Connecting with China is not just about connecting from within to beyond, it is also about connecting the old with the new. This became even more obvious during our busy day in Dalian last week. As we visited four different schools we observed and were shown an educational climate that is entrenched in traditional values about society and life and yet ripe for new approaches to support student learning.
What we observed included:
Jenny, a school owner, entrepreneur and businesswoman in Dalian, organized our visit to these four schools. Educated in the UK with a Masters degree in School Management, Jenny shares she is headstrong and ambitious. She told us, “Darling, I need to pretend I am ‘big potato’ in education, so my husband does the marketing and I am the academic and I run the schools and curriculum’. She currently owns three schools and has newly acquired land and big plans to build a fourth school soon. The schools we visited were not her schools as such, but she is also linked to over 100 schools in Dalian and helps with professional learning and the provision of foreign teachers to deliver English and support for IELTS and other needs.
It was very clear during our visit that Chinese students and teachers are very interested in Australia and the world. They are planning outbound trips (for the minority who may be able to afford it), working hard for possible study beyond China, and imagining what our life is like compared to theirs. At the same time it is clear that there is a strong pride and nationalistic spirit amongst students and we witnessed teachers speaking to students about how hard work and respect for others will make their parents and teachers proud and set them up for the future. I reflected on my time teaching in Beijing, and even though my school then was an international school with a mixed lot of Asian and other students, there was a keen respect for teachers, parents and even for each other that may be sadly lacking in schools in Australia (and North America).
I have written before about the ‘Dragon that roared’ and how important it is for learners outside of China to be making vital connections to those inside. Text-book learning is a thing of the past – today we must be making direct links and developing authentic learning situations for young people to experience first-hand the impact of different cultural approaches. From our experiences in Dalian it seems that using technology to connect directly with local schools is not on the horizon soon for a variety of social, economic, and education reasons. Conversations are around ‘trips’ to Australia for face-to-face encounters – online learning is not a focus yet. However this trip has made it clear how important it is for us to continue to visit, learn and share with others via blog posts, images and videos, what developments are happening inside China. I believe it is only a matter of time before real pathways will be made and direct learning can take place with local Chinese schools and students….our challenge as global educators is to be ready to take advantage of this.
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