited Jinsong Vocational School. The school is the equivalent of the UK’s University Technical Colleges – training students aged 15-19 for careers in specialist subjects – Jinsong’s focus is on hospitality. The facilities are truly industry standard and include 25 training kitchens and a five-star hotel. These leading edge facilities attract the very best teaching staff, whose focus is on preparing students for successful employment.
Beyond the impressive facilities, what really stood out to me was the level of connectedness in the school model. The Chinese government, having identified hospitality as a growth industry in the region, was ring fencing funding to ensure a steady flow of highly skilled employees. The school had a long-term strategy which enabled it to plan effectively and forge excellent links with employers along the way.
Our British education system could learn something from this joined-up approach which promotes high-level skills development and economic growth.
For most UK practitioners, the obvious missing ingredient in the Jinsong Vocational School model was paying customers. None of the training kitchens or hotel operations are open to the public, which means students are missing out on key learnings from the commercial environment.
This is one area where the UK has real strengths, with realistic working environments a feature of most FE colleges and learning companies in evidence amongst the more progressive. This is just one example of educational give and take in action.
The conference’s key themes were globalisation, innovation and entrepreneurship. This is what I took away:
· How best do we prepare our students to be global learners of 21st century?
· While English language teaching is still in high demand in China, other countries are recognising the need to match the approach. In America, a target set by Obama to have at least 100,000 students learn Mandarin has already been achieved
· The concept of ‘just in time’ applied vocational learning offers incredible pace and agility. The Institute of Technology University (ITU) reshapes its curriculum on average every five weeks. It sometimes delivers a new course within a week to ensure currency of content
· Many American community colleges have gone ‘textbook zero’ as digital devices and free access to e-books help to develop independent learning and digital literacy skills
· Leading industry experts should be delivering master classes fortnightly or collaborating with students through technology
· College prospectuses are promoting employment and progression outcomes rather than courses
The benefits of collaboration are broad and to realise them fully, UK providers need to ensure that they are embracing collaboration and ways of working internationally. This isn’t just about a lucrative income stream, but about sharing best practice in the interests of all our learners.
Cheryl Pennington is assistant principal at Reading College (part of Activate Learning)