Today we spent our morning in Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School (SFLS), a kindergarten through 12th grade school focusing on Foreign Languages (English, Japanese, and Russian) as well as physical education and the arts – namely painting and instrumental music. K-8 are private, 9-12 is public. Young children are admitted through a process that includes academic screening, an interview with the child and parents, and exploration of their area of interest. For the HS students to be considered for entrance, they need to pass the HS entrance examinations and an audition process. Tuition for the private years runs about 9,000 Yuan per year (plus some smaller expenses and boarding costs where appropriate) a much lower tuition rate is charged for those enrolled in the public portion (HS – 9-12). This school is one of only 16 in the entire country that enjoys a privileged policy – 20% of their students do not need to take the national college entrance exams – rather they can be recommended by the school faculty and move directly into one of China’s top universities.
In this school they have a bi-lingual (Chinese and English) program at the kindergarten level. This school is also an experimental program where teachers engage learning as we do in the United States using more of a constructivist approach where the students discover the knowledge – question, challenge, and problem solve – and the teachers’ roles are that of facilitators, redirecting and probing as needed. Learning pyramids are posted everywhere reminding teachers how students learn best and to strive to not engage in more than 10% lecture within the instruction. The instructional approach seen in their robotics, science, and aerospace engineering classes was evidence of this change. The school, established in 1994, has only been a part of this curricular and instructional reform since 2009 so they are still learning and eager to improve their practice.
Like in America, their vision and mission are very visible – teachers embrace the philosophy that is summed up as “Never Underestimate the ability of your students”! and posted everywhere as a reminder.
After lunch – I know – more food – I don’t even want to think about it – we visited the Shijiazhuang Art School, a public school with an emphasis on the performing arts – dance, music, voice, drama. And let me tell you the talent is just exploding here. We were invited to sit in on many classes and watch the students rehearse for their performances. (Performance is also a requirement). Students may elect to attend this school for 4 or 6 years and they must audition, interview, and pass the academic examinations to attend. There is also a cost associated with the school (in China, even public schools require some degree of parental contribution). In this case it is 4,600 Yuan per year. However, because the government is placing an emphasis on technical and career training, each student who attends is offered a stipend of 150 Yuan per month from the government to offset living expenses. Students who graduate from this school may go to college (namely the Beijing colleges of Art, Music, or Drama) and continue their studies if they choose (and they pass the national exams and college auditions) or they may go directly into the work force joining theaters, dance troupes, opera, or symphonies – for example. This school has produced several famous Chinese actors and performers.
The students’ day is divided with ½ of it spent on academics and ½ devoted to their arts and performance. Teachers here, too, also train and compete in their area of passion – their skill and talent transfers to their students.
This school is evidence that it’s not the facilities and resources that make a difference (it was old and needed much repair unlike this morning’s school which was obviously a show place of the Hebei Province) – rather it’s the level of instruction, student commitment, teacher dedication, and student and teacher expectation that can move mountains.
Later we were treated to a live performance by the students and it absolutely blew me away! I think it was much better than the professional performance we saw earlier in our visit at the Beijing Opera House. These students didn’t just sing or dance – they felt what they were doing, deeply, and in turn, the audience was moved too. If we could only bottle what I saw today - Phenomenal! (my biggest regret is I didn’t have the video camera with me as I wasn’t expecting such a magnificent experience – lesson learned).
And, of course, we rounded out the day with more food – ughh!