Sowing Seeds of Comprehensive Development


By staff reporter HOU RUILI


CHINESE society has always sets great store by education. This high expectation of education, however, weighs on students, and also their families. As enrolment for further education continues to increase, education that was once mainly exam-oriented is starting to lean towards a more comprehensive development of students’ capabilities. Beijing, for example, has launched a new round of education reforms that stress the importance of extracurricular activities.


The reforms started in 2013 when the municipal government created new regulations for class hours, limiting primary school classes to six hours a day and eight hours for middle school students. After classes finish at 3:30 pm, schools don’t shut down but instead become places for students to give full play to their interests and talent.


Students from Beijing Chenjing-lun School try their hand at woodblock printing on a school trip to Yangzhou City, formerly the printing capital of China.


At Beijing No.2 Experimental Primary School, dozens of extracurricular courses including science and tech, art and sports, are open to students after school, and run by teachers from professional football teams, basketball clubs and orchestras. In Dongcheng District, golf lessons have been made available in 10 primary and middle schools. Interested students can attend the course for free, with equipment and coaches provided by professional clubs.


Since 2014, the Beijing municipal government has annually invested RMB 500 million in extracurricular courses at primary and middle schools. More specifically, there is government funding of RMB 400 for each student in the six urban districts and RMB 500 for each in suburb areas. The activities are carried out in the form of clubs, and, as required, no less than an hour a day, three or more days a week.


The extracurricular project involves teachers from colleges and private educational institutes, science and technology museums as well as athletes, coaches, artists, and scientists. Students can learn about the latest social trends and gain knowledge about their fields of interest. Some might go further to become professionals, while other students develop special expertise and artistic talent.


Tao Xiping is a member of the National Advisory Committee on Education and honorary chair of the Beijing Federation of Social Science Circles. The veteran educator said that the ongoing comprehensive reforms of basic education in Beijing focuses on what students can get from education, which is the goal of these reforms. The students are at the center of the reforms, which means educators should first understand students in order to maximize their potential.


Innovative Thinking


What society demands most from education – apart from laying a solid foundation for life-long learning – is to foster innovative thinking. As a result, scientific activities became popular in primary and middle schools.


Beijing Jiaotong University and its affiliated primary school jointly set up a robot lab, providing courses for select seventh and eighth graders all over Beijing. Professor Yao Yan’an, the designer of the geometric robot, welcomed Michelle Obama to his class during the former first lady’s trip to China in 2014. Under his guidance, 30 seventh graders succeeded in making robots of their own. Some of the students had travelled a long way from the suburbs.


Students learn 3D printing techniques at No. 19 Middle School in Hefei City, Anhui Province, on January 10, 2017.


As of September 2015, all junior middle school students in Beijing are required to go to colleges, research institutes, science museums, and high-tech companies for practice and on-site study. The Beijing Municipal Education Commission requires seventh and eighth graders to participate in five scientific activities every semester, for two hours at a time. The commission hopes that this experience will ignite thes students’ enthusiasm for innovation and strengthen their practical ability.


At the request of the Beijing Municipal Education Commission, many colleges, research institutes, and enterprises in Beijing have carried out a profusion of activities for students, mostly in areas such as nature and the environment, health and food safety, structure and mechanism, electronics and control, data and information, and energy and materials. Social resources are well integrated with curriculum standards for physics, chemistry, and biology.


In the fall semester of 2015, 851 scientific activities were carried out in 202 companies and institutes in Beijing. In the spring semester of 2016, the numbers increased to 1,009 and 255 respectively, which means a total of 270,000 class hours have been provided to 88,000 junior middle school students.


Innovation is an ability that future society demands. In fact curiosity and creation are innate talents, for example, children like to raise questions as soon as they can speak, and students take the initiative to study if they have questions in mind. The extracurricula activities just aim to retain youngsters’ curiosity and nurture their ability to discover.


“Do It Yourself” Approach


“Do you know how to make a tablet?” Students asked their parents after taking a class at the No.2 Vocational School in Daxing District, Beijing, in which they made tablets of their own. Song Jinping, a teacher from the vocational school, said that the school has launched more than 20 courses for primary and middle schools, including classes in electronics and mechanics, logistics, dessert making, and biopharmaceuticals. The courses pair the school’s strengths with the interests and characters of young students. The “do it yourself” approach makes a deep impression on students and gives them a better understanding of different professions.


Students at the Bozhou Traditional Chinese Medicine and Technology School in Anhui Province make TCM boluses.


Vocational schools in Beijing have now taken on the task of career education for primary and middle school students. In October 2016, more than 200 students from Beijing No. 1 Middle School and Heizhima Hutong Elementary School came to Beijing International Vocational Education School. During the day, they became IT engineers, bakers, stylists, programmers, and CEOs. “Working creates life” – this is no longer an empty slogan for students, but perception gained through work and practice.


Beijing’s Dongcheng District has established experience centers in vocational schools, allowing primary and middle school students as well as residents to experience different careers and develop professional skills. Xu Jianqiu, vice director of the Dongcheng District Education Commission, said these career education courses have been introduced to all schools and are open to all students in the district.


Vocational education is expected to play an important role in further education, and as a result, skilled workers will be more respected in society.


Life-changing Farming Experience


Last summer 465 students from Beijing Shangdi Experimental School came to a training base at Beijing Agricultural Mechanic Experimental Station. During the week-long training, students learned how to plough, plant vegetables, make bean curd, milk cows, and make soap. The training base now has 33 courses for students, from farming to fishing.


Xue Wenyu ploughed a field with a shovel, prepared the soil, carried the manure to the field, and eventually planted vegetable seedlings. She then drew water and watered the seedlings. “I am all wet but I learned a lot,” she said. “It’s not easy to work like this all the time, like farmers. Grain is the fruit of diligent work so we should cherish it.”


Due to the fact that Chinese families usually have only one child, parents do not want their children to do manual labor, let alone heavy farmwork. When talking about the farming activities organized by schools, one parent commented that the school had helped them to teach their child something that they had wanted to teach them for a long time but did not know how.


China is traditionally an agrarian nation. The younger generation, however, especially in urban areas, has few opportunities to experience farming. To rectify this, Beijing launched the farming education initiative among junior middle school students in October 2015. So far, about 20,000 students have taken farming activities (such as weeding, applying fertilizers, and cultivation) at more than 30 agricultural bases like Beijing Vocational College of Agriculture and Beijing Agricultural Mechanic Experimental Station.


Every student is required to participate in field activities, prepare and cook dishes themselves, and deal with their own bedding and cleaning. As they are placed in new groups, they also need to work with students they have never met before. Afterwards, parents find their kids perform better in independent living and self-management, and are more considerate and cooperative. “A week influences a life,” some parents commented, in light of the positive changes they witnessed in their children.


To guarantee the participation and outcomes of the extracurricular activities, a minimum of 10 comprehensive social practicums are required for each school year according to the evaluation standards for junior middle schools. The students’ performance in this regard also weighs on the enrolment process for senior middle schools.


Tao Xiping noted that the strengthening of after-school education fosters students’ comprehensive abilities, allowing students from different family backgrounds, talents and endowment to tap their own potential.