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【必达专访·GregParry看国际教育】The Education Dragon in China is Hungry Part Ⅲ

Greg Parry’s view of International Education interviewed by BEED Asia    必达亚洲专访: GregParry 看国际教育

Just in case you haven’t been watching, China’s appetite for international education is unwavering!

459,000 Chinese students studied abroad last year, an increase of 11% on the previous year. About one-third (31 per cent) of all international students studying in colleges and universities in the US are Chinese (274,439). 25,000 Chinese students enrolled in US high schools, a 30 per cent increase over the previous year and an indication that many wealthy Chinese families are sending their children abroad at an earlier age.

That figure is staggering!

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But what about the growing number of international high schools that have been set up in China over the past 10 years?

I don’t like what I see.

In spite of the promises, the high fees and claims of direct entry into top 50 universities, parents are starting to see through the facade. High quality international schools are characterised by excellent teaching practice, not overseas textbooks. Teachers are experienced and well qualified, not just foreign faces. These schools need to demonstrate excellent academic achievement for all students, not just a select few. When you use the title “International School” there is a responsibility to meet a standard. Not all do.

As a passionate and lifelong educational leader these things are important to me.

In the main, most local international schools are nothing like “international” and would not reach even basic standards of schools in the US, UK or Australia. A high turnover of foreign teachers, management and clients (students) in any industry does not reflect a healthy situation.

To be fair there are some schools in pursuit of the standard with good intention. They are driven by a vision for quality and are on their way. Few have achieved the standard yet though.

So what is the key difference?

School management in the for-profit sector can be a tricky business. The business of education is a unique industry torn between different ideologies.

To generalize just a little, academics and business people see the world very differently and the tug of war between an education leader who wants to improve educational outcomes for children verse a business man focused on the bottom line of profit, often answering to shareholders, can be a constant struggle.

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Many international schools in China are managed and operated by companies that began their vision with little education background or experience. It is an exciting opportunity for an investor. Not only are schools highly profitable but to own a school is a prestigious honor. On the other hand, most life time educators have never worked in “for profit” commercial environments of any real significance. Principals begin as teachers and as they prove their skills in the classroom, they are gradually promoted over time into middle and then senior management positions. With limited financial training they “learn on the job” how to manage budgets that in China can become in excess of $80 million USD. That is a big leap from classroom teacher to CEO of a company that size!

Educators need to reshape their thinking when working in a for-profit school. When a healthy business model and a healthy education vision work together, in shared goals framed the right way, then it is certainly achievable.

Businessmen also need to be clear about what they are good at and what they are not. I love restaurants and great food, but that does not mean I can run my own restaurant. Everyone has attended a school. They may even be a parent of a child attending a school. That doesn’t mean they can run one though. When a school owner gets too involved in the day-to-day operations of the school it can certainly be a disaster. Professional educators are very serious about their work and just as we don’t interrupt medical professionals, educators need to be respected to do what they do, without interference.

How to we grapple with this seemingly opposing ideology?

All businesses deliver a product. The ultimate product of a great school is a great student. It is a young person who has achieved good grades but more importantly someone who will make a difference in the world.

For profit schools can achieve great educational outcomes. In truth, they will not be successful unless they do. The challenge however is to merge these two ideologies, or find the common ground so that the paths taken are in symmetry.

At GSE we believe we are unique because we were successful education leaders first. We moved into the business sector with a view that we can bridge this link between academics and business, better than others. We do believe very strongly however that education must come first with faith, and a carefully crafted business plan, that leads to profit in time. There are no shortcuts when it comes to achieving quality in any business. Like any business model if an eager pursuit of short term profit misguides a bigger vision of long term success there is a high risk of failure.

There needs to be a very clear and honest understanding about the key roles of management within a school. When good educators and good business comes together it can be very successful.

But how else do we ensure international schools succeed. How do we manage our resources well?

Education is a service industry whose greatest asset is people. In countries such as Australia, the UK and the US, human resources can account for close to 80% of the overall school budget. In other countries it can be as low as 55% but nonetheless it is this asset that makes the most difference for student achievement. While investment in grand buildings, marketing partnerships and other tangential artifacts can look great in year one, within 2-3 years it is the words shared by parents at tea houses, coffee shops or on social media that will have the greatest impact on reputation. You just can’t fake quality of education! It is essential that schools recognize the value that teachers will play in the delivery of quality in their schools.

 

Percentage distribution of total capital expenditure for public elementary and secondary education in USA

There is a teacher shortage world wide. How do we get the very best teachers and how do we keep them?

The very best teachers, and schools, are interviewing January to March of each year. Premium international schools require their staff to declare their intention to renew their contract, or otherwise by the end of December. They want to know their replacement requirements so that they can aggressively pursue good teachers during this 3 month period.

Student recruitment time in China happens late February to May. So the obvious challenge is that some schools say that they cannot determine staffing needs until accurate student numbers are determined. Sure, that could be true, but lets understand the facts. While schools might be competing for the best students they are also competing for the best teachers in a limited market that is getting tougher every year. With every day past February there are fewer teachers available and schools risk a lower standard of teachers therefore a lower quality of teaching delivery in their classrooms for the following 2 years. Teaching quality is your most valuable asset so if you compromise you compromise on the whole school. Again, you get what you pay for and you get what you wait for.

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How to be ahead of the game?

  1. Consider foreign teachers, or most of them, as a fixed cost. Set a student recruitment goal and commit to your teacher budget in January, at the latest.
  2. Design a high quality English website. If teachers can only find a website focused on student recruitment in another language then this sends a message to them of what your priorities are.
  3. Foreign education leaders must be the face of teacher recruitment. Junior staff do not employ doctors in a hospital. How can a non-teacher market a school to a teacher, determine the quality of a teacher and represent an “International School” if they are not themselves an experienced education leader.
  4. Don’t use poor quality recruitment agents who do nothing but pass you CVs. High quality teachers do not use these agents. Only work through reputable agents or invest in a good HR team led by your school Principal or a well qualified education leader.

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What does Quality International Education Look Like?

At GSE we have very clear ideas and opinions about quality and how to achieve it.

  1. A clear vision understood by everyone

Now let me be clear. “Get kids into Harvard” is not a vision. A colleague of mine who is thePrincipal of a school who regularly sends graduates to IVY league Universities was recently asked whether he was concerned that in the previous year he did not have a child enter Harvard or Cambridge. He reminded people to check the school’s Vision and Mission.

Nowhere does it claim that this is the school mission.

….and I hope no school sets this as its primary mission!

At GSE we care about “distance travelled.”

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How many students improved and by how much?

Who did not move forward?

“No student should remain anonymous” in a school that cares for everyone and not just the most elite, or the most challenged. 

  1. A vision should drive how decisions are made in the school.

When I was previously a Principal our community created a vision statement that focused on “Maximizing the learning potential of all students”. This statement says that students will achieve their best, whatever that might be.

We created a guiding question to help us make good decisions in meetings and daily practice, based on the vision: 

“Will this decision, action, event or strategy ‘maximise the potential of students’?”

To judge the quality of a school it needs to be clear that the whole community knows and understands how it differentiates itself from others. What makes it unique? What drives its decisions?

  1. High Standards and Expectations for All Students

We all want our children to succeed. We choose a school with standards and expectations that match our own idea of what success is. Most schools say they have high standards but find out for yourself. Ask parents!

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  1. Effective School Leadership

Research says that school leadership is the number one factor that will ensure a school’s success. Some schools suffer when there is no clear understanding about who the decision maker is, or how significant decisions get made. In my opinion, it may often be a team but there is only one leader. All strategic decisions should feed through the Principal.

  1. High Levels of Collaboration and Communication

Are decisions collaborative or autocratic? Modern leadership practice certainly promotes a collaborative approach and for very good reason. There is no way that just one person, or a few, know everything. We make better decisions when the Vision or Mission is driving the school rather than one person and their strong personal steering of the ship.

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  1. Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessments Aligned with Standards

Textbooks are not written with knowledge of an individual needs. They are designed to provide a general framework and a resource.

Teachers need to understand and articulate exactly what the standards are and then this needs to drive planning and instruction.

  1. Frequent Monitoring of Learning and Teaching

Principals must get into classrooms. At GSE we believe in the 4-minute walk through as one of our strategies to identify quality. You don’t always need to sit at the back of a classroom and observe 100% of the lesson. When a culture is created, built on trust and support, Principals can comfortably walk freely in and out of rooms on a regular basis. Frequent 4-minute snapshots, as part of a complete support program, are often more successful.

We believe in data and tracking individual students, not just the whole. We believe in tracking performance on particular skills and thinking. Staff room conversations need to sound like professional reflections and the depth of learning students are embracing rather than character appraisals.

When I listen to teachers discuss student progress I listen for specific skills and deficits. I want to hear teachers identifying the thinking gaps that exist in their classroom.

  1.  Focused Professional Development

We believe in current best practice teaching and learning strategies. This does not happen by accident. Whether it is attendance at a major conference or internal, regular workshops delivered by colleagues, teachers need to be fed, reflect and challenged by new ideas.

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  1. Supportive Learning Environment

Research will tell you that children learn best when their environments are friendly, supportive and encouraging. Hostile, threatening environments limit our ability to concentrate, engage and learn new things. As adults our workplaces need to reflect similarly. The “big stick” approach, driving compliance, does not make teachers work harder. Excitement, job satisfaction, support and many other factors are what drive energy and performance. There is certainly a difference!

  1. High Levels of Family and Community Involvement

Authentic involvement by parents in the community is essential for a high performing school. By authentic, I mean schools that truly listen and seek out involvement. A quality school is an extension of the family. It is a community that embraces the school vision and families who depend on each other in an environment of support.

Where to from here?

What some people fail to realise is that in the business of education we are not selling cars. Fancy advertisements, big promotions and beautiful facilities only get people to “look.” Parents talk to each other and when quality is achieved consistently, parents talk positively and consistently to “everybody.” You don’t need to market great schools. The parents will share the news for you. Parents choose schools by talking to their friends about their own experience. You can’t fake quality. Not for very long anyway.

The education bubble is about to burst in China. Some might say it already has. Within the next 5-10 years only the quality schools will survive and those who are ready to look long term and embrace quality will succeed.

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Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for education institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognized for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education 2015 and 2016.

Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these disciplines.

 

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