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  • Writer's pictureStacey Chiew

Understand The Canadian Education System - An Interview With Cheng Mien Wee

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. - Alvin Toffler

Cheng Mien Wee, executive director of Pre-U studies at Sunway University College.

Down to earth, confident and inspiring, Cheng Mien Wee exhibits the quality of a 21st-century leader. Cheng is the executive director of Pre-U studies at Sunway University College. She oversees, manages and supervises curriculum implementation and program management.

Cheng has over 20 years of experience working as an educator. A self-directed learner and a global leader in education, she has always been passionate about creating opportunities for students of the digital age. Cheng believes having a strong curriculum such as the Canadian Ontario curriculum can prepare students better in a world where education has gone beyond border and boundaries.

“Technology has turned the world into a global village. As educators, we can’t ignore the changes caused by globalization. Overwhelming evidence shows that the world will continue to change with the influence of new technology. A future-focus curriculum is needed for our youth to thrive in an ever-changing, more diversified world. We need to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world - to be responsible global citizens.” Explained Cheng.

Chosen as one of the world’s best education system, the Canadian education system was ranked sixth place by PISA in 2018, surpassed the UK. Being a pioneer in offering the Ontario curriculum in Malaysia, let’s find out from Cheng what makes the curriculum special?

1. What are the benefits of studying at a school that offers the Ontario curriculum?

First of all, the Ontario curriculum is design to promote higher-level critical thinking skills. It is up-to-date, effective and is consistently monitored throughout its implementation by the Ontario ministry of education. It aims to help students reach their full potential through the use of inquiry learning, where students are encouraged to take an active part in their learning process. I believe a rigorous curriculum such as the Ontario curriculum can better prepare our youth for admission to colleges and universities worldwide. For example, effective inquiry and problem-solving skills are essential to meet challenges arising from modern society.

The heart of the Ontario curriculum is to inspire students to take charge of their own learning and become independent lifelong learners. We prefer to engage students in class discussion, encourage them to ask questions and motivate them to evaluate and find solutions for problems instead of memorizing textbooks. We teach what relevant by today’s standard, to effectively prepare our students to become global citizens. We want to equip them with the essential 21st-century skills and be ready for the job opportunities of the future. Making our students a more rounded student to respond to the needs of a global job market is our priority.

The flexibility of the Ontario curriculum plays a critical role in helping students to identify their strengths and nurture their overall development. In my opinion, it is a very holistic curriculum. Today’s education is no longer about the 4Cs. We have gone beyond that and now it’s the 6Cs era. The 6Cs are communication, critical thinking, collaboration, character education, creativity and citizenship. We no longer focus only on grades, but to celebrate progress, continual growth and improvement. The Ontario curriculum and the International Baccalaureate (IB) share similar vision and mission. Both focus on helping students not only acquire new knowledge but to develop skills in empathy. In today's’ world, we must measure students’ success beyond test scores. Having said that, Sunway International School is one of the very few international schools in Malaysia that offers partial scholarships equivalent to 25% of the tuition fee to qualified students.

Student achievement is evaluated and measured based on their understanding of the subjects taught in class. I believe assessment should be seen as learning goals, where students use mistakes to improve their learning. They shouldn’t be drilled to produce perfect answers, how to pass exams and not how to think. We want to make learning meaningful and lasting for them. In life, there’s no perfect answer for everything, but we can always come out with better solutions. For this reason, under the Ontario curriculum, formative/summative assessments is a 70/30 ratio.

2. What are the class sizes and student-to-teacher ratios at SIS? Do smaller class sizes really improve student performance?

Students deserve to learn in supportive classrooms. Research shows that smaller classes maximize student learning potential, it enhances student achievement and helps them get better results. Some experts say the perfect number for the teacher to student ratio is 1:25, while others view 1:22 as the magic number. The way I see it, 25 students per class is a good number. I believe it is important to have smaller class sizes, particularly for younger students. This reduces distractions and allows teachers to offer better academic support to students.

An international experience.

3. What are your teachers’ qualifications? Are they all Canadians?

To teach the Ontario curriculum, teachers must obtain the Ontario teaching certificate from the Ontario College of Teachers and a degree in education. About 80% of our teachers are expatriate teachers from Canada. The rest are locals and from other parts of the world. In SIS, we promote diversity in the workplace and

embrace multicultural classroom activities. Students have fun learning other cultures while their expatriate teachers develop an appreciation for the diversity the students bring into the classroom.

4. What kinds of professional development opportunities are available to your teachers?

We believe teachers need targeted professional learning to help them foster a more positive learning environment for their students. This means they need to catch up with new knowledge, tips and techniques, different teaching styles and strategies. Students deserve good teaching from the best teachers who can prepare them for tomorrow. There’s a saying, teachers as learners first. Good teachers are good learners, and good learners are lifelong learners.

Every year, our teachers are encouraged to take online courses covering topics that are essential for effective teaching. We also fly some of the teachers to workshops conducted in South East Asia that involve hands-on activities and face to face interaction. On top of that, we provide In-house CPD training.

5. Are teachers allowed to integrate technology into the classroom for all grade levels?

Technology is everywhere and it has affected the way we live. Yes, integrating technology in education can help students stay engaged in class but it must be used in ways that are meaningful and safe. For example, game-based learning through Kahoot. Technology makes learning fun, it can create an active environment for students to unlock their creativity. Without a doubt, technology is transforming the classrooms worldwide. Our grade 8-12 students carry their laptop to school daily, while K-grade 7 students use a laptop card at our school computer lab. We use Google classroom for teaching and learning. It’s a great tool to use because teachers can post assignments and check students’ work anytime anywhere in one place. It also helps students gain essential digital skills.

6. What are the things parents should consider when choosing an international school for their child?

As we have more and more international schools sprouting everywhere, finding the right school can be quite a challenging task for many parents. I would suggest researching the schools that interest them the most can be a good start. Visit those schools at an open day, talk to the teachers and students, and try getting information from parents whose children study at international schools. Analyse and compare the information before deciding. These are a few tips parents can use to choose the right school for their child.

More importantly, parents should look for a school that fit their lifestyle and beliefs. Write down the top values on a list, use them as a guide to look for the school that matches those values. Find out the school vision and mission, religious preference and school culture. Some schools prefer to adopt an open-minded curriculum where teachers employ student-centred practices to encourage students to speak out and voice their opinion. The teacher-student relationship is casual and friendly. Strict parents may find this approach “disrespectful”. On the other hand, conservative schools are subjected to hierarchy order or respect for authority. Openly disagreeing with a teacher is considered rude and asking questions during class is discouraged.

7. What are the challenges your teachers face when teaching critical thinking to local students, as the norm in Malaysia classroom is students must show obedient to teachers and not form opinions?

I believe quality learning begins with qualified teachers. Despite coming from a completely different culture, our teachers are well-trained professionals. Most of them have worked in other international schools in South East Asia before joining SIS. They are sensitive to the needs of local students. Some of them have been with us for many years.

Our school consists of 60% of local students and 40% of international students. We have students from Japan, Korea, Australia, Canada, UK, Singapore, just to name a few. At SIS, we celebrate blended learning and cultural diversity. Majority of our students adapt well and have no issues adjusting to our school culture. One of the benefits of diversity in K-12 education is students and teachers can learn from each other to foster cultural awareness. This will help them push their boundaries to reflect and re-evaluate their belief system: People who have different beliefs and cultural practices can be right too.

Personal project

*SIS in Bandar Sunway offers the Ontario Curriculum for secondary students only, while SIS in Sunway Iskandar offers courses for grades K–12. Students graduated from SIS can apply for IBDP at the same school.

Published in Dreamic educational magazine 2020.

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