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A Learning Adventure in “real” China

Sheila-Walker4We were more than pleased to welcome Sheila Walker from Tyn Can Learning to Zhanjiang in November to enjoy the opportunity to see and meet people of the “real China”. Sheila was travelling with a UKTI Trade Mission to Shanghai and Changsha to develop learning opportunities for Chinese students in both the UK and China.

Trade Missions are excellent for meeting senior officials with good opportunities to make contacts and see the formal version of China.

As anyone who has visited China will know, China is hugely diverse and it's very easy to get an impression from the big cities that promote the “showcase” view and not the span of diversity that is the “real” China. We aimed to bridge that gap for Sheila's visit so that Sheila had the broadest view of the background and diversity that makes China such a fascinating and exciting place to be.

Our programme started with a visit to a relatively poor rural primary school and two villages some 60 kilometres outside Zhanjiang. The villagers were all relatives of my wife's family, and were mostly boys under school age or at primary school living with, what in the West would be considered, old age pensioners. The middle school aged children and their parents had left the village and were scattered throughout Guangdong province, often living apart.

The children and grandparents were thrilled and excited to see us, we saw the stark, bareness of the classrooms contrasted with the delightful, giggling and laughing pupils who seemed to be the happiest children on earth. We saw the locally made mud brick houses of past party chairmen who had long since left the village to become government and factory bosses.

The next visit was to a modern kindergarten in Zhanjiang. The contrast was huge. Every classroom had interactive technology with projectors and interactive whiteboards, spotless, immaculate facilities, and spotless immaculate children. The atmosphere was very different, the tenseness was palpable as these children of the rich marched in line saying a perfunctory “hello” as they passed by to get on with the relentless task of learning English as demanded by their “tiger” parents. 

Sheila Walker at a Primary School in Chi Kan, Zhanjiang, Guangdong, ChinaWe then visited a Zhanjiang City primary school of some 2,000 pupils aged 7-14. The school was well equipped with new Interactive whiteboards in every classroom of sixty or more pupils. Teachers had blue-tooth microphones and sound re-enforcement with wall mounted loudspeakers to cope with the lively, active and often excitedly noisy classes. The children were really enjoying themselves, articulate and very pleased to swarm around us chatting away to us in their native Cantonese or English at break time. The school had more than 14 Chinese teachers teaching English.

Next it was time to meet the teachers. We met expatriate English teachers, their Chinese teaching assistants and Chinese teachers of English at state and private schools. Times are changing really fast but a common feature is that most middle and high school students are locked into a very high pressure learning machine in large classes and working extremely long hours. School computers are rare, mobile phones banned and with a school day spanning 7am to nearly 11pm for final year students (pre-university) still with up to 70 in a class and attending school six or six and a half days per week. No time for much else apart from lessons and, if boarding, no access to on-line content which is mostly banned by both school and parents.

The ex-pat teachers are mostly native English speaking teachers, employed about 14 hours a week at state schools on low wages, with spartan housing provided, supplementing their earnings by private tuition to pre-school or pre-university students wanting to study overseas. Schools vary, with places at the “best” schools requiring the right connections with all that that involves. Likewise business opportunities with schools, colleges and universities are severely restricted by the need for extensive local connections which in reality means the chances of success are extremely limited.

As Sheila said “I really enjoyed being in Zhanjiang for a few very special days; listening, looking and learning” we also really enjoyed her adventure with us and hope we can develop something together that will have a real impact and create a truly worthwhile learning environment. We very much look forward to her next visit and a big thank you to all of those who made Sheila's visit so enjoyable and worthwhile.

David Edis-Bates C.Eng MIET November 2013

 

 

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