No rote learn­ing, just de­vel­op­ing po­ten­tial in each child, re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SUNDAY SPECIAL -

For Wang Wei, founder of chil­dren’s train­ing in­sti­tute Drama Rain­bow, drama is far more than en­ter­tain­ment. It is a form of ed­u­ca­tion that in­spires the imag­i­na­tion and cre­ativ­ity in young­sters, she told China Daily in a re­cent in­ter­view.

The in­sti­tute of­fers once-a-week ses­sions in a five-year-long pro­gram that “seeks to cul­ti­vate in its stu­dents not only in­de­pen­dent think­ing, but also a dis­ci­plined sen­si­bil­ity and con­fi­dence in both the in­side and out­side world”.

At a con­ven­tional train­ing cen­ter, scores of stu­dents crowd a class­room to fol­low a teacher in one spe­cific sub­ject, hop­ing to get an edge from an ex­tracur­ric­u­lar class in China’s score- ori­ented ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem.

Even a purely in­ter­est-fos­tered pro­gram aims to give pupils an ad­van­tage in a given field such as pub­lic speak­ing or writ­ing.

But there is no text­book or com­pet­i­tive el­bow­ing for high scores at Drama Rain­bow. Each of its cour­ses de­signed for chil­dren rang­ing from aged 3 to 8 is a play. The en­tire class of around 10 stu­dents par­tic­i­pates with the aid of two teach­ers.

In­stead of be­ing given scripts to re­cite, the chil­dren cre­ate the play them­selves af­ter teach­ers pro­vide a sce­nario.

“There is no need to lead them into the play. It’s their na­ture,” Wang said. “The 3 to 6 years old live in their own fan­tasy world. You can al­ways find them play­ing mul­ti­ple roles even alone. Role­play­ing is just their way of learn­ing and en­ter­tain­ment.”

Pro­fes­sional guid­ance from teach­ers adds clout. It helps chil­dren im­prove their imag­i­na­tion, ex­pres­sion, emo­tion, fo­cus and in­tel­li­gence, en­abling de­vel­op­ment of in­ter­per­sonal skills and creative think­ing, she noted.

Wang cited a play about a small town as an ex­am­ple. “It gives chil­dren the op­por­tu­nity to com­bine their knowl­edge in a di­verse range of fields from ur­ban plan­ning and ar­chi­tec­ture to math­e­mat­ics for a so­lu­tion and helps de­velop a com­pre­hen­sive qual­ity.”

Even an adult’s mind may go blank in an un­fa­mil­iar en­vi­ron­ment. The class­room plays pro­vide more ex­er­cise to pre­pare chil­dren for real life.

Plays based on cen­turies- old tales that re­flect the hu­man­i­ties help de­velop emo­tional qual­i­ties.

Brain de­vel­op­ment in child­hood is cru­cial to fu­ture com­pet­i­tive­ness, she said. “We try to guide our stu­dents to en­hance con­struc­tive imag­i­na­tion and avert de­struc­tive ones.”

Bri­tish ori­gin

The young CEO, who earned a mas­ter’s de­gree in man­age­ment from Coven­try Univer­sity in Bri­tain af­ter an MBA at Bei­jing Jiao­tong Univer­sity, was well ad­justed to China’s exam-driven ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem.

It re­quires “a bal­anced per­for­mance in var­i­ous sub­jects for a higher score”, she notes.

Yet the ben­e­fi­ciary of that ed­u­ca­tion be­gan to re­flect on the sys­tem when she no­ticed the ed­u­ca­tion of her friend’s five-year-old son dur­ing her stay in Bri­tain.

Billing her­self as “good at ob­serv­ing and think­ing”, Wang said she was amazed by Bri­tain’s ap­proach to child­hood ed­u­ca­tion so dif­fer­ent from that in China.

She be­gan learn­ing about the the­ory of drama in ed­u­ca­tion and de­vel­oped a keen in­ter­est in van­guard ed­u­ca­tion.

Af­ter she had her own child in 2007, she re­al­ized that China’s ex­ist­ing ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem could not tap her daugh­ter’s max­i­mum po­ten­tial.

The cur­rent sys­tem, like mass pro­duc­tion, lacks of per­son­al­ized ad­just­ments. “She may be made medi­ocre in ev­ery as­pect, but not bril­liant where she does best.”

Wang said she found that her daugh­ter is not a lone case. Many of her friends share the con­cern.

She noted prom­i­nent per­for­mance of Chi­nese-born stu­dents in the US and Euro­pean schools. “The growth of same seeds is dif­fer­ent due to dif­fer­ent soils.”

As a re­sult, she im­ported the con­cept of drama in ed­u­ca­tion and founded Drama Rain­bow in 2009.

Find­ing each tal­ent

At stan­dard schools, chil­dren are rated ac­cord­ing to scores. Fail­ure to se­cure a sat­is­fac­tory rank­ing leaves them and their par­ents wor­ried.

The rules of the ed­u­ca­tional jun­gle do not ap­ply to Drama Rain­bow. The pur­pose of ed­u­ca­tion is not to judge whether stu­dents are good or bad, but to en­cour­age their growth, Wang said. “Ev­ery child is tal­ented in some ways. The key is to lo­cate where their ad­van­tages are and find the ap­pro­pri­ate learn­ing chan­nels.”

She cited one stu­dent, aged 3, who has a strong sense of di­rec­tion and can lead his grandpa to the sub­way and know where to go.

An­other ex­am­ple is an 8-yearold boy who has al­ready pub­lished a hand­book of pen­cil draw­ings.

“He starts draw­ing from de­tails, rather than from a frame­work at first,” Wang said. “Ap­par­ently he has al­ready pic­tured in his mind what he plans to draw be­fore touch­ing a pen­cil.”

But such a quiet tal­ent may get frus­trated if he signs up for a speech pro­gram. The wrong de­ci­sion could dam­age his de­vel­op­ment, she said.

Wang be­lieves that ev­ery stu­dent is unique and has huge po­ten­tial. As the school name in­di­cates, what Drama school is work­ing on is us­ing an artis­tic way to help chil­dren and their par­ents find the best way from var­i­ous col­or­ful op­tions.

“The first step is ob­ser­va­tion,” she said. At Drama Rain­bow, teach­ers try to make a judg­ment on the di­rec­tion of a stu­dent’s growth af­ter re­view­ing class records and fre­quent talks with their par­ents.

Likened to jade carv­ing, which re­quires sculp­tor to take time to de­cide what the stone at hand can be shaped into, a full-fledged ed­u­ca­tor also needs ob­ser­va­tion to weigh the most suit­able “learn­ing chan­nel” for chil­dren.

The spe­cially de­signed dra­mas pro­vide the stu­dents op­por­tu­ni­ties for self-dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment, she said.

“When chil­dren have come to know what their edge is, it helps to build con­fi­dence,” she said. “This, in turn, will bring about in­ter­est in other sub­jects in­clud­ing those they are not that ex­pert at — they need a ful­crum.”

Life­long ex­pe­ri­ence

While the pi­o­neer model is still gear­ing up, more than 300 stu­dents have ben­e­fited from it to date.

To pop­u­lar­ize ideas on drama in ed­u­ca­tion, the school also or­ga­nized a com­mer­cial per­for­mance of chil­dren’s plays by an adult cast.

The Box Room was staged 16 times at the National The­ater of China in Bei­jing in June, of­fer­ing the au­di­ence a new per­spec­tive on self-dis­cov­ery and re-ex­am­in­ing fam­ily re­la­tions. Next year, a new “the­ater in ed­u­ca­tion” will con­tinue the ef­fort.

Wang said her school is at the fore­front in the world in the ap­proach, with for­eign ex­perts join­ing the pro­gram.

Brand­ing Di­rec­tor Kang Shaoyang wrote on its of­fi­cial web­site that “as par­ents we only get one chance to raise our chil­dren”.

“The best gift we can ever give our child is con­fi­dence.”

Teacher Su­per­vi­sor Chris Cooper said that “drama is the mir­ror of our so­ci­ety — let ‘s make this mir­ror as clean as pos­si­ble, en­abling the fu­ture gen­er­a­tion to see them­selves much clearer and help them make a bet­ter choice for a bet­ter fu­ture.”

“Learn­ing is not a sub­ject spe­cially for 3 years old or 6 years old. It lasts through the en­tire life,” Wang said. Too much frus­tra­tion in child­hood will stymie their in­ter­est in learn­ing, and main­tain­ing cu­rios­ity is the best teacher to mo­ti­vate their sus­tained ex­plo­ration of the world around them, Wang noted

“Some learn­ing is needed, some is van­ity and some is waste of time,” she said. “Our chil­dren grow so fast. We don’t want to waste

their time.”

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