Novel pro­gram gives stu­dents free­dom to find their strengths

China Daily (Canada) - - V-DAY COMMEMORATION - By SUN YE

sunye@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Liu Peilin, a fresh high school grad­u­ate, did not have what many peo­ple would re­gard as a stereo­typ­i­cal, exam-fo­cused ed­u­ca­tion in his three years at Bei­jing Na­tional Day School.

There was no recit­ing text­books by rote, no overly long lec­tures in stuffy class­rooms, no stay­ing up late to pre­pare for stress­ful tests.

In­stead, Liu would start his school day by watch­ing a TED (for Tech­nol­ogy, En­ter­tain­ment, De­sign) talk. He went to classes that suited his aca­demic level and matched his in­ter­ests. And if he did burn the mid­night oil, it was for his job on the school TV sta­tion.

Af­ter scor­ing in the top 10 per­cent among the 68,000 Bei­jing stu­dents who took this year’s col­lege en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion, he planned to en­roll at Hong Kong Bap­tist Univer­sity’s School of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the fall to learn more about TV news and doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ing.

The ed­u­ca­tion Liu and his class­mates re­ceived at Bei­jing Na­tional Day School was part of a pi­lot pro­gram de­signed to en­cour­age stu­dents to in­no­vate and man­age their own time, more like col­lege life than the test-ori­ented meth­ods used at most Chi­nese schools.

Since 2009, the school has of­fered its stu­dents a wide range of elec­tive cour­ses, clas­si­fied to suit each young per­son’s abil­ity and needs, a men­tor pro­gram that sees teach­ers an­swer in­di­vid­ual needs, and a large dose of free­dom.

“If there are 1,000 stu­dents, then there are 1,000 dif­fer­ent course timeta­bles,” said Fan Dongjing, an English teacher at the school. “As long as a stu­dent has an in­ter­est in some­thing, we help them to learn about it, whether or not we have a spe­cific course. The idea is that they be­come in­de­pen­dent peo­ple by ex­plor­ing their in­ter­ests and po­ten­tial.”

Liu said his fa­vorite video pro­duc­tion class was ac­tu­ally taught by a for­mer cam­era­man for China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion, the state broad­caster.

“We be­lieve the real power of ed­u­ca­tion lies in the in­cen­tive within,” ac­cord­ing to prin­ci­pal Li Xigui, writ­ing in an es­say about the school’s re­forms.

As a pi­lot pro­gram en­cour­aged by the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, which has since been made a model for other schools, Bei­jing Na­tional Day School started to trans­form its cur­ric­ula in 2009 in an at­tempt to cure faults in the sys­tem, which leans heav­ily on stan­dard­ized test­ing.

While the tra­di­tional model may pro­duce good exam scores, it over­looks each stu­dent’s unique in­ter­ests and strengths, Li wrote in his es­say. “So­ci­ety doesn’t need stream­lined grad­u­ates, it needs peo­ple with their own edge.”

At Li’s school, stu­dents choose their classes and are given un­prece­dented free­dom in al­most all ar­eas of life, “so that they re­ally learn self-dis­ci­pline”, he added. The 4,000plus stu­dents en­rolled there have ac­cess to more than 250 clubs and 370 classes.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2013 sur­vey by Bei­jing Nor­mal Univer­sity, more than 93 per­cent of stu­dents par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pro­gram at the time said the new sys­tem suited their needs and that they were sat­is­fied. Of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics also show the school is one of the lead­ers in terms of its stu­dents’ col­lege en­trance exam scores.

The model, of­ten re­ferred to as qual­ity-ori­ented ed­u­ca­tion, is not new to China. For­mer Chi­nese leader Deng Xiaop­ing pro­posed the idea of qual­ity-ori­ented ed­u­ca­tion as early as 1985. How­ever, dur­ing the 20 years that fol­lowed, the idea, though much dis­cussed, re­mained largely on pa­per.

“Test-ori­ented ed­u­ca­tion goes back a long time in China,” said Tao Hongkai, a pro­fes­sor and ex­pert in qual­ity-ori­ented ed­u­ca­tion with Cen­tral China Nor­mal Univer­sity. The im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion, used to se­lect state bu­reau­crats as early as the Han Dy­nasty (206 BC-AD 220), “left so­ci­ety be­liev­ing in firmly the need to com­pete in a stan­dard­ized test, and it’s not easy to lift its lin­ger­ing in­flu­ence”.

That im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion was abol­ished in the early 20th cen­tury, and although a mod­ern ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem based on Western meth­ods came into be­ing af­ter­ward, by that time test-ori­ented ed­u­ca­tion was deeply rooted in the cul­ture.

“We started learn­ing from the West af­ter the fall of im­pe­rial China, first in weaponry and science,” Tao said. “Now, as so­ci­ety de­vel­ops, we’re start­ing to re­ally take in Western ed­u­ca­tional con­cepts.”

In the past 10 years, pi­lot pro­grams that have cham­pi­oned dif­fer­ent ed­u­ca­tion mod­els have been tested across the coun­try.

“We’re start­ing to take in the true pur­pose of ed­u­ca­tion,” Tao said. “The ul­ti­mate goal is to pro­duce civ­i­lized peo­ple, who think crit­i­cally, cre­ate, learn and can nav­i­gate his or her life us­ing their own ini­tia­tive. That de­ter­mines the way we ed­u­cate younger gen­er­a­tions — not just in­fuse them with knowl­edge, but help them to de­velop the abil­ity to think crit­i­cally and find their own strengths.”

The pro­fes­sor said now is the time for a more uni­ver­sal ac­cep­tance of new ed­u­ca­tional mod­els. “By com­bin­ing the best of an­cient Chi­nese wis­dom and Western mod­els that stress an in­di­vid­ual’s strength, we might de­velop the best sys­tem for the coun­try,” he said.

The po­ten­tial out­come can be seen in Liu, the grad­u­ate from Bei­jing Na­tional Day School. Look­ing back at his high school years, he said: “I re­ally liked this new way of learn­ing be­cause of all the free­dom and re­sources I en­joyed.”

By com­bin­ing the best of an­cient Chi­nese wis­dom and Western mod­els that stress an in­di­vid­ual’s strength, we might de­velop the best sys­tem for the coun­try.” pro­fes­sor and ex­pert in qual­ity-ori­ented ed­u­ca­tion with Cen­tral China Nor­mal Univer­sity

Tian Siqi con­trib­uted to this story.

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