Tian Li


Tian Li


Master of Arts in Education (MA)


Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)

MA in Education, UBC Okanagan (2017)

Master of Teacher in Mathematics, University of Waterloo (2014-2015)

Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, Central China Normal University (2006-2010)

Hubei, China

“To be successful at any post-secondary institution, you must have your own ideas and your own thoughts.”

Tian’s Story

Alumna Tian Li learned a thing or two at UBC Okanagan, such as how to better prepare high school students in China

FOR MOST STUDENTS, the most important thing about university is getting good grades. For educator and critical thinker Tian Li, the most important thing is teaching students how to think for themselves.

After teaching at an international school in Beijing, for five years, Tian Li moved to Canada to continue her educational research.

“I learned a lot about Canada while I was working at the international school,” Li says. “I wanted to learn more about the culture and the environment.”

After arriving in Waterloo, Ont., Li began completing online education courses at Waterloo University—before she distinctly realized that something was missing.

“For me, online learning wasn’t as successful as learning in a classroom with teachers and other students, so I began searching for other education programs in Canada. I found UBC at the perfect time.”


While taking classes at UBC Okanagan and talking to her fellow classmates in the Master of Arts in Education (MA) program, Li still felt like she was struggling with the material.

“I had a very traditional education in China,” she says. “I began to realize that Canadian professors didn’t just give me the answers like they did in China. They wanted students to find the answers themselves.”

What came next was Li’s spark of inspiration: International teachers could be successful in their role if they taught students how to think critically while in high school.

“Teachers in China don’t tend to teach students how to think critically because they are first and foremost concerned with teaching them what they need to know in order to pass a test.

“Chinese students are most concerned about getting the best score on the exam so they can get into their dream university. But once they get into their dream university they will learn it is hard to adapt to the learning environment because the professors are looking for you to present your own ideas, and not just the answers from a book.”


Li believes that critical thinking not only allows students to think for themselves, but allows them to more easily integrate into English-speaking environments, something they might struggle with when attending an international post-secondary institution.

“Understanding the development of critical thinking and the relationship with additional language learning has a great benefit for creating and providing better education,” Li says.

“A study, which offers insights into how to develop and provide better educational practices to support students’ needs and meet their social requirements, could be of significant interest for educational administrations and policy makers.”

Li hopes to study critical thinking at international high schools in China, where she will interview teachers and students with the intent to elicit discussion on the development of critical thinking in mathematics.

“To be successful at any post-secondary institution, you must have your own ideas and your own thoughts,” says Li. “International students will be successful if they are given the skills to do this.”

Li hopes her research will provide insight into more effective ways to support English language learners within different subject areas, while fostering more inclusive educational environments in international high schools.

–by Jill Dickau