The story appears on

Page C11

October 26, 2011

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » Education

Working across cultural boundaries

TODAY at Shanghai United International School's Shang Yin North American School, Rhys O'Loughlin is the Western Curriculum coordinator. There he works closely with the Eastern coordinator, Peach Tao. Together they facilitate the best of both worlds to learners. Their guiding light is the International Primary Curriculum, or the IPC.

It is a curriculum that "allows students to work across cultural boundaries while promoting thematic, student-led learning," says O'Loughlin. They believe this mix helps students become enfranchised global citizens, which, among other ingredients of the IPC, were lacking in their own childhood.

O'Loughlin grew up in a small town in Australia, and while he grew up with luxuries some people dream of - such as the bluest of skies, grass in parks and quiet nights with no need to lock your front door - he was raised in a monoculture society. As a boy, he had never met a foreigner. Indeed, he was aware that there were other cultures and beliefs, but the closest he came to them was a Chinese dragon at an Easter parade. Yet while looking around his classroom today he sees children who can speak two, if not three languages. These are kids who have friends from all around the world, and who know one another's holiday rituals.

Tao was born, grew up and was educated in Shanghai. During Tao's childhood, it was not very common to see a foreigner on the streets. She could never have imagined that someday she would be working with and teaching people from all over the world. Now she has all of this in her classroom. While working next to a Western partner, she shows a Japanese student how to peel a cucumber that will be used to make a Korean dish. In her class, everyone comes to the agreement that culture knows no boundaries.

Tao thanks the IPC for this, "It allows anyone from any culture to add their opinions, their previous knowledge and their traditions to the learning experience," she says. Through this process students learn to "relate to the rest of the world, and the country they are currently living in." The curriculum achieves this through the frequent use of the terms "home" and "host" country, which helps students compare, contrast and make meaning of the differences and similarities between the world they live in and the one they came from. "They learn how to learn through asking questions that help them make connections," notes Tao.

Moreover, the IPC provides Eastern children and teachers with a different and unique learning experience. The "IPC is not like the curriculum I experienced when I was in school where everything was subject based," explains Tao. As a result, she feels the IPC's thematic, integrated approach - where, for example, students might study the circus, while making links to science, history and PE - keeps her learning too.

"Our school heads (Richard Eaton and Spring Shi) regularly remind us that we are a learning focused school," Tao adds. "If we are not learning, how can we expect the kids to be?"

O'Loughlin likes the fact that the IPC allows him "to work closely with students in an environment where I am not the leader, but a supporter."

An IPC learning environment must be safe and comfortable and often there are no right answers, only deeper, original thinking. "Looking at the world around us, how we all fit in to it, and/or how we can make the world fit for us is what it's all about," O'Loughlin says. This is not an easy job.

At SUIS Shang Yin the IPC is delivered by "East meets West" teaching teams like O'Loughlin and Tao. The primary language of instruction is English, but subject specific terms are introduced bilingually and often displayed in the classrooms in multiple languages.

"It's time consuming and difficult to find time to meet up during school hours due to our busy schedules, but it is undeniably rewarding," O'Loughlin says.

The experiences he has had working with an Eastern partner who has a different style and training, but the same goals - to produce problem solving, deep thinking students who are able to ask questions and find and evaluate information independently - have allowed them to get the best out of each other's worlds.

There is also a sense that the community is all around. Native English speakers are working together on projects and class work with native Chinese speakers. Local and international leaders chat in the corridors, while popping in and out of classroom.

This is the essence of "East meets West" at Shang Yin: teachers modeling beneficial interaction and students making it happen in the classroom today, and around the world tomorrow.

"It's the kind of place where I would send my child," Tao concludes.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend