Shanghai keeps me awake at night. The beautiful architecture of The Bund, the haggling in the fake markets, the exquisite silk and cashmere at the tailors, the vibrant streets where you have to run for your life even when the traffic lights are on red, the historical Old Town, the lithe and daring acrobats, the fragrant tea ceremonies and of course the education system.
Every teacher knows Shanghai tops the PISA league tables for mathematics, don’t they? We’re told about it often enough in the general media, and in the educational press; it’s become another stick for parents, politicians and the public to beat UK teachers with.
So how does this happen? What happens in Shanghai that doesn’t happen here? What are we striving to copy so that we can climb up the tower of the PISA league table that leans so favourably towards the east?
“Teachers open the door, you enter by yourself”
What keeps me awake is the realisation that no matter how many visits we make to Shanghai, how much we learn about their planning and teacher research groups, and mastery teaching, how much we copy their variation in concepts and procedures is that we will never be able to fully emulate the Shanghai success.
“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere”
Why – because the education system in Shanghai is based on beliefs and values. It’s based on what’s important to the Chinese – education of their children for the good of themselves, their family and the system. It’s engrained in Chinese history, in legends and proverbs, passed down through generations, that patience and persistence in learning is the way to better yourself and your country.
“Eyes open, the competition begins” – from the minute you are born, you strive to learn, to gain knowledge to help you and those you support to thrive.
Our education system, on the other hand is based on environment – whatever resources, money, trends or political interest is available at a precise moment it time. Nothing endures, nothing is refined over years, nothing is honed towards mastery, nothing is embedded in our culture; every project, initiative, policy or cash injection is transient depending upon who comes to power and what their particular passion is.
And for those of you familiar with Dilts’ neurological levels of change, you’ll know that any change that happens at environment level is short term; a quick fix sticking plaster. Change that happens at belief level is longer lasting and sustainable. The Chinese system hinges on beliefs, which are centuries old; our system hinges on beliefs, which are only as old as the time it’s taken the ink to dry on the latest party manifesto.
“By filling one’s head and not ones pocket, one cannot be robbed”
So what keeps me awake is a ‘what if’ question – what if our education system wasn’t party to ever changing politics? What if our education system wasn’t constantly changing with our pupils endlessly experimented upon? What if our system was allowed to mature and grow, to gain wisdom and experience over years of practice and learning? What if our teachers were allowed to develop their practice and research without fear of the next initiative overload or curriculum change? What if what happens in Shanghai doesn’t stay in Shanghai?