Monday, October 20, 2008

Worst School in BC? Not necessarily....

On Sunday, I was moved by one news article in the Province, BC Canada. This article focuses on a small community school in Burnaby called Edmonds Community School. The headlines appear dramatic: "One School, 48 countries.” Rather appropriately, it shows a grade 7 boy from the Czech Republic playing the ‘world’ sport called football. In North America, this is called soccer, as they rather reserve their ‘football’ for what we commonly refer to as ‘American football.’

Within the two pages, four things struck me:
a) The immense multicultural mix (350 students from 48 countries speaking 46 languages)

Apart from attracting headline attention, Edmonds Community School exhibits a welcoming culture that is humane, accepting and some will say, very ‘Canadian.’ Having lived in Canada for the past few years, I must say that Canada is one of the world’s most welcoming societies. With patience and understanding, many teachers will take the time to talk to new students and patiently guide them each step of the way. Two years ago, teachers in Vancouver actually went on strike and one of the reasons was the rising teacher-student ratio that the local Vancouver School Board was seen as slow to address. The long term repercussions feared was that it endangers the quality of teacher-student guidance.

Since 2002, the challenges have become greater. While it used to be refugee children in the 70s-80s who experienced poverty and hardship back home, the newer immigrants to Canada showed evidence of ‘post-traumatic stress’ arising from their exposure to violence and war-ravaged nations in Africa and Afghanistan.

b) ‘Worst’ performing schools in British Columbia

If reading and writing are the two measuring instruments of literacy, Edmonds school is viewed as the ‘worst’ in the whole province. Teachers at that school were quick to point out that such a label is ‘grossly misplaced.’ They prefer to take a broader perspective, saying that these kids may not be academically superior to other schools within BC, but the whole school community ‘exemplifies the best in teaching and fearless student drive.’

Come to think of it, I think they are right. In fact, many parents have tunnel visions when it comes to education. They want their kids to be academically better than sports. They want their children to get the best tuition resources in order to secure good grades so that they get good job prospects. For some, not getting an ‘A’ is anathema! Too often, education is restricted to merely good performance in the examinations. It is quick, efficient but grossly misleading. Education is much more than examination results.

c) More than 80% are ESL students, struggling with a new country and new language

I think immigrant children have many things to be thankful for, despite the lack of security of home and the confusion of identities on who they are and where they come from. Taken in a positive manner, this twin challenge can be a powerful motivator to look forward for a brighter and better future. In fact, having experienced the worst in life, and placed in a land of opportunity that is open and welcoming, they are poised to excel. They work harder than locals. They can compare the worst they have experienced with the best that they can look forward to. Young people especially has a huge energy resources and adaptability to change. They can be influenced and touched in order to help other people in more unfortunate circumstances. These students bear many different testimonies of a life from ‘rags to potential riches,’ from ‘zero to a budding hero,’ and from a world of despair to a place of hope. If they can survive, chances are that they are street-smart and can withstand the tough issues of life like unemployment, discouragement, poverty, sickness and low equity ratio. They can instead be more thankful for the little they have, in spite of the many they do not have. Treated well, these young children can be a powerful force for a gentler, caring and humane society that Canada is seeking to become more and more each day.

d) The hope held out

Finally, the words that ring out in my ears and touch my heart are those of the head teacher, Elin Horton.
“She pauses and brushes away the tears in her eyes, then adds: ‘We can’t do anything about where they’ve come from – but we can do an awful lot about where they’re going to go.’”
That is worth the price of education, the hope held out not only for teachers, but for teachers to remind themselves that education while it needs to be realistic (of one’s limitations), vulnerable to skeptics, it needs to embrace the human spirit and be optimistic about one’s potential to succeed.

My Comments

In Neil Postman’s wonderful book about the “End of Education,” Postman argues that young people need to be equipped with the necessary skills and attitude toward continuing to educate themselves. We cannot continue to depend on the umbilical cord of our parents’ expectations for our own learning. We need to wean ourselves from any forms of codependency that inhibits our individual prospective futures. We should continue to be learners all our life willingly, intentionally and compassionately. Life is more than grades. Like what my professor used to say: “One can score perfects A’s in his school grades and yet flunk life.”

Reading this article makes me rather embarrassed when I see friends of mine becoming so paranoid over their children’s academic results everytime the exam draws near. Often children’s anxieties feed upon the apprehensive nerves of the parents. Extreme cases will make the most fretful kid to take their own life, mainly for fear of not meeting up to their parents demands.

To these parents, my purpose is not to deter you from seeking the best academic performance for your children, neither is it to form guilt in your mind about the larger world outside our small perimeter of school-homework-extra-curricular-activities. It is to develop in our hearts a small and growing posture of thankfulness for what we have. In the process, inculcate hope in our lives that there is always a second chance, just as Christ who came down to earth to give all mankind a second chance.


The Province
19 Oct 2008
Justify Full

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