Canadian Chinese Businessman Leads 21st Century Learning in China

Dr. Francis Pang, a highly successful businessman and innovator in Chinese and international education, is at it again.

Dr. Pang’s journey into the world of education innovation began when he partnered with the Province of New Brunswick (NB) over a decade ago. The partnership with a Canadian province allowed Dr. Pang to build a number of private high schools in China and offer Chinese students a unique learning opportunity. Dr. Pang’s schools offer a blend of Chinese and Canadian (NB) curriculum, intermixed with both Chinese and English language instruction. When the students graduate, they do so with a dual Chinese and Canadian (NB) high school diploma. This provides them the option of pursuing their post secondary studies in China or elsewhere.

A key element of the partnership is the placement of Canadian teachers in the private schools in China, where students are exposed to Canadian instructional methodologies, such as project based learning and working in groups.

Dr. Pang has received recognition and numerous awards both in China and in Canada for his innovative education model.

But Dr. Pang is not content to rest on his laurels. He is now at the forefront in China advocating for 21st Century models of learning. He is actively positioning his private schools to be at the forefront of this global movement in China.

21st Century learning comprises many aspects, but in the interest of brevity we will identify four key elements: 1) Relevancy: This means re-designing curriculum to ensure learning outcomes are relevant to positioning student for success in the 21st Century knowledge and digital era; 2) 21C Instructional Practices: This means ensuring teachers are trained in teaching 21st Century competencies and integrating technology with pedagogy; 3) ICT Rich Learning Environments: This means ensuring schools have high quality connectivity capacity and both students and teachers have access to a variety of classroom technologies; and 4) Global: This means students are provided opportunities to connect with the world around them, from a local, regional and international perspective. C21 Canada, a newly formed coalition advocating for 21st Century models of learning in Canada, provides and more in depth overview of 21st Century learning in their Shifting Minds framework document (see: ).

21st Century learning also means personalizing and customizing learning experiences for students. To be successful in today’s ever changing and technology fueled environment, youth need to be as creative and innovative as they can be to be successful in their careers and in life. In this context creativity means the ability to create something of value, and innovation means the ability to extract economic and social value from knowledge.

Dr. Pang gets it. He knows that China’s current and future prosperity and quality of life depends on how well it innovates and a highly skilled society. And he is determined to lead the way through education.

In the past Dr. Pang needed New Brunswick to offer his students leading edge learning opportunities. Over a decade later two questions remain.  Can New Brunswick keep pace with Dr. Pang in the pursuit of 21st models of learning? And can Canada keep pace with China?

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On Reserve Students Deserve 21st Century Models of Learning

These are exciting times in the world of Aboriginal education. As calls escalate for profound changes to the current Aboriginal education model for on reserve students, the question is whether the federal government and Aboriginal people will seize the opportunity to raise the bar high and lead the rest of Canada in adopting 21st Century models of learning for band school students.

The most recent calls for change are found in the following three reports. First, in June 2011 the Auditor General of Canada Sheila Fraser issued her findings on the progress made in Aboriginal education since her 2006 report. Fraser states: “We found that, based on 2001 and 2006 census data, the education gap has not been reduced and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) has only begun to implement a strategy for closing it.”

In December 2011 the Report of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Aboriginal People was released. Entitled Reforming First Nations Education: From Crisis to Hope the report called on the federal government to: 1) develop a First Nations Education Act; 2) improve the current funding model; 3) work in collaboration with the Assembly of First Nations to create a Canada-First Nations Action Plan for education reform; and 4) create a Task Force to oversee the work to be undertaken.

The National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education for Students on Reserve, jointly created by the Harper government and the Assembly of First Nations, issued its report in February 2012. Nurturing the Learning Spirit of First Nation Students echoed the Senate Committee’s call for new legislation (National Aboriginal Education Act). It also called on the federal government to close the per-student funding gap between on reserve Aboriginal students and public education students, estimated by the Panel to be about 20%.

As support for change escalates, the federal government and Aboriginal people have an opportunity to create a state of the art education plan for on reserve students. This is the knowledge and digital age, and the growing numbers of Aboriginal students in Canada deserve to have access to modern learning and teaching practices, tools, and resources if they are to be positioned for success. Global research supports that 21st Century models of learning better engage students and lead to overall improvements in student achievement, including in literacy, numeracy and science.

In order to set the stage, the education plan needs to include a firm commitment by the federal government to invest in providing high quality connectivity to all Aboriginal communities in Canada. Second, the new legislation and education plan need to be founded on the principles of 21st Century models of learning. These principles include the teaching of 21st Century competencies and ensuring teachers adopt modern instructional practices, including the integration of technology with pedagogy. The education plan also needs to commit to creating ICT rich learning environments in band schools and providing both students and teachers with computers and other digital resources. The combination of providing connectivity to the Aboriginal communities and connecting students and teachers to the internet and other digital resources will transform the learning opportunities for Aboriginal students, especially those living in remote areas of Canada.

A 21st Century inspired education plan could position Aboriginal students at the head of the national education curve. The overall vision needs to be about positioning Aboriginal students to be successful in the knowledge and digital reality of the 21st Century while celebrating and integrating Aboriginal culture, language and traditional values into the education plan.

A recent announcement by the Harper government may be signalling a move in the right direction. $300 million is to be invested in improving connectivity to 68 Aboriginal communities in Saskatchewan. A February 10th announcement states: “The primary beneficiaries of this initiative are the over 15,000 students in 89 on-reserve schools…Innovation in schools, including reliable access to the Internet, is an important tool to help First Nation students reach their full academic potential and acquire the knowledge and skills required to compete in today’s labour market”….

These are indeed exciting times, and it is critical that the opportunity for meaningful reform and new investments in Aboriginal education be supported by all Canadians.

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The Canaries Are Choking

The results of the Canadian Education Association’s What Did You Do In School Today survey  should serve as a clarion call for action from educators, parents and governments. The CEA surveyed over 60,000 Canadian students to obtain their views on the level of their intellectual engagement in school. Less than half of all high school students surveyed reported that they felt intellectually engaged in school.
These results underline the need to rethink public education in and for the 21st Century. The lack of intellectual engagement by students coupled with the calls from many economic and social leaders for public education to focus on imparting new 21st Century competencies in our youth using modern teaching methodologies, including the integration of information and communication technology with learning, should be heeded.
The historic technique of miners using canaries to tell whether the mine was lethal for humans comes to mind. If the canaries died, miners immediately reconsidered moving forward in the same direction. The CEA survey results tell us that the creativity and engagement of youth in our public education systems are being stifled. The canaries aren’t dead yet, but they are choking! Canadians need to start a serious dialogue on how to shift public education to a 21st Century model of learning, or risk having our education systems becoming even more irrelevant to students.

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C21 Canada: Canadians for 21st Century Learning and Innovation

The inaugural meeting of C21 Canada: Canadians for 21stCentury Learning and Innovation was held November 15th in Toronto at York University. Twelve national organizations consisting of education associations and knowledge based companies are taking up the call to advocate for an accelerated pace of 21st Century models of learning
being adopted in Canada’s education systems. The C21 Canada members agreed to focus their immediate attention on designing a 21st Century learning framework pertinent to the Canadian reality and to reach out to other individuals and organizations who may wish to
join the advocacy effort. Members were unanimous in their commitment to engage
Canadians directly in the development of the 21st Century learning framework and any other activities.  A website will be created and other forms of social media utilized to ensure this intent is achieved. C21 Canada is being incorporated as a not for profit corporation.

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Creating Creators: The Role of Public Education in the 21st Century

I was recently afforded the opportunity to deliver the keynote address to 700 educators from Latin America and the Caribbean. The occasion was part of Microsoft’s Partners in Learning program, an inspiring annual enterprise designed to showcase innovative teachers and instructional practices in public education from around the world. This event, held in Santiago Chile, assembled teachers from that region and celebrated their classroom innovations.
While preparing the keynote address I was drawn to the theme that in the 21st Century public education must be about “creating creators.” Success is now about making every student as creative and innovative as they can possibly be. The exponential increase in technological innovation coupled with the growing complexity of economic, social and environmental challenges are increasing the demand for highly creative and collaborative people to find innovative solutions.
Microsoft’s Partners in Learning Program is a testament to the fact there are already excellent examples of teachers inspiring creativity and innovation in their students. The participating teachers share their innovations in instructional practices and compete for prizes. The judging criteria rewards 21st Century oriented instructional practices, including the integration of technology with pedagogy.
In this era innovation in classroom instruction needs to be the norm, not the exception. Any government wise enough to transform their public education system to a 21st Century model of learning will be rewarded in the future with a highly creative, innovative and skilled citizenry and labour pool, thus attaining a competitive edge.
There are a number of key conditions or predispositions to set the stage for “creating creators”, and listed below are those I believe worthy of note.

The vision of any learning plan at the provincial, school district, school or classroom level must be rooted in positioning every student for personal success, and society at large for economic, social and environmental success, in the 21st Century and beyond.  

Achievement of the vision requires a systemic alignment of all subsequent decisions, such as investments in education, internal funding allocations, policy reform, and the design of programs and services.

New 21st Century competencies for education leaders at the provincial, school district, and school level must be identified and the leaders recruited and trained accordingly.

Learning Outcomes:
Students must achieve high standards in literacy, numeracy and scientific thinking to set the stage for success with the 21st Century competencies of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication and culture (5 C’s). Digital literacy is a fundamental requirement. Together these are the foundational literacies of the 21st Century learning model.

Instructional Time
The primary focus of learning outcomes must be on student’s mastering the aforementioned foundational literacies and the number of outcomes reduced to the most relevant to allow sufficient instructional time.

Instructional Practice:
Public education at all levels must create an environment where innovative instructional practices are nurtured and shared.

Educators must be digitally literate and information and communication technologies must be ubiquitous in the learning environment.

New 21st Century teaching competencies must be identified and pre-service and in-service training aligned accordingly.

Educators must adopt collaborative models of teaching (professional learning communities concept).

Learning activities must be personalized and project based models of learning become the norm.

The 1:1 student to computer model coupled with project based learning is the “platinum” learning environment.

Classroom and School Design
Design standards for future schools and classrooms (including renovations) must be predicated on meeting 21st Century learning and teaching requirements.

Parental and Community Engagement
Parents, community members and society at large must appreciate the need for and be actively engaged in the transition to 21st Century model of learning if the shift is to occur smoothly and expeditiously.

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C21 Canada

A new coalition of Canadian companies and education organizations is to be created. The Coalition for 21st Century Learning and Innovation (C21 Canada) will be a not for profit organization with a mandate to advocate for 21st Century models of learning in public education. The coalition wishes to see 21st Century competencies, such as creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration and culture, infused into curriculum, and an accelerated pace of integrating digital technology into Canadian classrooms in an effort to more fully engage students, the digital generation, in their learning.
The founding members of the organization met in Toronto on September 14th, 2011 and committed to moving forward with incorporation. The first Board of Directors meeting is slated for November.
The members consist of a unique blend of Canadian education associations and knowledge based companies. Representatives of the Canadian School Board Association and Canadian Education Association are both vocal advocates of shifting Canada’s public education systems to 21st Century models of learning. The knowledge based companies, often competitors in the education market, share the view that Canada needs to position itself with a high quality workforce equipped with 21st Century skills to be competitive in the global market.  While there are pockets of innovative learning and teaching practices being witnessed in various regions of the country, the coalition wishes to see a more comprehensive, strategic, and accelerated national approach. The founding members of the coalition share the view that 21st Century models of learning are urgently required in public education to position students and Canada for success in the knowledge and digital age.
Companies and organizations represented in Toronto at the founding meeting of C21 Canada included Apple, Cisco, Dell, IBM, Microsoft, Nelson Learning, Pearson Education, Scholastic Canada, Smart Technologies, the Canadian School Board Association, Canadian Education Association, Toronto School Board Association, Education Research Development Incorporated (ERDI), and York University’s  Institute for Research on Learning Technologies, 21st Century Learning Associates and MindShare Learning.
Attendees at the Toronto meeting also agreed to work collaboratively in identifying and inviting other business and education organizations to join the C21 Canada initiative. Companies or education organizations interested in learning more about the C21 Canada initiative are invited to contact John Kershaw at or Robert Martellacci at

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P21 Canada: Partnership for 21st Century Learning and Innovation

Companies and education organizations attending a meeting in Toronto on May 11th agreed to take the next step in theestablishment of P21 Canada.

P21 Canada: Partnership for 21st Century Learning and Innovation is a private sector led coalition of private and public sector organizations advocating for and supporting 21st Century models of learning in Canada. The attendees to the meeting share the view that 21st Century models of learning are urgently required in public education to position students and Canada for success in the knowledge and digital age. Participants at the meeting are well briefed on international calls for transformation of learning systems to meet the new realities of the knowledge and digital era, as well as Canada’s need to position itself for the future. The OECD, European Union, Partnership for 21st Skills in the United States and many other international think tanks and authors have identified the 21st Century competencies and skills business is looking for and students will need. The Conference Board of Canada has also called for Canada to become a more innovative society, citing declining productivity performance relative to other developed countries as a troubling trend.

Andrea Prupas of the Canadian School Board Association (CSBA) attended the Toronto meeting and briefed the attendees on that organization’s recent interactions with Council of Ministers of Education Canada (CMEC) and underlined CSBA’s commitment to promoting 21st Century learning models and interest in working closely with P21 Canada. Tim Magner, CEO of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) in the United States, also attended the meeting as a special guest and shared his organization’s experience and expressed interest in the two organizations collaborating in the future.  Attendees at the meeting then discussed the charter and mandate of P21 Canada and its core business activities.

21st Century Learning Associates and Mindshare Learning have partnered to act as catalysts in bringing the various companies and education organizations together. Interest in the organization is growing, and the meeting in Toronto was attended by over 20 representatives of various organizations. The goal in the weeks ahead is to further engage the participants in the refinement of the P21 Canada concept, finalize the organizational details, and identify the Founding Members. Companies and organizations represented at the P21 Canada meeting included Apple, Cisco, Dell, FrontRow, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Nelson, Pearson, Scholastic, Smart Technologies, the Canadian Education Association, Education Research Development Incorporated (ERDI), York University’s  Institute for Research on Learning Technologies, and the NRC’s Centre of Excellence in Advanced Learning and Technology (CEALT).

Attendees at the Toronto meeting also agreed to work collaboratively in identifying and inviting other business and education organizations to join the P21 Canada initiative. Companies or education organizations interested in learning more about the P21 Canada initiative are invited to contact John Kershaw at or Robert Martellacci at

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P21 Canada Concept Discussed In Toronto

In our first post we advocated that Canada needs a national vision for 21st Century learning models of public education. We are pleased to provide an update on some recent events that are signalling a positive trend in this direction.

On February 25th 21stCentury Learning Associates convened a group of education and business representatives in Toronto on the periphery of the ABEL Leadership Summit held at York University. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the merits of establishing a Canadian coalition similar to Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) in the United States. Our company organized the meeting in partnership with MindShare Learning in Ontario. Attendees included representatives from Microsoft, Cisco, Smart Technologies, Pearson, Nelson and McGraw Hill, as well as a number of education organizations.

In preparing for the February 25th meeting, we benefitted greatly from advice received from Ken Kay, one of the original architects of P21. Ken not only shared important insights on the genesis of P21 but generously offered to be an external advisor to P21 Canada as it develops. Kathy Hurley, a senior executive at Pearson in the United States, and a former Chair of P21, also offered advice to us during our attendance at the BETT Show in London, England in January.  Charles Fadel, Global Education Research lead with Cisco, a successful author and a member of the P21 governing board, not only shared his insights on P21 with 21st Century Learning Associates, but also attended the February 25th meeting.

All attendees expressed support for the P21 Canada concept and agreed to act as a Steering Committee until such time as a governance board is structured. The participants noted the need for the P21 Canada organization to have a broad membership base drawn from both the education and economic sectors.  A number of exciting ideas on how to customize the P21 model to the Canadian reality were also discussed. 

We agreed to develop an investment prospectus outlining various scenarios on the potential scope and scale of P21 Canada. In addition, other potential founding members will be identified and contacted prior to the meeting in May. The Steering Committee also endorsed a proposal by the Smart Technologies representative to hold its next meeting in conjunction with the Global Education Technology Summit (GETS) in Toronto, May 12th and 13th, 2011.

In a related development, 21st Century Learning Associates has discussed the P21 Canada concept with a representative of Canada’s National Research Council. NRC’s mandate is to foster innovation in Canada and the federal agency recognizes the role of learning in building a creative and innovative workforce. NRC is seeking new models of collaboration between the business and education sectors to address Canada’s productivity and employment challenges. The interests of P21 Canada and NRC’s new Centre of Excellence in Advanced Learning and Technology (CEALT) appear aligned and the opportunity for collaboration and partnership will be further explored in the weeks ahead.

 It is also important to highlight that CMEC Ministers included 21st Century learning skills on their February 23 agenda. It is imperative that CMEC Ministers take a leadership role in promoting 21st Century learning models in public education. A P21 Canada coalition will work with CMEC Ministers to support this goal.

If your organization is interested in the P21 Canada initiative, or if you would like to offer suggestions regarding an inaugural P21 Canada business plan, please respond to this blog, send an email to  or twitter @21CLearnAssoc. We welcome your ideas and advice.

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A National Vision for 21st Century Learning

Canada needs a national vision for 21st Century learning models of public education.
There is an urgent need for Canadians to understand the economic and social imperative underlining this debate. The world is shifting to a knowledge economy, fuelled largely by digital technologies. Wealth creation is and will continue to be generated by highly creative and innovative people. Failure to impart 21st Century competencies and skills to a nation’s youth will make that country economically vulnerable to those that do.

The OECD, European Union, UNESCO, and numerous other international agencies and authors have identified the competencies and skills deemed essential to positioning societies for success in the 21st Century. And all are calling for these competencies to be core outcomes of public education.

So where do Canadians stand on this debate? The fact is, while the issue is fundamental to the future sustainability of the nation’s economy, it has received scant attention.

In the United States, a coalition of concerned citizens and corporate entities established the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21). P21 advocates for 21st Century models of learning to become the norm in America’s public education systems. The organization also facilitates forums on best practices. In a few instances private sector members have even partnered to advance a particular aspect of the model, such as Intel, Microsoft and Cisco joining forces to explore 21st Century assessment models and tools.

It is interesting that the U.S. Department of Education recently released Learning Powered by Technology which calls on America’s public education systems to embrace technology in the transformation of that country’s public education system.

Internationally, a number of countries are actively pursuing the creation of 21st Century models of learning in their public education systems. A study by the British Government’s Department for Education and Skills concludes that living and working in Thomas Friedman’s ‘flat’ world will require that a strong global dimension be instilled into the learning experience of all youth.

In Canada, in September 2010 the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) publicly declared the intent of provinces and territories to begin working together to explore how to implement 21st Century learning models across Canada.

Subsequently, in a report released December 2010 by British Columbia’s Premiers Technology Council, entitled A Vision for 21st Century Education, calls on the province to create a 21st Century learning model in that province’s public education system.

Canada’s leaders at all levels of society, from the parent school support committee to the boardrooms of the nation’s largest and wealthiest corporations, need to become actively engaged in this discussion, less other nation’s position their societies to be more creative and innovative, and thus more productive in the knowledge economy of the 21st Century.
A national vision for 21st Century learning would be a good beginning. A pan-Canadian coalition, similar to P21 in the United States, to advocate for and support the changes required would also be of value. A “P21 Canada” has the opportunity to learn from the U.S. coalition’s experience. Advice received from some of the original architects of and current players in P21 in the U.S. suggest a broader and more internationally inclusive membership base would be important considerations for Canada. A P21 Canada, customized to the Canadian reality, must ensure all sectors of society are engaged in this important debate, and that governments across Canada are held accountable for progress.

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