Educational and Cultural Experiences in China
--Robert L. “Bobby” Oliver, Adjunct Instructor and University Supervisor of World Language teachers and visiting Chinese volunteer teachers
With the support and encouragement of Hanban as well as the local Confucius Institutes of George Mason University and of the College of William & Mary, I traveled to China with a delegation of educators from Virginia and the District of Columbia. Our group of 20 participants included public school principals, college professors, teachers, and educational support staff.
After arriving in Beijing, our American delegation met with our Chinese hosts at the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) campus for an opening ceremony where we were introduced to the program assignments and task specifications. They were: 1) a Chinese and American foreign language education comparison and case analysis of 5000 to 8000 words, written in English; 2) A diary of our visit to Beijing and Shanghai including both words and pictures; 3) the foreign language education policies and standards for American programs at the elementary, secondary, and higher education levels; 4) a video and PowerPoint of our research. Our group stayed in Beijing and Shanghai from June 25 to July 5, 2016. We were to submit our collective, group assignment to Hanban thirty days after our return to the United States. We were in Beijing for the majority of our time where we visited one university, two public schools, and one private school. Our time in Shanghai was spent at cultural sites such as the Yu Garden, the Bund, and museums dealing with Chinese history, art expression, culture, and daily life.
While at BLCU, a professor of the university presented a hands-on lesson in Chinese calligraphy. It was fascinating to learn the story behind each Chinese character that we drew on paper with our brushes. Unlike the American alphabet, a person familiar with Chinese characters will use both sides of his or her brain while either reading or writing characters since such a cerebral and physical activity is a combination of both art and literacy. A tour followed highlighting the services offered to both Chinese and international students studying at the university. At the campus bookstore and resource center we reviewed and compared various Chinese/English language learning textbook series with American publications, techniques and methodologies. As a group we found it broadening, insightful and helpful to learn how other nations and cultures approach both foreign language learning and teaching.
Our group left Beijing proper and took a bus out to the Great Wall. On the way, we passed lush, green landscapes. At times, along the road, I could spy a small farm where a family was growing crops and raising smaller livestock. This brought back memories of my parents who both grew up on farms and where I would spend part of my summer vacations as a young child out on the farm with my grandparents.
Back in Beijing, our delegation took other cultural excursions to the 798 Arts Center, a Hutong where people live and conduct business, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and a famous Beijing traditional medicine shop with offices for health consultations. Our hosts at BLCU had made plans for us to visit restaurants of various ethnicities and regional styles. We found this to be a most delicious educational and cultural experience as we ate in the traditional Chinese “family style,” sharing our dishes together.
At a public school in Beijing, we learned that most schoolchildren are taught their first English lessons in third grade. A teacher at the school demonstrated the technology package and curriculum that the school uses to teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL). Throughout the entire school, teachers, students and visitors are surrounded by instructional and motivational signage in both Chinese characters as well as English. Students are encouraged to be proficient and comfortable with both languages. We met several of the young elementary students and found them just as inquisitive and friendly as their American counterparts. Several asked us to autograph their notebooks and to pose for photos with us. During a brief visit to another public school, we observed the student body performing group movement activities to vocal and instrumental music then, afterwards, leaving for their instrumental music classes.
The Chinese government also supports private educational organizations, as well as private for-profit education providers. The development of private schools means an increase in the overall education supply as well as a change in the traditional pattern of public-only schools. Private schools have pioneered cooperation with foreign partners and many foreign universities have entered China; this has both improved the quality of China's education resources and opened new channels for successful studies, both in China and abroad.
The AIDI School -- http://www.aidi.edu.cn/ -- is a joint-venture between Australia and the People’s Republic of China. The bilingual school enrolls students Pre-K through 12th grade on a campus of over 92 acres. The school’s high school section currently offers three separate international curricula to students, allowing them to choose between the Australian, US or UK curriculum. Our delegation had an opportunity to tour the campus, meet with students at every age level, visit art and language classes, and learn more about the curriculum and practices from the school’s directors, guidance staff, and principals. In the future, AIDI will offer secondary students the additional choice of following a Canadian curriculum. The majority of the AIDI graduating students apply to colleges in these four English-speaking countries. Later, I met with a group of ten juniors who were interested in attending William & Mary as undergraduates. One of their fellow AIDI classmates, Isabella, recently graduated from William & Mary, Class of 2016, and now works in Singapore. While an undergraduate at William & Mary, Isabella made two visits back to AIDI to share her love of W&M with many of these students. Go, Tribe!
During our visit at AIDI, each one of us was assigned to a middle school student who then gave each one of us a personal, individual tour of the middle school in excellent English. These middle school students also interacted and shared with us what and how they were studying to prepare themselves for graduation.
I wish to thank everyone here in the USA and in China who made this opportunity such a wonderful experience for all of us in the delegation. For more information and photos, please Email me at RLOliver@wm.edu .