All posts by Shwetangna Chakrabarty

Shwetangna Chakrabarty is the IBDP Coordinator and University Counsellor at Guangzhou Nanfang International School, China. She has 15 years of experience in teaching three different curricula in four countries. She has taught mathematics and business management to the International GCSE and International Baccalaureate (IB) students. She has had multiple responsibility positions including pedagogical leader, DP, Extended Essay, MYP Personal Project, CIS/NEASC accreditation coordinator and IB Examiner. She has a degree in education and an MBA, she is also a college counsellor certified by TripleA learning, U.K.

An Open Letter to Those Who Voted for Trump

8th November 2020 will go down in history as the day that defined the future of the world; a day that restored our faith in humanity; a day that gave hope to millions of people who aspire to make a change and a day that disappointed millions who voted for Trump.

Hence, I am writing this letter to all the disappointed people who supported and voted for Donald Trump. The intention is to convey a message to reassure and reinforce the goodness of being humane.

Many of you voted for Trump as you felt, your jobs are being taken away by migrants and Trump will give it back to you. Please know that it is not a unilateral world; there are jobs and employment opportunities available globally and many Americans are living and working in other countries, where they are welcomed with open arms. It’s the 21st century and it’s a multilateral world, hence go out to explore the opportunities and free yourself of the vicious promise of manipulating politicians that jobs can be created by snatching them from others.

Many of you voted for Trump as you wanted to make America great again. A country does not need a saviour, a country protects, nurtures and feeds whoever considers her a mother. In that sense every country is great so there is no need to feel it has fallen off a pedestal or needs to be placed on a pedestal for being great. A country is its people; people need to be great in their care, love and approach, that is what makes a country revered and respected which unfortunately was not the case when Trump was in power so think twice if you feel Trump would have made America great again! In fact, it would have been quite the opposite.

Many of you voted for Trump as you wanted the economy to revive; inflation to reduce and employment opportunities to improve. But this was not possible if globalization is threatened by a man who thought democracy is a right to legalize corruption under the pretext of financial growth and economic stability. A man who thought less about other countries in the world, a man who spoke his opinion, not the facts, a man who promised to make America great at the cost of discrimination and dehumanisation.

Many of you voted for Trump as there was no worthy opponent or presidential candidate; I would like to defer, anyone who has not been charged with rape, anyone who has not insulted women in public, anyone who has not celebrated white supremacy and anyone who has not been bankrupt is and will always be a worthy opponent! If you earlier voted for a corrupt businessman, alleged rapist and unapologetic racist, insensitive and insecure man, then I would say you could have easily voted for anyone who is not all the above.

Hence take a moment to let the feeling sink in, it is actually a victory for everyone, even though your vote is lost you have actually won as America without Trump is already great again. It sends out a strong message that a great country of diverse people will not be broken by the selfish wants of a discriminatory, profit mongering and megalomaniac egotist and that it will rise even when there is very slim hope and do it over and over again!

Also, make sure you realise the power of your vote. Vote for what you want not for what others want for you. If you vote to make a wall, you should not expect to get a health care plan; If you vote to discriminate, you should not expect to get employment. Exercise your rights carefully so you get what you want. And finally, celebrate this moment as the country got back it’s self-respect, esteem and greatness all because a man lost the elections. Hence you have won, it’s only Trump who has lost the elections.

Long Live Humanity, Long Live Justice!

The Pygmalion effect: the power of high expectations

To raise the bar or not to raise the bar? To have high expectations or not to have high expectations? This has been a constant discussion topic in many schools. Many believe in order to be inclusive one should lower the expectations to suit the student’s ability while others strongly disagree. Some even confuse it with differentiation as they think giving students work that they can complete as per their ability is differentiation. I strongly disagree, I believe in The Pygmalion Effect (Rosenthal,1987). which simply states that high expectations lead to better achievement levels hence low expectations will lead to low performance.

Diagram
The Pygmalion Effect (source: https://my.wealthyaffiliate.com/)
Image source: https://my.wealthyaffiliate.com/

This is very true for higher secondary students, they tend to reciprocate the teachers’ approach towards setting expectations and then they perform accordingly. A simple experiment I do is announce that the upcoming test will be very challenging, and surprisingly students come better prepared and perform better than those tests taken casually or informally. Another example is the students’ approach towards formative assessment and summative assessments, they usually do well in summative as the expectations are higher.

Teaching for so many years, I have always set high expectations for student outcomes and designed challenging assessment tasks, sometimes this does not go down very well with many stakeholders in education as some believe that expectations should be as per student ability. Hence I always suffered the conflict whether I should raise the bar or lower it to suit the student’s ability. I never got a clear answer and the conundrum grew until I read about The Pygmalion Effect.

I will briefly highlight the key factors that helped me resolve my conflict regarding expectations. The article Being honest about the Pygmalion Effect, (Ellison, 2015) explains that various researchers have observed when managers have high hopes for their employees, the workers become more productive; when military instructors believe trainees have superior skills, the trainees perform better. The pygmalion effect states that high expectations lead to better achievement levels, hence I strongly promote this strategy in my classroom.

Furthermore, there are seven ways teachers can change their expectations by watching, listening, engaging, experimenting, meeting, reaching out and reflecting (Pianta, 2003). Ironically the last step is most effective, to reflect on the whole process by questioning our personal experiences. This is very insightful if I apply this in my context, I do work better as a teacher if my supervisor has positive expectations of me, hence I should apply the same to my students. This has been a learning curve in terms of setting expectations for students. Hence by following the seven steps teachers can set a high standard without having to worry about the outcomes. But this requires training since teachers need to ensure that the expectations are made challenging for every student at their individual level, it requires deep knowledge of both approaches to learning and differentiation.

In summary, even though the strategies for improving student self-efficacy have been under the spotlight for the past decade, it has not reached its fruition as teachers are neither expected nor trained to set high expectations. In many schools, usually, the expectations are kept low in order to have a greater number of students and low turnover. This has become an ethical dilemma hence must be debated extensively to put together a set of rules and procedures to promote student self-efficacy.

 Ellison, K. (2015). Being honest about the Pygmalion Effect. Retrieved from http://discovermagazine.com/2015/dec/14-great-expectations

Rosenthal, R. (1987). “Pygmalion” Effects: Existence, Magnitude, and Social Importance. Educational Researcher, 16(9), 37-41. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1175728

Pianta, R.C. (2003). Handbook of Psychology  Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1002/0471264385.wei0710

Diversity Quotient (DQ)

Having travelled to many countries, taught students from many countries, lived in some countries and worked in a few countries, I realized that there is a common thread amongst international educators, we have a high DQ or Diversity Quotient. We as international educators understand the nuances of living in a multicultural, diverse and pluralistic domain. We as international educators are also responsible to teach and nurture global citizens of tomorrow. This responsibility is so massive that sometimes we find ourselves questioning the whole definition of diversity and international mindedness, as there are many factors that influence the diversity quotient or DQ of a student. These factors influence the student’s image of the world and surprisingly their journey to be a global citizen, some of these factors define as well as contradict the very essence of international mindedness. Hence there is no perfect definition of a global citizen or of international mindedness, and there is no full proof way of measuring DQ.

Language: I believe language influences DQ the most. The schools that I worked in have been bilingual or native language or English language schools. In my current school, most students learn three languages and at the same time, some students only speak one language. Hence it is not possible to have a benchmark of a number of languages required to develop a DQ or even have a requirement of speaking a common language. In an interesting discussion with a language teacher, I was surprised to discover that many people including students and parents associate speaking English to being internationally-minded hence having a high DQ. A lot of teachers on the other hand associate multilingualism to a high DQ. At the very core of communication is language but unfortunately, it cannot be a benchmark to measure DQ.

Should students speak one language to be able to communicate with most of the people in the world or should they at least know three languages in order to understand most of the people in the world?

Nationality: Nationality cannot be measured by an identity card or passport, the very simple reason being it does not allow the plurality of identity which is a reality in the globalized world. Consider this scenario, Chinese nationals cannot be admitted in international schools in China, hence many families opt for citizenship of another country, this leads to a situation where a student can have a Canadian passport but has never been to Canada nor spoken the language common in Canada-English. An ID or a passport satisfies legal requirements but does not reveal the true individuality of a student, hence nationality cannot indicate the person’s ability to understand and respect other people’s opinions. If not, then is it right to ask for nationality in every school application? We just limit ourselves by sorting people in different categories, more like creating stereotypes.

The nationality index published by many schools and organisations never truly represents its diversity, in fact, it cannot, as the population is more diverse than just the nationalities it represents.

Curriculum: While there has been a significant shift in curriculum design to include and teach international mindedness, they are still no frameworks to assess and measure DQ. This basically means we can teach how to be a global citizen, but we cannot measure if we succeeded or if it is helping to nurture these internationally-minded global citizens. For example, the inquiry-based approach is facilitated with a questioning strategy that is also painstakingly planned by teachers. Interestingly in many cultures questioning is considered rude; in some languages, the direct translation of ‘question’ is a ‘problem’; hence students don’t want to ask questions or their problems in front of an entire class and the inquiry approach takes a big hit. In such a context it is counterproductive to push students through an inquiry-based dialogical pedagogy in which student participation is key to achieving the lesson objective. Some educators argue that students need to learn inquiry hence should be ‘taught’ to ask questions; which is a contradiction to inquiry. Hence curriculum design or framework has to understand and cater to diverse cultures, one framework or one approach cannot sustain diversity. This may help us educators figure out a way to measure DQ.

True international curriculum needs to integrate the local culture into a global perspective-a Glocal Curriculum.

Diversity Quotient will continue to baffle educators, we need to constantly respond to needs of various cultures in order to even begin to understand the power of diversity in shaping the thoughts, ideas, imagination, creativity and ideas of our students. Trying to teach singularity or unite under the pretext of diversity cannot define DQ. The objective to coexist with diverse people from around the world cannot be ‘taught’, it has to be experienced, heard, felt, spoken many times in many languages in many places to truly develop DQ.

Identifying race, religion, colour has created stereotypes, preaching patriotism has led to war, single language dominance has led to discrimination, celebrating unity has led to racism. Should we teach patriotism, unity and one language in order to live peacefully?

#LEARNINGNEVERSTOPS (International Teacher’s Day)

International Teacher’s Day or World Teachers’ Day is celebrated on 5th October to recognize the rights and responsibilities of teachers. The commemoration of this day was initiated by ILO/UNESCO to come up with recommendations about the status of teachers. This year, the theme for celebrating International Teachers’ Day 2020, is

Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future”.

A joint statement was issued by from Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, Guy Ryder, Director-General, International Labour Organization, Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director, UNICEF, David Edwards, General Secretary, Education International on the occasion of World Teachers’ Day 2020:

“In this crisis, teachers have shown, as they have done so often, great leadership and innovation in ensuring that #LearningNeverStops, that no learner is left behind. Around the world, they have worked individually and collectively to find solutions and create new learning environments for their students to allow education to continue. Their role advising on school reopening plans and supporting students with the return to school is just as important.”

As international schoolteachers, we need to be aware of the guidelines issued by ILO/UNESCO because it reinforces the significant responsibilities that we share for shaping the future of the planet and the rights that we have when we work in diverse, transnational and demanding environments.

Let me summarise a few guidelines from the ILO/UNESCO charter which helps and aims to empower the profession of teaching.

It should be recognized that advance in education depends largely on the qualifications and ability of the teaching staff in general and on the human, pedagogical and technical qualities of the individual teachers.” Since the very ancient times, society has been shaped by education philosophers like Plato, Socrates, Confucius to very recent theories of John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, Paulo Friere…and the list goes on. The above guideline reinforces the role of educators or teachers in advancing teaching and learning. The more we learn the more we contribute towards reimagining the future. Hence keep learning, if you want to continue teaching.

“The status of teachers should be commensurate with the needs of education as assessed in the light of educational aims and objectives; it should be recognized that the proper status of teachers and due public regard for the profession of teaching are of major importance for the full realization of these aims and objectives.” This guideline, in particular, requires the most urgent attention: the proper status and due public regard for the teaching profession. This is hard to achieve as education is geared towards meeting the economic aim of society- to produce employable individuals. From the industrial era to the digital era, not much has changed, education institutions and policies globally have the common objective of producing skilled labour; in the industrial era it was producing mechanical labour and in the digital era it has changed to producing employable labour. In this whole confusion to meet the economic objectives or ethical objectives, the value of the educator or teacher has been undermined. There are only a few countries in the world that invest more in education than armament, hence the status of teachers has remained a huge challenge. Hence education institutions and governments have to invest in building teacher quality by investing in their social status. More the investments, better the returns.

Working conditions for teachers should be such as will best promote effective learning and enable teachers to concentrate on their professional tasks.” The working condition of teachers has been talked about a lot in educational research done over the past decade. Though there is a huge disparity in the work environment of international schools and local schools, it can be said that a conscious effort has been made to change the classroom space into a positive learning environment. Classrooms in international schools are equipped with state of the art technology, modern gadgets and devices, and ergonomically designed furniture. This is sadly not the scenario in many local schools, hence a way forward for governments and policymakers would be to fund resources for schools and focus on the working condition of teachers. A happy teacher makes a happy classroom environment.

Further, the ILO/UNESCO recommendations also discuss the rights and responsibilities of teachers, here is an edited, easy to read version:

Responsibilities of teachers

  • Teachers should be responsible for recognizing and achieving their professional excellence and competence
  • Teachers should be involved in the process of creating professional standards relating to their performance
  • Teachers should cooperate with authorities for the best interest of the child and society.
  • Codes of ethics or of conduct should be established by the teachers’ organizations.
  • Teachers should take part in extra-curricular activities for the benefit of pupils and adults.
  • Teachers’ organizations should be consulted on matters as educational policy, school organization, and new developments in the education service.
  • Participation of teachers to improve the quality of the education service, educational research, and the development and dissemination of new improved methods.
  • Teachers should be part of professional learning networks.
  • Teachers and administrative staff should seek to establish good relations with each other.

Rights of teachers

  • The participation of teachers in social and public life for teacher’s personal development should be encouraged.
  • Teachers should be free to exercise all civic rights generally enjoyed by citizens and should be eligible for public office.
  • Teachers should have equal opportunities to be part of a public office
  • Teacher and teachers’ organizations should be able to determine both salaries and working conditions through the process of negotiation between and the employers of teachers.
  • Teachers should be assured that they can negotiate with their employers, either public or private.
  • Appropriate joint machinery should be set up to deal with the settlement of disputes between the teachers and their employers arising out of terms and conditions of employment.

Finally, the theme for 2020: “Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future” can only be realized if we as educators and teachers are aware of our rights and responsibilities. Learning will never stop, and this implies to both learners and teachers. Learning will continue in the face of any challenge that humankind faces or continues to face, hence as teachers it will always be essential to exercise our rights and fulfil our responsibilities.

Source: www.unesco.org

On the Basis of Sex: A Tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The death of Ruth Bader comes as a shock to me, of course, because the world lost yet another powerful, inspiring, courageous and independent women. But it also comes as a shock because of the shenanigans about her death. Don’t read this wrong! What I mean is, I am grateful and thankful that Ruth Bader lived 87 years; I am thankful that she spoke on behalf of millions of women and gave us all the courage and direction to speak up against injustice. But I am absolutely not happy or thankful that the world only thought of remembering her on the day she died, to be honest, it took us 87 years to make her the headlines globally; or discuss her on every social media page, to share her incredible achievements on television channels and print media. I am not trying to take away from the accolades that she earned or the honour that she deserved and received, I am only trying to articulate that we should have celebrated her every day; reminding, inspiring and liberating women from the boundaries created by society On the Basis of Sex and here the word sex means gender, if you misunderstood, it is time for you to reflect on how much cognitive dissonance we have due to the way we are educated. Another truth that bothers me the most is why do we only celebrate women after they have passed. Be it Mother Teresa, Ruth Bader, Lady Diana, Maya Angelou, and the list can go on…


Recently when the movie On the Basis of Sex was released, I was discussing it with my grade 12 students, they revealed that they had not ever heard of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, never seen her picture on social media nor seen any youtube videos about her. I was shocked and stunned. Where are we going wrong as educators? Even when we are free to design our own curriculum, we do not include independent, inspiring powerful stories of women who made it easier for us to live a better life. We celebrate sportsmen, film stars, politicians, fashion icons who probably have not made as much impact as a woman who graduated from Cornell, got into Harvard Law School, transferred to Columbia Law School and taught at Rutgers Law School. The impact of Ruth Bader’s work is undeniable and yet we ignore it. For a woman, it takes so many academic credentials to be heard. Or it is only required as it is a woman who is trying to be heard. I wish we had the opportunity to listen to her more; talked about her achievements more and maybe voted for her to be President. But we did not, we only truly remembered her at the very end of 87 years. This is what bothers me the most.

So what did we learn On the Basis of Sex? Here are a few quotes from various interviews of Ruth Bader that are very inspiring.

“My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.”

This quote is so beautiful, especially for women who struggle to be their own person; who have negative body image; who have low self-esteem; who are discriminated on the basis of colour; who are discriminated on the basis of gender. It is time to drop the baggage of trying to live up to the terms and conditions dictated by a patriarchal society. I interpret it in a very simple way, just be independent of all false expectations, only then can women truly discover themselves and their superpowers.

“So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.”

This quote is so inspiring as it teaches us to look for opportunities in challenges and to change our perspective on hurdles. Women have the superpower of turning the tide, even though we revere a few men who changed the course of the tide, we forget about the millions of women who do this every day at work and at home. Many woman risk dangers like sexual abuse, gender discrimination, domestic violence and yet find a way out of it to survive, turning every impediment into working solutions. This needs to be celebrated, even acknowledging this never give up attitude will be a great start

“Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”

This quote touches me the most. For a privileged few, like me, who can discuss gender discrimination on an open platform, we need to congratulate the men in our lives for sharing the responsibility of raising the next generation. But for the rest, the basic human right of gender equality has to be taught. As I always keep reinforcing, education is a game-changer, educators are the catalyst for a positive change, educate both our boys and girls about gender equality in order to share the responsibility of the planet.

“Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”

This final quote says it all, after facing personal and professional challenges, Ruth Bader continued to campaign for women rights without being rude or disrespectful. Taking inspiration from this attitude we must teach students to react appropriately and respectfully to different perspectives especially when it is different from their own.

In summary, Ruth Bader’s life should be used as an example; in the age of instant gratification we need to teach students to persevere, never give up and respect each individual for who they are, not for whom we want them to be. That would be a true tribute to Ruth’s sacrifice, courage and excellent work through the past 87 years and many more years to come as her legacy.

Let her spirit of fighting against discrimination never Rest In Peace!

Aboutitis to Applytitis

The word aboutitis was quoted by Professor David Perkins (1998), one of the founders of Harvard’s Project Zero. Let me explain, aboutitis is a disease that plagues education where the learner knows a lot ‘about’ the subject and knows about everything. Another way of describing aboutitis is that the learner has a lot of knowledge but no understanding of the knowledge. In the present context, aboutitis can be considered a plague as everyone is out there to know more about everything, out there to collect more degrees, certificates and diplomas, just to prove that they know a lot ‘about’ a lot! Hence, the world is suffering from aboutitis.

In the pursuit of aboutitis, the world has made a very profitable business about education; developed an opinion about everything; written books about everything; researched about everything. After exhibiting the initial symptoms of aboutitis, the world has quickly tested positive for aboutitis. The best example is social media; it is a place where people exhibit that they suffer from aboutitis; everyone has an extreme opinion about every topic and they make it into a vulgar display of knowledge NOT understanding.

In a world suffering from aboutitis, everyone knows everything about everything; is it a good thing? It is actually a very dangerous thing, in fact, an ailment as aboutitis compels people to limit themselves to knowledge and never reach the stage of understanding. People are so engrossed in flaunting their knowledge that they do not bother to test its power by applying it or understanding it.

Understanding is more than just knowledge. Understanding is the ability to critically think about knowledge and being able to apply it in different contexts. Understanding is the ability to apply knowledge to solve problems, to analyse data, to interpret meaning, to evaluate information and to think about knowledge. Hence I would like to quote understanding as Applytitis as it is an ability to apply knowledge in various contexts.

The 21st-century skills demand us to have the symptoms of applytitis; to gain the depth of knowledge, not the breadth; to apply it to create solutions; to design sustainability in systems and to make critical use of knowledge. Applytitis is about taking knowledge to the level of understanding; understanding different perspectives, understanding the past to predict the future, understanding coexistence, understanding compassion and understanding rights and responsibilities.

The transition from aboutitis to applytitis has been the aim of education in many systems and countries but unfortunately, this objective is getting lost in bureaucracy, politics and profit mongering. It has come down upon us educators to keep the essence of education alive, to ensure we are teaching applytitis and not aboutitis. Teaching learners to apply their knowledge needs to be built with a conscious, deliberate and urgent resolve to go beyond exam preparation and incite the inquisitiveness in the learner. By teaching the opportunity to discover applytitis, educators can unleash a generation of learners who will be able to harness the power of knowledge.

Applytitis is to understand knowledge in a way that it can be used to achieve critical thinking. Let us, as educators pledge to take education to the next level where each learner can rise above mediocrity and attain maturity with both knowledge and understanding. The journey from aboutitis to applytitis is the onus of the 21st-century educators. How do we do that? Let’s start by planning for applytitis

Fun in the Times of Hybrid Learning

The dictionary meaning of hybrid is “the offspring of two animals or plants of different breeds, varieties, species, or genera, especially as produced through human manipulation for specific genetic characteristics”, and if you search for the meaning of ‘Hybrid Learning’ you will encounter various definitions that sugarcoat the awkward marriage of online and onsite teaching and learning! Why have I used the word awkward? Well, it is from the personal experiences of being a teacher in the hybrid classrooms teaching online and onsite, simultaneously.

Some schools that have been fortunate to reopen post the Covid19 pandemic have also been fortunate to have delivered a hybrid teaching and learning model. In this model, the teacher is responsible for the growth and nurturing of a classroom that is online and onsite at the same time. The initial trial and error stage is a lot of fun, it’s also keeping us teachers on our toes. Let’s put on the humour hat to take a stroll through the hybrid teaching and learning environment.

Talking to a machine

It is one thing to find a student sleeping in the classroom during lessons and it is completely another experience to find yourself talking to a machine not knowing if the student on the other side of the machine is awake or sleeping. Student can mute audio and stop the video and the teacher will never know if they are taking to the student or just the machine. Note that students could be recording the lesson instead of actually being present. The saving grace, when you talk to the machine, it listens and does not interrupt at all.

Group work

A teacher decides the classroom groups to ensure a certain kind of balance, either academic or behavioural. In hybrid classrooms, it is the time zone or the internet connectivity that decides the group work dynamics. Students in the same time zone prefer to work together and the ones who are on poor Wi-Fi networks just decide to work in incognito mode. While in the classroom group work there is a lot of chitter-chatter, the group work online is silent but on the chat mode, chat-ter without chitter.

Personal space

Imagine having to share your workspace with all your students, all students writing at the same time on the same space, your space, on your laptop. Your desktop, tabs, documents, icons are visible to them via screen share and apple TV projection (both required to run simultaneously to accommodate online and onsite students). There are also students who suddenly pop up on the screen while they are eating or tucked inside a blanket, as they are engaged in remote learning. And the person making the most appearances on the screen is you, the teacher. I do put extra make-up nowadays, but it isn’t helping in getting rid of the awkward feeling of being watched round the clock.

Exam crunch

Imagine supervising students during exams and supervising a laptop on a desk that has a student on the other side of the globe taking a test in the middle of the night, due to the time difference. While students are crunching numbers to get answers to their questions, I am crunching my fists to keep my calm in ensuring academic integrity halfway across the globe. It also takes more than one device to complete online exams; students use the phone to broadcast themselves taking exams and use the laptop to complete the exam. I am sure this doubles the exam fun for students.

Grading assignments

Grades depend on students work, but with hybrid teaching and learning, most of the student grades depend on the internet connectivity, the student clicking on submit, and technical compatibility of the devices. Grades no longer are a measure of academic ability or cognitive skills; it is a measure of the quality of technology available to teachers and students. Better the technology, higher the grades.

Class size

My grade 12 students enter; there are thirteen students on roll in my subject but only seven of them come in. I am wondering where is the rest. I check the school database management system to find out that all students are present, so I start searching, sending messages, and frantically hunting the rest five students; when suddenly my apple TV starts speaking to me and all five students appear on the screen. They were not missing, they were hidden in the virtual world. So, what looks like a small class with only seven in the classroom is actually bigger with five outside the classroom, country and even continent, joining remotely to be part of hybrid learning.

The hybrid teaching and learning is a new paradigm; it is forcing teachers worldwide to frantically design pedagogy for meeting diverse needs of learners; it is becoming a business opportunity for many organisations/individuals/ self-declared remote learning experts who are offering a plethora of online professional development opportunities; it is compelling parents to rethink about their investment into expensive education; it is driving a change in education policies and standards; it is the biggest change we all anticipated but did not prepare for. Even though it is all fun now it is only a matter of time that this hybrid model will become a prodigy in education.

E-volution: Post COVID Darwinism

Technology is shaping how we evolve as human beings, we are actually witnessing Darwinism. I would like to explain it this way, we are evolving into a new race due to technology. The way we think, we learn, we synthesise and we process is changing this very moment that I am typing my thoughts. Post Covid19, the world has changed not because of the virus but because of the way we have completely surrendered to technology.

In the context of education, technology has facilitated hybrid classroom altering the pedagogy of teaching and learning and human cognition. The sudden reliance on technology has impacted the way we all think and work. Our brain now responds to connectivity, virtual reality, and most importantly the touch; not the human touch but the one-touch on the screen. This one-touch that connects to a remote classroom anywhere in the world; that helps students to investigate problems and share solutions; that helps teachers to create a new pedagogy with technology leading the way. As I started teaching after Covid19,  I am learning every day how the next generation has evolved suddenly. They are evolving in the way they think,  and this evolution is becoming more rapid, more urgent. Its E-volution, evolution due to technology, not climate change, not DNA change nor Alien invasion! It is technology that is mutating our DNA for thinking, learning and creating; most certainly for the better. So the way forward is to embrace the change with open your arms, no notebooks, no classrooms, no whiteboard, just the human brain and its cognition are the new teaching resources.

Here arises a bigger question-as an educator I am always caught in the dilemma of how technology should be used in pedagogy? And here I am referring to secondary students. At a younger age it is absolutely necessary to hold hands of the little ones when they are trying to cross the technology highway; therefore should we be approaching educating teenagers the same way? To answer this question I have delved deep into my knowledge and experience of teaching and learning. I think the post Covid19 world will not be able to survive without technology, we face a bigger risk if we don’t make technology accessible to everyone on this planet. Because only technology will decide who survives this apocalyptic event. The deciding factor and the elimination factor both will be technology. We must prepare to evolve, the technological selection has been triggered by the virus and we are heralding to the next stage in human evolution. Invest in understanding bits, bytes and binary as this will not only help students learn in a way that they understand best, it will also alter their DNA and prepare them for change. Let us, as educators, not drown in this deluge of information technology, rather let’s lead the e-classrooms, e-collaborate with students, plan for e-assessments, design e-projects, give e-feedback, and teach e-organisation skills to cruise through the E-volution. As educators, we will be the driving force of this E-volution.

Whilst standing at the edge of the cliff open your arms wide and embrace the change, don’t cringe and step back, it is about the future, not the past. Technology is ushering the next stage in Darwinism, e-volution ushered by Covid19.

Understanding the Cultural Context in Education

I started teaching in China in 2019; even though I was recruited to teach the international curriculum to a diverse population of students, I found myself learning a lot about the educational philosophy and the cultural context in China. I discovered the underlying principles of education in China deep-rooted to the Confucianism philosophy. Teaching an international curriculum requires teachers to first understand the cultural and regional context; having taught in three different cultures I was very cognizant of this requirement hence I made it an objective to read and learn more about the educational philosophy, aims and objectives in China, purely to be able to connect with my students and be a better teacher. This led me to a journey of traversing through ancient pedagogy only to realise that contemporary pedagogy has evolved from age-old ideologies with a sole objective to make the world a peaceful place (Confucius, 551 – 479 B.C.E.).

Confucianism is a dominant ideology in many Asian countries and has shaped the education policies, approaches to teaching and learning objectives. It has survived through time as it is relevant, fluid and practical in its approach, something that is very similar to modern-day pedagogy. The success can be measured in the ways schools in Asian countries score high on most assessments, statistics gathered from tests like SATs, PISA, ISAs have proved that students from Asian countries, especially those influenced by Confucianism, do very well in academics. To be clear from the beginning, these tests not only assess rote knowledge but also assess critical thinking, analytical thinking and problem-solving abilities hence it is worth analysing what is working well these cultural contexts.
Let us look into a few famous quotes of Confucius which will help us understand this better:

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

It is very clear from the above Confucian quote that knowledge has to be understood, memorizing is not enough, it has to be applied, hence there is the need to ‘do’ or in a very simple way Confucianism promotes experiential learning, something we teachers are trying to integrate into our pedagogy every day. This can be linked to understanding the concept by taking action or by doing which is very much part of the cultural context in China.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

Another quote by Confucius proves his deep thinking into the inquiry process, learning through reflection on action and experience. This can be compared to the contemporary pedagogical approaches of the inquiry cycle: ‘Inquiry-Action-Reflection’. There is an explicit focus on reflection being the highly regarded way to acquire knowledge.

“Acquire new knowledge whilst thinking over the old, and you may become a teacher of others.”

Once again there is alignment with present-day pedagogy, that new knowledge builds on existing knowledge or in other words there is reinforcement on prior knowledge to be able to acquire new knowledge, this also begs educators to make connections between the present and the past to create the future. A very well established nuance in creativity and criticality.

In China and Chinese schools, Confucianism is integrated as neo-Confucianism which focuses on creating the ideal man who gains perfection in his craft/skill and exists peacefully with others. The quote below reinforces how the purpose of education in neo-Confucianism aims for peace:

“Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.”

In fact, Confucius believed that the way to transform society is only through education (Xueji I). Xueji is Confucian text on education, focusing on teaching and learning. Further ideas of Confucius can be found in the book ‘The Analects’. It is interesting to discover that Xueji explains an approach to teaching called the ‘enlightening approach’ where a teacher should teach to open up the students’ minds, helping them to find solutions and not giving them the solutions (Xueji XIII). Further, there is a strong emphasis on memorizing only to get to understanding something very similar to Bloom’s Taxonomy; learning by reflecting; collaborative learning; higher-order thinking and learning as a life-long process. Confucianism primarily focuses on developing critical thinking through respectful ways of inquiring and reaching the conclusion through inference.

Recently, Chinese President Xi Jinping at an international symposium to commemorate the 2,565th anniversary of the birth of Confucius endorsed the transmission of Confucian tenets (Xinhuashe, 2014). An official document titled “Notice by the Ministry of Education on the Issuance of the ‘Synopsis of the Education Guide on Perfecting Excellent Traditional Chinese Culture’” calls schools to “deeply excavate and elucidate China’s excellent traditional values by articulating benevolence, valuing the citizens, abiding in integrity, upholding uprightness, treasuring harmony, and seeking common ground” (Ministry of Education, 2014).

Understanding this context has helped me to focus on the global objective of education that is to be dynamic, ethical, universal in order to create a peaceful world. It is an experience that has made me realise all great education systems in the world are grounded on the values of humanity, to coexist peacefully. This learning also helped me to understand the needs of my students, their learning style and respond better to their requirements situated in their cultural context. As an international educator, knowledge of the cultural context has helped me understand my role in shaping the future of learners in different cultural settings and how to respond to different approaches to learning.

TEACHER WELLBEING IN THE NEW NORMAL

Schools are soon going to reopen next month after the summer holidays; teachers, staff and students will be stepping into a new normal in the midst of a raging worldwide pandemic. Schools will be either online, onsite or blended, depending on their geographical region. A common factor in the new normal is that everyone wants to return to school even though there are many different permutations and combinations involved in doing the same. School leaders and administrators are working tirelessly to ensure a safe, flexible and practical way of returning to school. One thing the entire education fraternity, and this includes higher education institutions, are focusing on is the staff and student well being as they try to adapt to the new normal. Whilst student well being has been a paramount focus in teaching and learning for many years, it is time to implement solutions to focus on teacher well being.

Why? Teachers have not had a break since the pandemic broke out in early 2020! Whether it was teaching online, or struggling to juggle home and work, or dealing with the stress of losing their jobs, teachers have been through a lot. Some other reasons include international school teachers have been displaced from their home countries, caught between borders, separated from families, have had to take pay cuts, look for new jobs, the list is not exhaustive.

Hence, in the academic year 2020, the primary focus of educational institutions across the globe should be teacher well being. Here are a few pointers that school leaders and administrators should have in place to help their teachers settle in after having undergone a tumultuous half-year of stress and anxiety.

1. Workload- Reassess workload of each and every teacher, starting with the contact time, duties and responsibility hours wherever possible to prevent teacher burnout. Increase efficiency not productivity.

2. Timetabling- While creating the time table for the academic year 2020 opt for longer periods which will allow the teachers to have longer free periods for planning. Longer lesson time also facilitates meaningful teacher-student interactions creating a culture of positivity.

3. Human Resource- Ensure HR plays a crucial and supportive role in maintaining teacher well being. If logistics like bank accounts, housing, permits, visas, taxes etc, are well organised by HR, teachers get more time to breathe.

4. Communication- Be brief, be bright and be gone! This is a mantra I have applied as a leader; be direct, keep emails short, reduce emails, maybe to once a week. Remember lengthy and repetitive communication only stresses people out, also research says most people don’t even read emails due to their length.

5. Stay connected- Anything that can be discussed in person should not be communicated through emails. As a teacher I find it extremely agonizing to reply to emails in the middle of a teaching day, it only leads to a nagging pain in my head throbbing with the words: “reply to the email, reply to the email…”

6. Mindfulness practices- Indulge in weekly activities for teachers like cultural dress-up days, healthy snack day, share your food day or even drop everything and breathe for 5 minutes a day!

7. Intrinsic motivation- Educators are motivated by career development or intellectual discussions, schools need to budget for meaningful professional development opportunities and ensure no one is left out, this will keep teachers passionate and motivated.

8. Cut down on meetings- Weekly collaborative meetings can only be productive if there is an agenda, send out the agenda in advance and if there is no agenda don’t have the meeting. Try to combine department meeting allowing more planning time for teachers.

9. Documentation- Reduce redundant documentation by creating a database for all resources to ensure no one is tasked with recreating and reproducing the same work which already exists. Meeting minutes should be linked with resources online and in-house, making it easier for teachers to look for necessary documents.

10. Culture of Appreciation- Send out more positive emails, shout outs to acknowledge the great work teachers do every day, shower praise and positive reinforcement to drive away any residual blues from the past few months of stress and anxiety.

There are many more action points schools can put in place to nurture teachers’ mental health after the trauma they have undergone due to Covid19. Let this year set an example of how taking care of teachers’ well being became an educational aim and translated into necessary school policy. Remember happy teachers create happy classrooms whether online or on-site.