This past week, I was a guest and observer at a local elementary school, Xianlin Primary School. It had been a goal of mine this year to visit and observe at at least one school here in China to get better insight into the education system here. Making such arrangements, however, proved to be harder than I thought. My boss Emy offered back in March to ask whether I could visit her daughter’s school. Unfortunately, they were afraid I would be a big distraction to the children and prevent them from learning. So Emy then asked a friend and professor at NUFE whether I could observe at his daughter’s school. After much back and forth communication between Emy and her friend; her friend and the school; and then finally between me and a teacher, I successfully made arrangements for my desired school visit.
|China’s future doing their morning exercises|
Ms. Liu took me to her office where some other teachers had their desks. The students had “reading time” until about 8:20 and were in their classrooms completing their homework and preparing for their classes for the coming day. Some students came in and out and one student I saw was scolded by the head teacher since he had repeatedly not been doing his homework. Her scolding didn’t seem particularly harsh but nevertheless the student seemed ashamed enough that he probably would follow through with doing his homework. What also seemed strange was that students just seemed to go on their own accord to their classroom. Some students were out and about playing in the hallways and just being kids, but most of those students seemed to make it eventually to their classrooms. There didn’t seem to be major discipline issues and students just seemed to know what they needed to do. Teachers didn’t even really need to be in the classrooms monitoring the students. Instead, they could use that time to prepare and get ready for their lessons for the day and check-in individually with various students.
|An engaged 4th grade English lesson|
When a teacher entered a classroom, the students all stood up to attention and shouted out, “Laoshi, ni hao! (Hello Teacher)”. Once the teacher responded and acknowledged their greeting, the students sat down. During the course of the 45 minute lessons, the teachers used a curriculum that included a variety of activities to keep the students attentive, energized and on their toes. The activities were fast-paced and moved quickly. Students sang a song using their learned English vocabulary and also had other quick games that tested their knowledge of the vocabulary from their lesson. Sometimes students could consult with their peers at their desk and other times students worked individually. Most students seemed very engaged and involved during the course of the 45 minute lesson.
In the afternoon I enjoyed sitting in on an art lesson in a second grade class. Students had been learning about Peking Opera and the costumes and make-up of both female and male parts. The lesson began with the teacher drawing both a male and female face on the board. Starting with the shape of a head, the teacher gradually added the eyes, nose and mouth and the faces gradually came alive in front of me and the students. The students then went to work drawing their own versions, being precise and accurate while they were at it. The teacher played some Peking opera music in the background as they children worked and their creative juices flowed. It seemed so effortless and easy for the teacher to get the students going.
|Healthy school lunch- This isn’t your corndog and pizza!|
Could such a utopian learning environment work in the US? I don’t think it could work so easily. The value of education and it being the key to future success and happiness is so deeply ingrained in Chinese culture and history. That’s not to say that education is undervalued in the US. The US on some level has much more complex social issues that play a role and affect a child’s education and future wellbeing. Some of those issues don’t even come into play in China. Additionally, my one glimpse into one primary school here may not be a fair indicator of education and learning in all schools across China. Some drawbacks in China are that students become easily stressed because of their heavy workload and as they get older, they have very little opportunities to participate in creative activities, volunteer opportunities, jobs and other experiences that contribute to a young person’s growth and education. Nevertheless, I think all learners, whether in China or the US, can benefit from teachers who have the time to focus on individual students’ needs as well as being well prepared for the classroom. Neither overworking students nor teachers can sustainably be productive in the long run.