Kim Cofino: Culture Shock and the Future of Education

As a conference regular I get to take in lots of keynotes. I’ve heard some good ones, a few great ones and, thankfully, only a couple of very poor ones. As part of our recent LEARNEast 2.0.11 conference earlier this week I invited international educator Kim Cofino, who is the Technology and Learning Coach at Yokohama International School in Japan, to share with our gathering of educators. Of course, it’s just not feasible to fly halfway around the world for a few minutes on stage, so – like David Warlick and Jeff Utecht last year – Kim joined us via Skype. I was not disappointed. In fact, her message and passion combined to deliver one of the most thought-provoking and inspiring presentations I have witnessed.

In a short and snappy 30 minutes Kim used her personal journey as an educator – and her juxtaposition of the cultures of North America and Asia – to illustrate her vision for the future of education. Having lived and taught first in Germany and later in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and now Japan, she brings a wealth of global experiences to the story.

Kim Cofino

Kim’s message was powerful, starting many conversations amongst the participants and giving me personal food for thought the past few days. As a master storyteller, Kim used the power of a variety of images to support her story of how we can look to the culture of Asia for indicators of a new model of learning for the 21st Century. I’ve picked out a few and commented below…

  • Just in time – Asian culture delivers goods and services on a smaller scale and is responsive to demand. 21st Century education needs to look at learning what a student needs to know when they need to know it, not just because the curriculum says they should learn it now.
  • Quick – Asia is fast and quick. Nimbleness is the key to business and life. Kim used the analogy the Asia is like fast food while here in North America our culture is slow to respond to needs (we always did it that way), more like cooking a pot roast. Education needs to be nimble to meet the shifting demands of our students.
  • Customizable – you can buy anything you want in Asia and don’t have to settle for mass produced products. Vendors are willing to customize anything to serve their clients. Our schools need to be customizable for students.
  • No fixed values – In Asia, the value of everything is negotiable, unlike education in North America. With new learning options and delivery models (eg. iTunesU, MIT labs) learners now have options that range in value. This will change value structure of schools and education systems. 
  • I've actually visited his market about 15 years ago. It offers customizable foods and other goods 24 hours a day. Can the same be said of our schools?

    Always on – Asia is open and available24 hours a day. Life/business is available around the clock. In contrast, we remain wrapped up in schedules and bells. We need to move to an anytime, anywhere model by using online synchronous and asynchronous models.

  • Collaborative – Nothing in Asia gets accomplished alone. Even the simplest jobs are done in groups, leveraging the strengths of the crowd. Teaching and learning in our schools needs to be more collaborative.
  • Blending old and new – Kim noted the reverence Asia continues to hold for tradition.  Old and new sit side by side. Schools need to look at this model. The trick is to identify which elements of our current schools are of value and worth keeping and mixing into the new story.
  • Global – Asians (unlike North Americans) look outward to the world. Our schools need to be able to bring pieces of all places together, providing global understandings that will allow students to be able to flow easily between situations they will encounter as adults.
  • Flexibility – To survive in Asia, individuals need to be able to adapt to shifting stories. Likewise, our schools need to have the ability to change to meet the changing demands of our students and our communities.

Kim was quick to note that life in Asia was not perfect, but as a global educator she saw lots of elements in life in Asia that point to a new recipe for success in the 21st Century, a recipe that learning leaders in our schools and districts need to look to to ensure our schools remain relevant for the future.

A special thanks to Kim for sharing her time and expertise.


Photo Credit: Shilin Night Markets, Taipei, uploaded to Flickr by Eduardo Mariz. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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