One of the hottest topics in international education is always the challenge of recruiting and retaining teachers with the highest academic qualifications and broadest professional experience. Over the past years, an increasing number of top-tier institutions in fundamental education (a term which here refers to education at the primary and secondary levels) have sought to employ teachers with doctorate degrees to join their faculty. At Huili School Shanghai, we know from personal experience the several benefits and advantages of having PhDs in the classroom.
Huili School Shanghai and the Wellington College China group have attracted the attention of teachers with doctoral degrees from some of the world’s top universities. In a previous issue, we shared with you a conversation with Dr Zhang Yudong, who conducted his research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and has been engaged in international bilingual education for over ten years. In this issue, we speak with Dr Paulo Arruda (Dr Paulo) to provide a further perspective on the value of PhDs on our campus.
In this issue, we speak with Dr Paulo Arruda (Dr Paulo) to provide a further perspective on the value of PhDs on our campus. In this dialogue with Dr Paulo, the author was impressed by the academic value and significance of PhDs in the classroom in fundamental education.
Doctoral candidates working with The Brilliant Club come from some of the top universities in the UK, all Russell Group institutions, such as Oxford, Cambridge, Royal Holloway, King's College London, and University College London. They have an enviable educational background and are experts in their respective fields of research. They have sharp critical thinking skills, and a range of other skills that we also at Huili expect our own students to develop and to polish throughout their education with us.
And they are working with pupils from relatively ‘disadvantaged’ schools across England, the parents of these pupils may not have gone to university themselves and cannot provide them with effective academic guidance. Their financial circumstances may not give them the support they need to go on to undertake higher education. The schools they attend are under-represented in university admissions, and they may lack high-quality educational resources and facilities.
Doctoral candidates and disadvantaged children; it seems these two groups could not be further apart. If fundamental education is regarded as the foundation for higher education, then the many circumstances and challenges facing primary and secondary school pupils seriously limit what they can achieve, and how far they can reach in their learning.
This is where Dr Paulo and The Brilliant Club stepped in, to raise ambitions in education and to nurture the development of talented, hard-working, but disadvantaged primary and secondary school pupils.
In schools, Dr Paulo and his fellow PhD tutors facilitated a number of university-style tutorials for pupils. They communicated and discussed their own research investigations. They also took pupils on tours of their university campuses where they taught inaugural lessons.
Pupils, also known as scholars, could take multiple courses with doctoral candidates from different universities, researching a diverse range of fields. They earned a certificate at the end of the course. They got hands-on experience of what it is like to conduct and communicate research. This experience greatly advanced their critical thinking skills, as well as their ambition to enter higher education, and to ask and answer their own questions.
"It was a very successful charity programme," said Dr Paulo, who was still excited about his teaching experience. “Imagine a child from a disadvantaged background, from a disadvantaged school in London, off to Oxford for the first time, perhaps the first in their family to set foot on a university campus, to engage in learning with a doctoral candidate in one of the Oxford faculties. Imagine now this child is profoundly inspired and begins to envision what they too can accomplish, with the right support, and how far they can and want to go in their education, in their fields of interest. It was always an invaluable opportunity to impact the life of a child."
You can imagine how many children have benefited, and still benefit, from this programme to reach new heights in their learning.
For Dr Paulo, working with disadvantaged, but talented and hard-working children gave him the opportunity to inspire, to shape their learning, and to show that they can “make their dreams in life come true in the classroom.”
Certainly, one of the aims of The Brilliant Club programme is to have more primary and secondary school pupils benefit from role models in higher education, and to benefit early. It also creates the opportunities for more doctoral candidates to take up posts in fundamental education, as it sees this as a worthy goal for PhDs. It innovatively bridges the gap between fundamental education and advanced doctoral degrees. This is a win-win situation for both sides.
We can see how this has played out in Dr Paulo's career choice. Instead of accepting the assumption that “a PhD should end up in scientific research,” Dr Paulo went on to choose a career in fundamental education, which he loves more and brings him greater satisfaction. He sees the value of having a PhD in helping others to access the world’s top universities, much like he did, and inspiring more children to pursue their ambitions in higher education.
As a charity in the education sector, The Brilliant Club serves as a good model for ‘crafting’ and ‘adapting’ elements of higher education into fundamental education and for ways to support access to higher education and equality of opportunity. This becomes a good model to follow and to sharpen people’s perceptions of just how much PhDs can contribute to the work of schools.
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