Touro Dean Visits Hong Kong Schools

PoKakDr. Jim O’Connor, dean of the College of Education and Health Sciences, recently took a nine-day trip to Hong Kong to evaluate primary, secondary, and special education schools. In a nutshell, O’Connor says his trip was a “fantastic experience where I learned about the high quality schools in Hong Kong.” Here’s more about the trip: 

Tell us about this program and how were you selected to evaluate the schools?

International Alliance for Invitational Education (IAIE) is a nonprofit worldwide organization of educators who are dedicated to enhancing positive environments for people to realize their full potential. Schools in Hong Kong apply to be part of this program and go through rigorous requirements to be part of the IAIE program.

This is my second year participating in the program and I was one of seven evaluators selected from the United States this year by their leadership. 

You were able to visit six schools but three of them stand out. Tell us why.

I visited a remarkable school call the “Haven of Hope Sunnyside School,” which is a special education school just for students with profound disabilities. This school has 100 students with an IQ of 25 or lower and about 60% of them stay overnight Monday through Friday. A vast majority of them have multiple disabilities – 60% of them are wheelchair bound, and only one of them could speak. This is a world class school with more than 100 staff members.

The next school was Po Kok Primary School. It’s an international school comprised of 300 students representing Pakistan, Philippines, Sweden, Nepal and 15 other countries. The building, which is next to a Buddhist Temple, was built in 1847. Here they learn about the Hong Kong society and various languages, including Mandarin, Cantonese and English. They have 40 extracurricular activities and students typically stay from 8-5 daily.

And the Yuen Yuen Secondary School, which hosts grades 7-12. It’s located in a city called Yuen Long and primarily serves lower economic students who live in one of the dozens of 40-story high rises that surround the school. This is special in that they had a wonderful visual arts program and there was creativity around the school, including a television studio, several art rooms, and design classes. 

Did any of the students stand out to you?

Yes - I met a student named Raphael at the Yuen Yuen Secondary School. Children in Hong Kong are provided an English name by either their family or teacher as a tradition. When I met Raphael, who is 14 years old, I asked him where he got his name. He told me his dad and brother gave him that name but he didn’t’ like it. He then asked if I could provide a new name. I thought about it for five minutes and came up with Andrew. He loved it and now goes by that name. 

Did you have to turn in an evaluation?

There was a rubric which evaluated schools using 50 different criteria related to invitational education, such as parent-teacher involvement, level of parental involvement, school decor, the interactions between the teachers and students, etc. They were all extremely positive and found most to be exceptional. Some of the schools were also applying for awards, which is why there were being evaluated. 

What did you get out of visiting these schools?

Hong Kong schools are extremely high quality. Teachers put in 12-hour day and have a great emphasis on creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving and empowerment of students. Parents are highly involved with the schools and these schools focus on student-centered cooperative learning.

At every school I visited, there was a campus garden and a strong emphasis on eating healthy. There was a lot of mutual respect between teachers and the students and both are responsible for decorating their own classrooms. Teachers are also involved in the schools decision-making process. 

PoKakWhat can we learn from your experience?

That teaching and learning can still be joyful – we can still have high standards for students and focus on creativity. Teaching is a way of life, it’s not a job.

We adopted invitational education as a philosophy in the College of Education and Health Sciences so all our faculty and staff focus on making the students experience at Touro as inviting as possible. It is a customer-service model, which focuses on respect for others, unconditional positive regard, and trust. 

Do you have plans to return to Hong Kong?

I plan to go next year but I will also see several of the people from the schools I visited in Hong Kong at this year’s IAIE meeting in Nashville, TN. 

To learn more about International Alliance for Invitation Education, visit http://www.invitationaleducation.net/.