The chief concern of many parents nowadays is how to ensure their children are receiving the adequate education to allow them to thrive in a changing international world. Dr. Susan Sclafani, former Assistant Secretary for the US Department of Education visited Beijing International Bilingual Academy (BIBA) on Monday, October 15, to discuss the innovations being made in education and the benefits a bilingual education can bestow. Dr. Sclafani, who is currently vice president for programs at The Pearson Foundation, spoke to BIBA students and parents about how education must evolve to prepare our children for a world that has changed faster than education has.
Dr. Sclafani, who is also an honorary principal at BIBA, shared perhaps the most relevant and important piece of research within the first few minutes of her lecture: that children who started a bilingual education in kindergarten would, by grade 5, function at a higher language and cognitive level than students who learned just one language. Students with bilingual education processed both languages in the same lobe of the brain, allowing for a fast transition between the two languages, while those who learned one language and then learned another had to switch between opposite lobes of the brain for each language. Dr. Sclafani did note that children in bilingual programs may post lower results in the initial years of the program, but the slower learning pace would pay off five years later when they could outperform their monolingual counterparts.
Dr. Sclafani also discussed the changes that need to be made in education in order to prepare students for a world in which manual routine jobs are being replaced or erased by technology and computers. She stressed that students need hands-on, real-world projects that teach life skills, responsibility, creativity, and technological fluency. Dr. Sclafani acknowledged that parents and teachers may wonder how to reconcile educational innovation with the realities of standardized testing, and stated that the change cannot happen overnight, and that the standardized testing system in the US is already beginning to change. Chinese parents worry about the national college entrance exam or gaokao, and Dr. Sclafani expressed confidence that over time, the gaokao would evolve in a way that would be fair to all students.
Photos by Ellis Friedman