TFAll Conference, China

Founder Tom Ravenscroft reflects on sharing Enabling Enterprise’s work at the Teach For All conference in China.

It has to be something pretty special to make a thirty hour journey feel justified. Particularly to follow that with a second thirty hour journey just five days later.

The occasion was the Teach For All Global Conference, held in Tengchong in the Yunnan Province of China, in the country’s east. Four high intensity days brought together social entrepreneurs, teachers and education leaders from across Teach For All’s thirty partner countries.

I had the privilege of presenting Enabling Enterprise’s work in a workshop session, in the context of our support from Teach First, one of the Teach For All partners. Here are just some of the highlights from a brilliant few days:

Yunnan Province, China

What takes teachers from good to great? Steven Farr (USA)

This session was fascinating: A two-year study in collaboration with Teach for America of what makes the difference in the progression of teachers from good to really great.

The genius in this approach is taking teachers in pairs who were performing equally well at the end of their first year on the programme and then exploring what made the difference in their relative performance over the following year. The approach was developed with input from business strategy guru Jim Collins and helped to isolate the variables that really made the difference between an average and an outstanding impact.

The surprising insight? That brilliant and average teachers diverge most in the depth of relationships they build with their students, the level of ambition, and a strong investment in concrete, ambitious goals. The full study is coming out soon, and I for one can’t wait to dig into it.

Tengchong, China

The Role of Education in a Hyper-Connected, Global World. Tom Friedman

Another highlight was the sharing of insights from Tom Friedman, the author and journalist. Taking a high-level perspective, Friedman drew out the forces of development that effectively reduce the value of any role that could be replaced by automation.

Friedman argued that education needs to keep up with the need to develop the wider skills and attitudes of students. No longer is it enough to have knowledge – as he said, knowledge is cheap and easily available. Instead, young people need to be adaptable, resilient and creative – so that they simply can’t be replaced with a computing algorithm.

Clearly an insight that we at Enabling Enterprise can heartily endorse.

Exploring Yunnan: The Rural Chinese Education Context

For me, the morning of Wednesday was the most inspiring part of the trip. We were privileged to spend a morning visiting a school an hour away from the conference venue, in a more rural part of Yunnan province.

The school we visited (picture at top of this article) was a mid-sized primary school. The students boarded through the week as the distances between their homes and the school were often too great to cover each day.

We were warmly welcomed by both the committed teachers and enthusiastic teachers. What really struck me was the ambition of the students – both in that, despite being just 9 years old, they had a strong sense of what they wanted to do in the future, but also the level of engagement and purpose in the classroom was striking.

A visit to the homes of a couple of their parents helped us understand why: A real desire and urge from the parents for their children to progress, and to have a better life.

What Makes a Good School System? Reflections from PISA

Head of Education for the OECD, Andreas Schleicher designed and administers the PISA exams to evaluate how well different global education systems help to prepare their young people for the rest of their lives.

In his talk (video above) he highlighted how Shanghai, China has seen a remarkable increase in the students’ performance and how these lessons could be applied to other systems to boost improvement.

The conclusion that most resonated with me though, was about the importance of giving teachers the time and space to grow and develop. This is something we’ve seen at Enabling Enterprise – where teachers have the time to embed the programmes, and to innovate around them the results for their students really can be transformational.

Journey Home, Hong Kong

Things to Take Away

The journey home was long: two internal flights and then the overnight flight back from Hong Kong. But that did at least give plenty of time to think and reflect.

There are four things that I took away from the trip:
Teachers are core to education. That might seem simple, but the global perspective showed again that the most effective innovations will always be those that support teachers. Which is what I hope we do at Enabling Enterprise.
Skills and attributes will be essential for our young people: the speed of change in the world and its economies mean that knowledge alone is no longer enough. We have to create young people who cannot be automated or replaced with an algorithm – and the skills that EE focuses on are the bedrock of that.
Purpose and aspiration is the driver: In the Chinese context, much of this is driven by both a national sense of progress, and by the expectations and dreams of parents. In the UK context, engaging businesses and external volunteers can be helpful, and I think there’s more we can do at EE to support community links too.
We have to think more globally: That doesn’t necessarily mean trying to “win the global race” but there is a lot that we can learn across different education systems. From EE’s perspective this means looking to, and hopefully contributing to, best practice across the world.

It was a great few days, and well worth the jet lag.

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