Wednesday April 20
After spending a period with a group of seniors in the Sino-Canadian program, who were unattended because their teacher called off sick, we headed off to Xingtai #4 Kindergarten school which was started in 1981 (don't ask me about the number thing, after repeatedly asking about it myself, I still do not understand what it means). In China children may attend kindergarten for 3 years, from ages 3 to 6. This school has about 800 kindergarten students, there are 40 or so children in each class but it is taught by 2 teachers. The children arrive at 7:30 am and stay here until their parents come for them at 5:30 pm. They eat 3 meals here, and take naps in the afternoon in tiny beds (see pictures - how cute!). The curriculum is focused more on socialization and free-play in the early years, but then has a more academic focus at ages 4 and 5, when they begin to learn English, reading, writing and math. I especially liked the area behind the school, where the teachers and students have planted a garden. The students water the plants and measure the growth. Then they learn what they can do with the plants when they harvest them. Most of the area was planted with wheat. Inside there was also an area on stage that displayed many of the teacher and student projects, many of which were made with recycled materials. It was a great visit!
In the afternoon we visited 2 other schools - a government (public) school and a private one. The first school, Xingtai No. 23, is one of 32 junior - middle schools in the city. It is made up of 800 students from grades 1 through 9. There are 24 Chinese teachers of English, and I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with several of them. The school is headed up by a head mistress as well as a party secretary.
The second school, Yinghua Education Group School, is a huge complex that houses (literally) 3300 students. The children as young as grade one live in the dormitories in rooms with bunks and little else. The primary and middle schools are separated by some distance, so after showing us the elementary campus the principal drove us to the middle school buildings. The school is quite progressive compared to the public ones we have seen. Students are learning English very early. All of them have a laptop. Every student must learn a musical instrument, take dance, learn to play chess, draw, learn calligraphy, etc. We did see, however, the strong ties to the Communist party in the room displaying all of the memorabilia and in the scarves of the Young Pioneers that all of the children were wearing. The principal was an extremely gracious hostess - she appeared very young, and yet she has been in this position here for 10 years. All indications were that she is very bright, and she, like all of the other teachers and principals I have met asked me to evaluate them and their schools. Mindful of the fact that I am a guest in their country, I always found complimentary things to say, and I always meant them. This principal, however, was so grateful for my words that she gave me a large Confucius silk scroll right off her office wall!