A Thunder Bay principal
travels the world, windsurfing and investigating
By Gib Taylor
In China, I saw a class of 50
students perched, literally, on the edge of their
seats, eyes focused on the teacher, hands poised to
go up. For them, it is a privilege to answer a
In Japan, the
principal of Rikodai Elementary School struggled with
our concept of teacher supervision at recess and
lunch. He said, "When students go out to play at
recess and lunch, that is their own time. No teachers
are needed to supervise."
In Papua New
Guinea, I visited one school in the tropical
highlands that had a student-teacher ratio of 15 to 1
and the same technology we do. In a nearby school
some of the classroom floors are under water during
the rainy season.
themes emerged during my foray into educational
systems around the world. Countries organize their
curriculum and schools based on their cultural view
of the purpose of education. Technology is advancing
so rapidly that some cultures, which in the past have
had less sophisticated technology, are now playing
leapfrog. They have simply jumped a few steps
straight to the leading edge. Both of these could
have a dramatic impact on the role of Ontario
Four, Agenda Items?
believe the purpose of education consists of one item
The purpose of
our education system embraces multiple agenda items:
academic excellence, physical development, and
morals, values and social development. This holistic
approach may produce a more rounded graduate, but
international tests are measuring academic knowledge
In 1950, Japan
had 140 instructional days in the school year and
Ontario had 185. Close to half a century later, our
schools still have 185 and Japan has 240. In
addition, their school day is 20 per cent longer.
curriculum and educational preparation is geared to
students passing tests that gain them access to
specific choice schools and programs. Many Pacific
Rim countries adhere to this structure, so it should
come as no surprise that, as they spend more time in
school studying specific content for tests, they have
In Papua New
Guinea, I saw sharp contrasts between their two
educational systems and the one in Ontario. My first
visit was to an international school, comprised of
elementary and secondary schools. The modern
buildings nestled in the picturesque tropical
highlands and had all the resources and computer
technology of our schools. In addition, many classes
had a teacher-to-pupil ratio of 15 or less, about
half of many of our schools. The curriculum was
highly academic with a strong emphasis on testing.
These students will be accepted and able to succeed
in any educational institution anywhere in the world
when they leave the remote jungles of Papua New
school a few miles away was a different story. Its
400 students were housed in classrooms of varying
degrees of disrepair. There was no electricity in the
classrooms, some had mud floors, there was little
classroom furniture and curriculum material.
Government financial support for education fluctuates
from year to year, in some cases from month to month,
with teachers occasionally not being paid. These
students will not receive the level of education that
will let them be strong competitors in the
international job market.
competitive in the international market is an
argument often heard in discussions about the future
In Ontario, the
government is placing an increasing emphasis on
accountability. The latest initiatives include more
standardized provincial testing, a more explicit
structured curriculum that is outcome-based, and a
new provincial report card that uses percentages and
letter grades to reflect a students progress.
In China and
Japan they have a strongly structured, defined
curriculum and testing system that is geared to
assist the efficient streaming of students. But I
discovered in both countries a definite interest in
moving away from the traditional structure to a more
open system where the students become creative,
independent problem solvers.
educators efforts in the last few decades have
concentrated on developing creative thinkers with
good inquiry and problem-solving skills who can work
on a team. This emphasis could contribute to our
students not being as successful as those of other
countries on international tests.
To be more
accountable, our government is tightening up the
curriculum and focusing on student preparation for
testing. Japan and other countries, which do well on
international tests, see that their students lack
creativity, problem solving and human relations
skills that allow them to be team players as well as
work independently skills required by
two polar positions are moving toward the centre
where the swing radius of the pendulum will be much
smaller. This should result in a better balance in
education, one that possesses both structure and
teachers dont supervise recess or lunch. The
number of litigation cases that would arise in
Ontario if we didnt have teacher supervision
would be endless. There are strong cultural
influences that affect how students interact and
behave. Education and academic achievement are
important and revered.
classrooms are crowded. Yet the students demonstrate
a strong eagerness to learn and an unbelievable
discipline to focus on the task.
50-student average in Ontario classes would create
unimaginable behaviour management problems,
considering the attitude and work ethic many students
currently hold. Lets hope the governments
latest initiative to cap class sizes addresses the
problems related to large classes.
though it is half way around the world, has far more
similarities to our system than differences. In fact,
they are undertaking many of the same initiatives we
are school councils, strategic plans, codes of
behaviour, mission statements, a more structured
curriculum and more accountability through
standardized testing. It would be relatively easy for
teachers or students to switch systems.
Growing, Planet Shrinking
systems would require some adjustment to the
technology, in directions not always predictable.
In China, for
example, I found it amazing that they use DVD,
digital video disc, for their movies instead of
videotapes and VCRs. They bypassed a whole age of
technology and are currently future-oriented.
Were still using old technology, videotapes.
In Australia, I
was astounded at the vast number of people who were
talking on their cell phones in every conceivable
place. Apparently no other country uses this form of
communication as much.
In many cases,
countries that dont have the infrastructure in
place, like elaborate telephone pole and wire
systems, especially to remote areas, can simply use
the latest cellular technology and never undergo the
major cost of the older telephone system. Why buy
VCRs when the new DVDs are available?
Ontario schools still have Commodore 64s and 286
rethink the importance of technological advancement
in Ontario schools? It is a skill area where other,
less developed countries are surpassing us.
countries, like Japan and China, view education more
as the dispensing of a well-defined body of knowledge
in a structured systematic manner, there is a better
chance of a comprehensive computer literacy and skill
program being offered.
Besides being a windsurfer, Gib
Taylor is principal at McKenzie Public School in
Thunder Bay and a part-time professor at Lakehead
Universitys faculty of education.
Taylor set out to windsurf around the world,
at least six of the seven continents. He
skipped Antarctica a little too remote
took a laptop computer and faced the
challenge of e-mailing articles from distant
continents back to the United States to meet
his monthly deadline for a column in
Over the course of
his six-month journey, Taylor also visited
schools to uncover the similarities and
differences between the school he was
visiting and Ontario schools in curriculum,
special education, behaviour management,
teaching strategies, computer literacy level
and development, communications with the
community, culture of school and community.
Taylor talked with
principals, teachers, students and parents
and collected any available print material
about the particular school and district.