A few weeks ago I attended several sessions at the Ministry of Education’s extraordinary ExCEL Fest. The Fest is a two day event, one day designed for Ministry of Education employees (teachers, administrators, researchers, curriculum designers, etc.) and the second day is open to the public.
I attended on the public day. It was amazing. A national education festival with exhibits, students sharing their projects, etc. I loved it. Later I learned there were 35,000 people attending the fest on the day I was there. Incredible.
I went to three events, two keynotes on character education (one from a parent perspective and the other from a psychologist’s perspective) and a sharing session by the faculty and students at Holy Innocents Primary School.
The keynotes were pretty interesting, particularly the second one. During the session the parent and community volunteer talked about the differences between Singapore teachers and American teachers (among other things). She claimed American teachers were too nurturing, provide too much positive feedback to students. I was taken aback at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I understood her point; she claimed that American teachers don’t help students understand their weaknesses so they think everything is a strength. She argued that Singapore teachers go too far in the opposite direction. She argued that The best pedagogy should be somewhere in the middle. I have been thinking about this for weeks…
The last session I attended during ExCEL fest was presented by Holy Innocents Primary School. Several teachers shared different programs they created to expose students to cultural practices different than their own. The programs range from taking students abroad, to touring religious institutions, to arranging a visit to a family of a different ethnic heritage than their own.
At the end of the program the students shared two board games they developed which were designed to promote cross-cultural understanding. I got to play one of them. It was fun and I learned a lot.
After the session several of the teachers invited me to come to the school and participate in International Friendship Day. I scraped myself out of bed super early and got there for the assembly.
The assembly was fantastic. Two students from Primary 5 emceed the event, and students presented their research on several countries in Africa. The presentations were thoughtful and exposed students to refugee and civil rights issues. I was impressed. There was also a performance of the school’s Chinese Orchestra and the modern dance group. Very good.
I sat in the back with the principal, vice principals, and several of the teachers. At the end of the assembly, the principal asked if I would say a few words.
Imagine this, friends. About a thousand primary school students sitting on the floor of an auditorium. There is a huge aisle down the middle. And walking. With the principal. Down this aisle towards the front of the room.
It was a long walk.
I felt like I was on America’s Next Top Model. Wearing a really ugly shirt.
I greeted the students with “ni hao,” and they greeted me back. (That’s where my Mandarin ends) And I blubbered something about friendships or something and then walked around the outside of the room after I was done.
It was a wonderful experience, though. I felt so honored. So welcomed there, which really speaks to the culture and values of the school. The assembly was fantastic. I loved that school. And I can’t wait to go back there for a longer visit.