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East-West best school strategy?

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The results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Manitoba's bottom of the class, Dec. 4) merely confirms what various professors and teachers have said in the Free Press in the past about the need to return to basics and put more emphasis on academics.

In my class, I have many students from Russia, East Europe, India, China and Korea.

As parents with kids in school, whether elementary, junior or high school, they all echo the same complaint -- their children are years ahead of Canadians when it comes to maths and science. They also complain their children don't get enough homework, there are too many distractions in and out of the classroom, and there is a lack of discipline and respect for teachers in Manitoba schools.

Meanwhile, we have read articles in class stating Canadian kids, partly because of their many extra-curricular activities, are getting too much homework, and that 10 minutes per grade is enough.

We also read an article by a well-known Yale law professor, Amy Chua, called Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, in which she outlines the differences between Asian moms and Western moms. Asian moms are much stricter; they focus on discipline, self-discipline and early childhood skill development as opposed to self-expression, a laissez-faire attitude, and what she considers an over-emphasis on the child's self-esteem.

In this context, I have a number of private students -- all Korean -- who need to improve their English. Their parents place an extremely high value on education and will make every sacrifice to bring their children to the top of the class.

I have children as young as 12 listening carefully as I explain the differences between a complex and compound sentence. Is it any wonder that while many recent immigrants struggle to establish themselves in Canada, so many of their children go on to university and college and eventually successful careers? Do Canadian parents place as much emphasis on their children's education as they do on their children's extra-curricular and social activities?

When I ask my immigrant students why they came to Canada, however, one of the answers is "educational opportunities." While they value their education, they also want to escape the rigid, highly competitive educational systems in their own country, where all the teens are competing for top marks for placement in the best universities.

In a sense, the Canadian educational system is like a breath of fresh air, and my students praise the camaraderie, the relaxed atmosphere, the freedom of expression and the role of creativity in our schools.

After listening to a radio interview with a well-known education reformer from Finland, Pasi Sahlberg, they tend to agree -- up to a point --with Finland's emphasis the role of play, self-discovery, well-being and happiness as opposed to education and homework in early childhood development.

Does this sound like a contradiction? Let's call it a compromise. In our many discussions of education and child-rearing in my class, my students invariably come to the conclusion a mixture of East and West is the best solution -- allowing the kids to express themselves and develop their creativity, but, at the same time, as the children become older, placing more emphasis on self-discipline, homework and the development of basic skills and talents.

Yes, they want their kids to have more homework than they get in Canadian schools, but not the amount of homework in Asian schools that often see children studying far into the night -- after they get home from private tutoring, which occurs after their regular school day.

At the end of our discussions on education, I always tell my students that, even though they are new Canadians, they have just as much say as any other parent in their children's education, and I encourage them to speak up if they are not happy with what's going on in their child's school in terms of content, homework, discipline or other issues. Canada prides itself on being a multicultural, multi-ethnic society, and just as immigrants and their children are learning to become good Canadian citizens, perhaps they have a few things to teach us as well.


Guy Prokopetz is an instructor in the language training centre of Red River College.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 9, 2013 A9


Updated on Monday, December 9, 2013 at 8:02 AM CST: adds image

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