What’s it like to go to elementary school in China? I was able to witness a primary school. Like the high school, students wore uniforms and worked as a seamless member of a larger group. Again, the students were fully engaged and on task. Again, the teacher controlled the learning environment and used a projected PowerPoint to aid in her instruction. Like the high school, students waited for the bell to ring and the teacher to formally begin class. Students laid their heads on the desk and responded together to greet their teacher. Again, there was no student work hanging on the walls. However, in the math class that I visited, students worked in small table groups, often verbally participated in the lesson, and reported new learning.
As we arrived at the school, the children lined the walkway to greet us in uniform. They shouted Ni hao, and waved their greetings.
This classroom was unique. It was designed to be a lab where other teachers could observe classroom instruction. The front of the room was a classroom. The rear was set up with tables and chairs for peer educators to come and observe. Twice each semester, teachers are required to exchange ideas and watch other teachers in their same content areas. Every grade has 10 classrooms, so each teacher eventually observes nine other teachers. Each team also has team planning, called research teams, to discuss how to teacher each of their content areas. These planning sessions occur twice a week. Math, Chinese literature, and English are the core classes. Teachers specialize in one core class, and some also teach an additional class such as morality, art, or music. One English teacher, for example might teach 400 students in eight classes per week. The English class was a full immersion program. Children begin learning English as early as 3 years old.
The approach to the use of technology in the elementary school was similar to the approach at the high school. Students begin to have computer lessons in grade four in primary school. They use the Internet to gather information, and a site called QQ to talk to teachers if they don’t understand a concept. However, teachers and parents share the same concerns that if given home access, students will spend too much time on games and chat. During the day, teachers who do have technology in their classrooms use it to deliver instruction, and this only happens in special multimedia rooms.
The English teacher at their school asked if we have a course on Chinese language or culture, in the same way that they study English. One of the delegates in our group shared that we study ancient civilizations and world geography at starting in middle school. Another shared that students at his school learn about Chinese calligraphy in art. They were surprised that we would study their language as part of an art class.
The school is over 100 years old. It has 4,000 students, 73 classes, and 98% of the teachers have college certificates. Each class contains about 50 students, and the more advanced students help those who are having difficulty mastering concepts. It has received many national awards, and clearly, we were sent to observe the best of the best.
Wonderful surprises have filled every day on this trip. For me, however, today aligned the best with the purpose of my trek across the world. I was able to personally witness learning in action in two schools in China. I was able to interact with students and teachers. I was able to increase my own personal awareness of what it is like to learn on the other side of the world.