Educational exchanges provide a real opportunity to learn outside the classroom and, in fact, outside the country. And they’re not just for students anymore.
Just ask James Cowper, Kingsville Public School principal.
Cowper is not new to exchanges — he has participated in two so far.
As an educator, Cowper believes exchanges offer an insight that can only be achieved by witnessing the learning process firsthand.
Cowper’s school was sistered with Nong Da Fu Xiao (NDFX) in Beijing, China, through the Reciprocal Learning Program, a joint research study between OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education) and the University of Windsor.
The principal said on his visits he attended schools in Beijing and Chongquing, cities that are home to some 65 million people.
He said there were some differences in the classroom, including the number of students per class — here about 28, there about 40.
“What I did notice clearly though,” said Cowper, “is that kids are kids.”
He said when he visited China, the students wanted him to read and write in English for them, while the students at his schools wanted the guests to read and write in Chinese.
“Curious, interested and hungry for learning on both sides of the planet,” he added.
Last week, Cowper was on the other end of the exchange — he played host.
Principal Zhao and English teachers Mei Mei and Tomin paid a return trip to Kingsville Public School to experience education from the student’s point of view.
Cowper said he believes his Chinese counterparts will take away just how collaborative the learning environment is in the Canadian educational system and how much autonomy our teachers and students have in the learning process.
“Up to now,” he said, “we have only been able to talk about this process with our sister school.”
But, he said, having them visit KPS, Jack Miner, Kingsville District High School and Tecumseh Vista Academy would provide a unique experience to the Chinese educators.
While the focus was on the educational system, the group also had a chance to visit Canada’s most southerly point at Point Pelee and watch a hockey game.
With the trio just visiting from Tuesday to Thursday, Cowper said they squeezed in as much as they could.
Cowper is an advocate of the exchange program and the fact that it brings world culture into the local schools and classrooms.
"We want our children to have knowledge and experiences with other ways of living and learning so that they can respect and understand their own communities," said Cowper, "as well as those that may appear on the surface as quite different."
"At KPS we look for experiences that will put into question what we think we already know," added Cowper, "so we can emerge with a deeper understand of others and ourselves."