China Schools Visit: Shanghai and Hangzhou May 9-‐19, 2012 John Triska, Steven Kaufman SCSD Principals
This May, Steven and I were fortunate to visit Shanghai and Hangzhou as part of a delegaJon of California public school principals parJcipaJng in an exchange program between the California School Boards AssociaJon and Shanghai Municipal EducaJon Commission. The enJre program is funded by the SHMEC with no costs to parJcipaJng districts.
QuoJng the CSBA webpage that describes it, “The goal of this program is to foster beSer understanding of the educaJonal philosophies and structures in the educaJonal pracJces of both countries. It also serves to help students on both sides of the Paciﬁc in preparing for the challenge and opportuniJes in the increasingly interconnected world of the 21st century.”
You may remember Shanghai Principals Jenny Li and Lili Xu who spent 6 weeks visiJng BA and CMS this fall, staying with a BA/CMS family and being hosted for meals and events by a number of our families. (In the middle picture, BA parent Parker Yan helped interpret.)
Our trip to Shanghai allowed us to visit the schools of our Shanghai visitors, and also schools in nearby Hangzhou– where educators are interested in developing sister schools relaJonships with California schools.
The Chinese delegaJons were gracious and generous. Here the superintendent of the Hangzhou EducaJon Bureau presents a book to Dr. Bruce Carter, Emeritus Professor of Sciences at Pasadena City College and former President of the California School Boards AssociaJon. Our other leader on the trip, Professor Jenny Quan of Pasadena City College serves as CSBA’s China Liaison.
Before hosJng us at an elaborate banquet, the vice superintendent of the Hangzhou EducaJon Bureau took us on a boat tour of West Lake, a well-‐known resort desJnaJon in Hangzhou. On the leb is Ashley Melton, Assistant Principal of Berkeley High School.
At Xixing Experimental Primary School in Hangzhou, I was greeted at the gate by a student council and staﬀ. Next to me is Headmaster Zhang.
I spent the day with Mr. Zhang and the welcoming staﬀ of Xixing. I was impressed with the similariJes and diﬀerences between this school and those in our district. As a primary school, Xixing houses 1st -‐6th grades. Kindergartens are separate schools in this part of China.
While classrooms looked similar to ours, in fact, many things were diﬀerent. At the elementary schools we visited, children learned in 40-‐minute blocks. Teachers taught just two of these a day, on average. At the start of class, a brief musical selecJon lets teachers and students know to be ready. At the end of class, another piece plays to remind the teacher to conclude the lesson.
Unlike in our schools, teachers in elementary, middle, and high schools have desks in separate oﬃces where they work when they are not teaching children. The oﬃces are grouped by subject areas. This is the cubicle of an elementary math teacher. Her son is featured on her desktop.
Twice a day, gentle music accompanies eye exercises. We were asked if many children in California are near-‐sighted. The teachers and principals we spoke with believe eye exercises help to eliminate vision problems. Without a doubt, they are resjul.
A calligraphy teacher asks children which of the two featured arJsts’ wriJng relates most to the photo of the ocean, and which to the photo of the mountain stream. Children stood to share their thoughts, and she wrote them on the blackboard.
The students are told to turn and talk to their neighbor to share their reasoning. Of course, I was a big distracJon– the ﬁrst non-‐Asian principal to visit their school.
The kids wave as the headmaster and I walk by their class. That’s right, no teacher in the room! They are taking a break between periods.
This is the teachers’ lounge and reading room, another place to be when out of the classroom
In the teachers’ presentaJon hall, staﬀ aSend meeJngs and professional learning gatherings. Oben teachers from other schools join them here, or this schools’ staﬀ may travel to join another school at their site. CollaboraJon and sharing of lesson plans, as the teachers told us, “is the standard.” We saw these rooms at every school we visited.
The cafeteria is big. Student calligraphy is framed on the uprights. It’s noisy, but the children contain their energy well. Teachers take turns eaJng meals at the tables with the children. The food is simple but plenJful. This is a happy place.
In the staﬀ dining room, Mr. Zhang and I take Jme to eat a real meal– exactly what the children eat. Each of us has four dishes: rice with a fried egg, mushroom soup, BBQ pork ribs, and cooked greens. We ﬁnish with enormous, delicious apples.
Aber lunch and a walk, I’m treated to a tea ceremony by the music teacher and these girls, part of a tea acJvity class. All 1st – 6th grade students take elecJve acJviJes like dance, vocal music, calligraphy, ﬁne art, table tennis, and instrumental music, to name a few.
This boys’ dance acJvity group performed a dance about a well known, comical, misﬁt Buddhist monk.
I enjoyed performances by a variety of acJviJes groups.
The choir acJvity group performed their ﬁrst ever song in English for me.
In the art studio, Mr. Zhang pointed out the recycled boSle art, and shared the school’s philosophy around reducing, reusing, and recycling. I shared our BA PRIDE Club, and gave him our neoprene blue and gold bracelet.
This very compeJJve third grade boy easily beat me in an impromptu game of table tennis. I take solace in knowing the Chinese are famous for their Ping-‐Pong skill; six of the top eight players in the world are Chinese.
Back in Shanghai, Headmistress Jenny Li (at my side) shared Ma Lu Cai Joint Middle School for 7th -‐9th grades– established 1957, and rebuilt in 1999. Pictured are some teachers and a number of “directors.” Schools are staﬀed with many posiJons we are not familiar with, including communist party representaJves and a “Director of Moral EducaJon.”
This is the master who wrote the calligraphy hanging in the BA oﬃce. Here he teaches bamboo carving– important to the school’s “bamboo culture.”
I had no idea what a beast Steven is– he showed oﬀ his physicality in the staﬀ gym, on the volleyball court at PE, and at Ping-‐Pong– and while he insists the PE teacher was “just being nice,” Steven beat him on his home table.
Just before lunch, Steven and I met with the student council. They had many quesJons for us about our schools and students. What do our students like to do in their free Jme? What are our school rules? How do we like their school? What are some diﬀerences we see between our schools and students? Then, the obligatory photo shoot.
The school is modern and well equipped. Here, students worked individually at science tasks– preparing for the 9th grade exam. At 9th grade, students are sorted into two tracks: academic high school preparaJon for university, or vocaJonal high school preparaJon for work. There are also vocaJonal colleges, but we were told most placements in vocaJonal college are obtained by lower performing academic track students. The biggest diﬀerence between the Chinese and American educaJonal system? In China, one’s career opJons are virtually decided by an exam in 9th grade.
Aber visiJng Ma Lu, an excursion to the 800 year-‐old Confucius Temple at Jiading in Shanghai was eye-‐opening. There we learned about the origin of the examinaJon system in China, which began in the Han dynasty in 206 BCE, when open examinaJons were ﬁrst used to ﬁll posts of high government oﬃcials. At the base of the system was Confucian philosophy advocaJng strict, conforming behavior for an ordered society. While the exam system is no longer used to ﬁll speciﬁc government posts, it is clearly sJll fundamental in the educaJon system.
Next, we spent a day in Shanghai at the 1st-‐9th grade school of our visiJng principal Lili Xu, here at my side. Two intern English teachers interpreted for us. They also lead Young Pioneers at the school (a communist party version of Girl and Boy Scouts).
The schools we visited did not have front desks with school secretaries checking people in and out. We saw no one who would answer parent phone calls. On the other hand, each school had guard shacks at the gates, with at least two uniformed guards keeping track of who arrived and leb.
During our visit, the school held an earthquake drill. Again, many similariJes and diﬀerences. The students covered their mouths with handkerchiefs, ducked down, and ran to their evacuaJon site. The children on the ground ﬂoor covered their heads against dropping materials. The evacuaJon itself took just 2 minutes. Amazing.
The earthquake drill lasted over an hour– with many speeches, awards for students who had shared ideas to improve preparedness, and a poetry recital by students and their Young Pioneers advisor. Note the many teachers in the background. In the schools we visited, school staﬀ numbered at least 4x ours here in California.
Again at this school, there is a 10 minute break between periods, during which the teacher departs and the children are free to amuse themselves, use the bathrooms, etc. unJl the next class begins. Despite the apparent lack of supervision at these Jmes, we witnessed no behavior problems. Children of all grade levels and teachers interacted happily.
We were invited to rest in the “Cave Bar,” a staﬀ-‐only café where teas and coﬀees are served by a school employee barista. Steven and I considered keeping this place a secret from our staﬀs, since they will otherwise certainly demand one from us! (I asked what they watch on the big screen TV– and they said it was broken.)
We visited a ﬁrst grade English class. Our visiJng principal Lily’s daughter is at front row, center. The lessons were a mixture of carefully prepared, interacJve PowerPoint slides and cartoon videos, singing, clapping, and conversaJons with each other and teacher.
We learned that many of the acJviJes school children parJcipate in are compeJJve– including the morning exercises with which each school begins the day. This is the school’s team, with members from each grade level, preparing for a meet. To our minds, they were perfect-‐-‐ but their coaches sJll shared criJcal feedback.
Three acJvity classes: In the arts class above, students used lighters (!) to heat glue sJcks, and worked together. At the boSom, a group of older boys sorted through metal and plasJc pieces in their roboJcs class. The instructor showed us trophies won in local and regional compeJJons.
Three more acJviJes classes: tea ceremony, at which we saw three boys parJcipaJng among the girls; strategic games class; and a matchbook/stamp collecJng acJvity.
In the dance studio, these girls in a dance acJvity class rehearsed a piece about the daily life of school children in China. The opening music was Flight of the Bumblebee– but midway through the number, the music changed to tradiJonal Chinese. Steven and I were moved by the beauty of the choreography.
Dr. Carter and his wife stand in the gate of the Songjiang No. 2 Senior High School, established in 1904. The gate has a history of its own daJng back to 220 AD. This school is about 40 km. southwest of downtown Shanghai. All senior high schools, vocaJonal and academic, are private. CompeJJon to aSend the “best” high schools is ﬁerce– since performance there will determine university entrance opJons– and is based enJrely on the exam taken at the end of 9th grade.
Songjiang high school juniors cram for the test that will determine their placement in university. Our guide told us about half aSend “very ﬁne” universiJes. Below, a poster announces interviews by U.S. universiJes including Cornell and Stanford (center). It is not uncommon for Chinese university students to receive visas to study abroad.
The delegaJon with the headmaster (center) of the Shanghai Jonjiang No. 2 Senior High School. In addiJon to the school’s long reputaJon for academic excellence, it is also known as a “garden school” due to it’s beauJful campus. Most of its students are boarders.
Steven and I feel fortunate to have been allowed this glimpse into Shanghai’s and Hangzhou’s elementary and secondary schools. We hope to keep in contact with the new friends we’ve made, and will look for ways to exchange ideas that can beneﬁt our students and theirs. We thank the many San Carlos families and staﬀ who helped make this exchange possible. 非常感谢 (Extreme graJtude.)